After nearly 12 years of law enforcement, in February, I was relieved of my duty. During that 12 years of service, I learned from pillars of our community: Leon Reed and Clarence Allen. I served under the leadership and guidance of some incredible leaders Harvey Curry, Joedy Pennington, Jackie Knight. I worked alongside testaments of the local law enforcement community like Kris Hollingsworth, Gary Seal, Mark Spence, and far too many others to name them all. One thing is for sure; I learned life lessons of service, duty, and respect.
Towards the end of the chapter, I assisted the administrative portions of various agencies where I sought grant funding for our community. Funding that gave programs like the VOCA program at Newton PD the ability to assist the community against victimization or the BVP (bulletproof vest partnership) where all of Newton’s officers were outfitted with new fitted pieces of body armor. In this time, from an administrative standpoint, I saw how we had been defunding the law enforcement community for years.
The single greatest threat to the law enforcement community is the lack of funding or mismanagement of funds. Whereas many across the nation have joined the “defund the police” movement, they have never walked a mile in the boots of a lawman.
In my 12 years, I have never met a law enforcement officer (LEO) who believed he had received the necessary training. We all agree that we have received the training required, but with years on the job, we all know and openly welcome more training. LEO’s recognize that training saves lives, the community they serve, and their own.
Training affords the officer to prepare themselves for the worst-case scenario. Training allows officers to mentally prepare to enter a situation that should have never occurred i.e., active shooter response training. The reduction in training funds has been the first way that our communities have defunded our local agencies.
The need for LEOs to be on the road and failed allocation of funds has forced the departmental administrations to minimize training. It has reduced the opportunities for LEOs to attend training that costs. These costs are viewed as unnecessary expenditures by political leaders such as county supervisors, alderpersons, or some mayors. Unfortunately, this “trickle-down effect” impacts communities.
When I see the events unfold across our nation, I recognize that some of these events may have been avoided — specifically — had training been seen as an investment to the community. Take the Minneapolis police officer, for example. In week two of the Mississippi law enforcement training academy, officers learn “how to subdue a subject.” Specifically, how the officer subdued George Floyd violated all techniques. I can hear Jeff Curtis from the training academy saying, “if you take a person’s life doing the techniques improper — you’ll be charged with homicide.” Could the murder of George Floyd be avoided with an investment in training? We may never know.
The Newton County Sheriff’s Department has taken a significant initiative in ensuring its deputies are trained. It has specially trained the Special Response Team to minimalize casualties in catastrophic situations. The NCSO has invested in the community, but I am confident this has not come without political or administrative ramifications. They need the elected county officials not to continue to “defund” but to invest in safety, security, and law enforcement training.
The second way I have seen our community defund our law enforcement officers is to not invest in our officer’s mental health. LEOs are human too. They are expected to respond to catastrophic events, wipe their brow, and do it again. This mental anguish is overlooked or compartmentalized. It is “one of the few occupations in which an employee is asked to continually face physical dangers and put their lives on the line- at any time,” according to Charles Swanson, Leonard Territo and Rovert Taylor in “Police Administration: Structures, Processes, and Behavior.”
In 2014 the events in Ferguson Missouri unfolded sparking violence against police across the nation. Regardless of the public opinion, the officer was deemed not guilty of misconduct concerning the shooting of Michael Brown. In an August 2014 New Yorker article, it is essential to note that 15 minutes before the shooting of Michael Brown, the officer had been the first responder to an infant with difficulty breathing. While some may argue his duty, others who have donned the badge will attest, the single most significant mental taxing event is anything about a child. Could the events of Ferguson been avoided if we, the law enforcement community, had appropriate mental health protocols in place? Again, we may never know.
In 2019, 228 LEOs took their own lives according to an article in the USAToday. This is 81 more than the officers whose life was taken in the line of duty, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page. There is a clear need for mental health treatment, availability, or procedure that needs to be acknowledged. Our community owes this to our LEOs, without stigma or differential treatment. The NCSO has brought a chaplain on-staff to assist this need. However, as a former brother-at-arms, I recognize that this is not enough. Mental health treatment, procedures, or assistance cost money, monies that these agencies do not have.
Newton County, our community, needs to stop “defunding” our police force and begin genuinely investing in it. Please give them the tools to train, prepare, and save lives. We must stop vocally supporting, and put our hands to work. Our law enforcement deserves to have the tools they need, including training, being made readily available. Could proper training have prevented these catastrophic events that lead our nation to unrest? Could recognizing our officers need mental health readily available, save their lives? We may never know, but we, as a community, must do our part. We must stop our alderpersons, mayors, supervisors from buying unnecessary equipment when our LEOs are underfunded and ill-prepared for what the world is throwing their way. We must stop the defunding and start investing.