It seems the national news is full of disconcerting reports of police suicides and the stress that comes with the job. There have been five police officer suicides in New York City in less than 30 days.
Nashville is blessed that we do not have such a problem, but the men and women serving the Metro Nashville Police Department face many challenges. We have lost five officers in the line of duty since 2000. That is five too many.
Firefighters, first responders, sheriff’s deputies, police officers. They all are tasked with protecting our lives, ensuring our safety and putting their lives and safety behind our own. They deserve our respect.
“I wish my head could forget what my eyes have seen.”
That’s a quote from Dave Parnell, one of the Detroit firefighters featured in the 2012 documentary Burn. Imagine for a moment the trauma that firefighters like Parnell see in the course of their careers. Children suffering, traumatized and even killed. People who have succumbed to a fire or who died in a grisly car accident. Innocent victims, day in and day out. Our law enforcement officers, our firefighters and our first responders must face this every day.
They perform a job that isn’t high-paying but requires long hours, often necessitates unexpected shifts in schedules and requires life-or-death decisions to be made in a split second. For those reasons alone, they deserve our thanks. For all the horror they must endure, they deserve our support.
I was struck recently by a news story that reported more police officers die by suicide than in the line of duty. This has been true for the past three years. It’s clear that the stressors on our first responders are growing. The pressures they face are due to more than the trauma they experience on the job, although that is certainly significant. They also face the pressures of criticism from the general public, from protest organizations, from upheaval and discord within police departments and from related judicial groups. It is from personal and financial issues and an ingrained hesitation and suspicion of seeking professional help.
Problems at home equal stress on the job, but the inverse is also true. Stress on the job equals problems at home. The emotions of the job are more than enough to handle. Seeing death, murder, serious injuries and devastation from fire and vehicular accidents must be horrific. These images will stick with those officers and investigators for the rest of their lives. And when they come home, they often don’t want to burden their spouses with those experiences, or perhaps are not yet able to discuss and process the awfulness. So when they aren’t quite ready to fix the faucet or take out the trash or even push their own kids on the swing after seeing other children dead just hours before? They must either burden their spouses with the same horror, wall off the emotions they feel, or endure the strife that comes from shutting down. Sadly, divorce is all too common.
Even in happy, understanding homes, there is the very real possibility that a loved one might not come home after their shift. They must go to work every day, and their spouses must say goodbye each morning, with the knowledge that it might be the last time they say goodbye or “I love you.” That stress and worry have a lasting impact on the law enforcement officers, as well as their families.
So while Nashville is working to balance our law enforcement strategy, our government workings and the needs of the entire city, we cannot forget the high price that our first responders, police officers and firefighters pay to protect us. To all of you who are willing to sacrifice your lives for our safety, we thank you.
Bill Freeman is the owner of FW Publishing, the publishing company that produces the Nashville Scene, Nfocus, the Nashville Post and Home Page Media Group in Williamson County.