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A Nation in Crisis

I initially wrote this blog on July 8, 2016, only a few hours after the ambush of the Dallas Area Regional Transport and Dallas Police officers. My anger was raging, and fear was burning in my throat. I wrote in haste and colored by emotions, so I decided to set aside the writing for a few days and return to it when I was calmer and more collected. Maybe even as a nation, we could begin to heal from the worst attack on police officers since 9/11. However, here is the reality:  since the attack on Dallas, 12 more officers have died in the line of duty, bringing July’s line of duty deaths to 20. I am still angry; I am still afraid.

I initially wrote about Dallas, “A city is shattered.” I need to revise that to “We are a nation in crisis.” My heart is crushed for all deceased and wounded officers, for their loved ones and friends. These heroes are all my family—my blue family. The sniper ambush on the men and women of the Dallas Police and the Dallas Area Regional Transport is as Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings proclaimed, “Our worst nightmare…” I was so angry and horrified watching the news coming out of Dallas that I could not pray. For a moment, the darkness and the demons took my soul. Media coverage of line of duty deaths often takes survivors back to the time they found out they lost their officer. Since Dallas, our nation has lost officers in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, California, and multiple more officers in Texas. Communities, police departments, and families across the United States have suffered their “worst nightmare” in the last few weeks.

Police survivors—the term used to describe family members and co-workers of an officer killed in the line of duty—the ones that are past the immediate trauma may have flashbacks of their officer’s death, anger and depression. Nightmares might return. The surviving families and co-workers of the recent line of duty deaths will experience devastation that defies description, often while being scrutinized by the media. Anyone that is a police survivor would do anything to take away that pain.

Several months ago, I wrote a blog post Is There a War on Police? The tragic answer, of course, is yes. Every day I balance my joy for life with the reality that one of my friends, or someone I love, could die in the service of their job. I have spent the majority of this month searching for words of healing for all police survivors, a small glimmer of hope to everyone traumatized by violence against law enforcement. I know police survivors have experienced a variety of emotions this month, predominantly grief. The only human emotion strong enough to combat trauma and grief is love. Mother Teresa is attributed to saying “What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” Love your neighbors, your family, but most importantly make an effort to love someone different than you. Our small and individual acts of love will help our nation heal. Is it this simple to heal our nation in crisis? I don’t know, but we have to start somewhere, and I choose to start with love.

https://wordpress.com/menus/bluelivesblog.wordpress.com  is a personal weblog. The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer.

 

More than a Police Widow

Part One

To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die.

-Thomas Campbell

In early August, even in the morning, you just know it’s sweltering outside.  I was sleeping in, ensconced in air-conditioned comfort.  Waking up slowly, I gingerly tested each of my aching limbs.  Four consecutive days cleaning my new classroom had left me tired and aching.  Taking the place of a teacher that had taught at the high school 20 plus years that had neglected to clean anything or throw anything out during that time resulted in me dragging out 60 bags of trash to the dumpster and lugging in eight tote boxes of books and supplies. My body was feeling it!  As I lay there contemplating my new teaching position and my mounting excitement about a new school year, I was grateful eight-month-old Robert was not yet demanding my attention.  Catching a whiff of the French roast beginning to perk, I listened with half an ear as my husband Randy continued dressing.

The daily ritual of Randy putting on his uniform was nothing new, but always entertaining.  The leathery creak of his gun belt as he hitched up his pants, the scratchy attachment of Velcro tabs on his bullet proof vest, the military precision of tucking in his shirt, and the final buff to the already mirror shiny boots.  I knew these sounds, these orchestrated motions by heart.  After he had checked on duty using his handheld radio, he kissed me on top of the head and said, “I love you.”  Truly happy in every context of my life, I enjoyed these moments of bliss before I rolled out of bed and stumbled to the kitchen for coffee.  Randy headed out to serve the citizens of Texas.

Memories Return Only in Broken Pieces

Robert and I had been out running errands.  After pulling into the driveway back home and unbuckling Robert from his car seat; I was surprised when friends of mine who worked at the sheriff’s department parked behind me.  At the time cell phones were not as prevalent as they are today, and not being home for several hours, no one knew where I was.  Law enforcement officers from three different agencies were looking for me.  I handed Robert to my friend Teresa while Tony drove me to the Texas Department of Public Safety office in New Braunfels.  Not knowing what to think, Tony and I just kept up an easy banter as he drove.

Walking through the front door of the DPS office, the friendly secretaries would not make eye contact with me.  I was escorted back to an office where my father-in-law Kermit sat.   I lowered myself into a vacant chair; I tried to read the mood in the room, but couldn’t.  After a moment, the sergeant came in and delivered the news:  shot in the head, Randy had died.  Looking back, I cannot recall what the sergeant said, but I remember screaming.  I did not pass out, but when I try to reconstruct those moments, all I conjure up is blackness.  After a few frozen minutes, the sergeant returned to where Kermit and I sat.  He then reported Randy had not died, and he was at a trauma center 50 miles away undergoing surgery.  A trooper drove Kermit and me to the New Braunfels Municipal Airport where we boarded a DPS helicopter. Before boarding, I borrowed the trooper’s cell phone to call my Mom.  She and my brother drove in separate cars from Corpus Christi, Texas, to Austin.  They had a DPS escort the entire way.  Kermit gripped my hand for the full length of the flight to Breckenridge Hospital in Austin.  I recall insisting to the trooper flying the helicopter that he radio the troopers at the hospital that they do not allow the media to videotape Kermit exiting the helicopter or me.  We needed to know what we faced for our family before we had a TV camera or microphone blithely shoved in our path. But like most events in the days to follow, these memories only come to me in broken pieces.

How Do I Live My Life Without You?

Randy didn’t die instantly.  Dying was a slow business interrupted by surgery, medical jargon and legal matters.  But the moment the bullet shattered his skull and pierced his brain, his life, his essence was no longer part of this earth.  After several days in the Intensive Care Unit, I decided to take our son Robert into Randy’s ICU room.  You would think the decision to take an infant into an ICU room would be difficult, but it wasn’t.  It was easy and natural; Robert and Randy were part of each other.  No one tried to stop me or dissuade me.  In fact, people couldn’t even look me in the eye. It takes fortitude to forge ahead when people have such pity on you.

I sat on the edge of Randy’s hospital bed with Robert wedged between us. Oblivious to the snake-like tubes and beeping, bleating life-saving machines, Robert just smiled and cooed, happy to see his father.  It was a good decision for all of us, a goodbye of sorts.  After Robert’s visit, Randy no longer responded to the external stimuli tests that the doctors administered; the failure of these tests indicated a total loss of brain function.  It took several more days to remove life support.  I helped the neurosurgeon remove the tubes.  Again it was an easy decision.  I was confident in my love for Randy, confident I knew his wishes, and certain there was no medical hope for recovery.  With nothing left to do but wait for death, Randy was moved from ICU to a private room on another floor.

Twelve hours elapsed from the time life support was removed until Randy’s physical body died.  The memory of those twelve hours, of what I did, or where I wandered in the hospital is only episodic.  I knew Randy was going to die. My son was going to lose his father, and my love was being stolen.  As cliché as it sounds, my life would never be the same again.  I often wondered, “How am I ever going to go on?”  I do remember sitting with my teacher-friend Beth and sobbing through tears, “I’ll never have enough heart to teach again.” Emotionally lost and scattered, I didn’t know if I could pull enough of the shattered pieces of me back together to be even a mother to Robert.  At one point I even lay down on the hospital floor and willed myself to die with Randy, but Randy’s best friend Michael not only pulled me up off the floor, he somehow connected to a part of my soul that tethered me back to earth and most importantly Robert.  I know in my heart that I could have also died that day.

I do possess crystal clarity of my emotions once Randy died.  Tidal waves of grief washed over me while relief flooded my soul once Randy was freed from his damaged body.  God could take him home.  I know Randy was not alone on August 3rd at the intersection of Yarrington Road and Interstate 35 when he faced down his murderer, nor was he alone when he drew his final breath.  I, however, felt very alone.

 

https://wordpress.com/menus/bluelivesblog.wordpress.com is a personal weblog. The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer.

 

 

Steps to Bridge the Gaps between Cops and Communities

Constant media scrutiny has served to highlight the rift between law enforcement agencies and the citizens they protect and serve.  Since schools have the power to influence and guide social change, many organizations and stakeholders are beginning to examine the role of law enforcement officers in schools and their potential to improve relationships between police and communities.   St. Louis County School Resource Officer Ronald Cockrell in Beyond the Badge: Profile of a School Resource Officer emphasized, “It has to be inside our heart that you want to make a difference in your community.” Cockrell works towards bridging the gap between students and police officers amidst the strained relationship between law enforcement and the community of Ferguson, MO.  The video focuses on Cockrell’s efforts to build relationships with students and teachers, listen to students talk about fear of the police in a school town hall, mentor young people on how to negotiate conflicts, and work with the school faculty to respond and support a student whose father is murdered.

While the video examines Cockrell’s role in helping heal the shattered community of Ferguson, it highlights the widely recognized triad model of  school based policing which includes (a) enforcement, (b) education, and (c) mentoring (The Roles of School-Based Law Enforcement Officers and How These Roles Are Established:  A Qualitative Study). These duties are simultaneously addressed through typical police activities such as enforcing laws and patrolling assigned areas, capitalizing on teachable moments with students and teaching criminal justice related topics, and providing advice, guidance, and serving as a positive role model.

There is some disagreement among civil rights groups as to whether or not school police officers are improving relationships, like Officer Cockrell in Ferguson, or whether they contribute to the “school-to-prison” pipeline:  policies and social practices believed to push our nation’s schoolchildren, especially our most at-risk children, out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.  It is true that our most at-risk students often have the most negative encounters with teachers and law enforcement, so we must work to value school police officers for more than their enforcement role and work to cultivate their positive position in our school culture and community.

Having worked for nearly a decade preparing future teachers, my experience, as well as documented research, supports the notion that you have to have a passion for kids and not just the subject you want to teach.  The same philosophy applies to school based law enforcement and school resource officers.  Years of classroom instruction taught me that it does not matter what teaching and learning theories you subscribe to—you must form a connection with a student before learning can occur.  Mo Canady, the executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers echoed that sentiment when he stated the ultimate goal for school police officers is “…to bridge the gap between law enforcement and youth. So what we are talking about at the end of the day is building relationships.”

While mainstream media does everything possible to highlight negative police-community relationships, a groundswell of activism is taking place across the country to bring together civic stakeholders to build better relationships between police and the communities they serve.  Maritza Ramos, the widow of slain NYPD officer Rafael Ramos, is launching The Detective Rafael Ramos Foundation in her husband’s honor with this mission in mind.  The Blue Alert Foundation is proud to be partnering with a yet to be announced “Police Safety Initiative” with the goal of bringing together community leaders, local governments, and influencers to find solutions for increased protection of police officers and those they serve with fair, just, and transparent practices.  As 2016 is ushered in, I encourage everyone to consider how they can contribute to positive relationships with law enforcement in their communities and schools.

https://wordpress.com/menus/bluelivesblog.wordpress.com is a personal weblog. The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer.

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COPsync Network Could Help Protect Against Terrorist Attacks

Until September 11, 2001, most Americans conceptualized terrorist attacks as something that happened occasionally in distant countries, but a series of orchestrated attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Arlington, VA, and the plane headed for Washington, DC, but crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, brought an abstract concept into sharp reality.  We now believe that terrorism is an imminent threat to our families, our American institutions and ourselves.  The events of 9/11 were also the deadliest for firefighters and law enforcement officers in the history of the United States, with 343 and 72 killed respectively.  First responders have suffered devastating health impacts from 9/11 toxic debris including throat and neck cancers, lung disease, thyroid cancer, and blood cancers in the years since the attacks.

Domestically and internationally, a number of agencies were newly formed or strengthened in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, yet the world watched in horror a few short weeks ago as ISIS attacked Paris. Even though the attacks took place on French soil, they were strategically planned to include an international soccer game, where the president of France was in attendance, and the venue for an American rock band.  I am sure many people would agree with me that while these attacks occurred on French soil, they were leveled at the citizens of the world.  Terrorists and other criminals capitalize on not only the short-term violence they create, but also the long-term fear generated by their actions.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), other departments within the Federal government and state agencies throughout the United States are increasingly focused on securing the nation’s border, protecting our citizens from criminals and preventing terrorist attacks.   COPsync, Inc. (Nasdaq: COYN), headquartered in Dallas, TX, which operates the nation’s largest law enforcement in-car information sharing and communication network and the COPsync911 threat alert service for schools, government buildings, hospitals and other potentially at-risk facilities, could play a substantial role in thwarting terrorism.  Most people are surprised to learn that U.S. state and local law enforcement agencies typically have independent record-keeping and communication systems that are not linked in any way.  This inability to have cross-jurisdictional communication for the approximately 18,000 police agencies in the United States could result in preventable officer deaths and injuries, and global criminals and terrorists moving undetected within the United States or across international borders.  As the world has shifted into a global economy and schoolchildren can now work collaboratively and communicate across cultures and time zones, it is time for law enforcement and federal agencies to do the same.

A Call to Action: “Lock Down” is No Longer Enough

Imagine the first terrifying moments of a deadly threat incident on a school campus:  confusion and panic replace the calm, orderliness of an ordinary school day.  Students and faculty may hear a hail of gunfire, terrified screams, or empty silence.  Virtually every school in the United States responds the same way to this situation:  lock down, shelter-in-place, and hope the shooter does not find you.

An active shooter at a school is one of the most horrifying realities that modern society faces.  Many lives are at risk in a contained, defenseless space, and a deadly threat incident is unpredictable and advances quickly.  For these reasons, the Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations, a multi-agency document created by the U.S. Department of Education, FEMA, the FBI, the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, states that “…individuals must be prepared to deal with an active shooter situation before law enforcement officers arrive on scene” (p. 57).  In the first crucial minutes of a deadly threat incident on a school campus, teachers are the first responders.

According to the National Latino Law Enforcement Organization in Enhancing Teachers’ Response to Active Threats, we think of police officers, firefighters, and EMTs, and not teachers as first responders.  The cold reality however is that deadly incidents in schools are often over before the police can respond.  Training students, teachers, and staff to respond in an emergency will increase their odds of survival.

For almost twenty years I taught in public schools and at a large university that prepares future teachers; I know of no pre-service or extensive in-service training that shows teachers how to think tactically and respond appropriately to deadly situations on campus.  Let that sink in for a moment.  We expect schools to be safe havens for our children, but most teachers have no training in how to respond to an emergency, let alone what do if there is an active shooter.  As parents, we should be ashamed that we have not demanded more in terms of our children’s safety.

There are of course exceptions.  The ALICE Training Institute proposes training that goes beyond the traditional lock down and includes proactive responses to threats like active resistance—fighting back with objects of opportunity such as desks, chairs, and books, as well as barricading and evacuating. Both the ALICE Training Institute and the Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations recommend steps beyond the traditional lock down and shelter-in-place response to an active shooter, and a school district that fails to provide defense strategies in addition to the lock down procedure are not meeting federal guidelines for school safety.

There should be a multi-pronged approach to school safety.  Law enforcement and schools working/training together prior to an incident can increase interoperability during a deadly threat incident.  Experts also call for stronger lines of communication between teachers and law enforcement during an attack on a campus.  One method for better communication between teachers and law enforcement is through the COPsync911 system.  School staff can activate COPsync911from a computer or smart device.  The system sends an immediate and silent alert to other staff, officers in their patrol cars, and the 9-1-1 dispatch center.  All participants can communicate in a crisis communication portal as the situation unfolds, helping teachers become the initial first responders.  Officers are also notified faster than traditional 9-1-1, have immediate access to a mapped location of the school, as well as diagram of the school’s interior.

Parents, schools, and teachers do not want to think about worst-case scenarios, but we simply must in order to protect our children.  Law enforcement is responsible for the safety of our communities, but as members of a community, we are responsible for holding our schools accountable to federal safety recommendations.  A lock down is no longer an appropriate response to an active shooter, and teachers need the tools and training to become the initial first responders in a school crisis.

Is There a War on Police?

I am a member of the blue family.  I am a police widow; my husband was shot and killed in the line of duty 15 years ago.  My father-in-law is retired law enforcement.  Many of my friends are cops.  I recently left a university where I had been teaching for nearly a decade to work for COPsync, Inc., a technology company dedicated to the safety of law enforcement.  Every day I struggle with the reality that one of my friends could die in the service of their job.  As a writer and researcher, and I have tried to bring the parts of me that are a social scientist to the question “Is there a war on police?”  I am inside the story and not a casual observer; all the more reason my voice should be heard.

Several weeks ago, the Washington Post ran the online article Once Again: There is No ‘War on Cops.’ And those who claim otherwise are playing a dangerous gameI encourage everyone to read the article, comments to the article, as well as read the linked articles and watch the embedded video posts. The gist of the primary article, though, is that the “war on police” is a fictitious political ploy of conservative politicians and media, and that the dangerous rhetoric of the right is creating a culture of fear for law enforcement.  From my perspective, I am quite certain groups that publicly call for the death of police officers (https://youtu.be/K0LYvnqyIZc), individuals who assassinate members of law enforcement, and silence from national leaders is creating the culture of fear.

I do wish to celebrate the fact that line of duty deaths are at an historic low, and deaths by gunfire are on trend to be 23% lower than last year (www.odmp.org).  However, statistics are of no consolation to a grieving spouse, a parent who outlived their child, a child set adrift by the loss of a parent, or a police officer wracked by survivor’s guilt.  Any life lost in the line of duty is one too many.

Social scientists give much credence to the idea of lived experience.  Setting aside the dueling media, a variety of activist groups, and increasing anti-police rhetoric, let’s examine the reality of day-to-day policing.  When your lived experience is such that you holster a gun on your hip, strap on a bullet resistant vest, and spend your entire work day tactically examining how to keep yourself safe….you are at war.