Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: police officers

A city worker power-washes "Defund the Police" from the road outside the Atlanta Police Department, after the protests in Atlanta.

How (and why) might we defund police?

It appears that when people say, “Defund the Police!” they often don’t mean completely. They usually appear not to mean “dismantle the police force and don’t replace it,” although some do. I started examining the ideas of abolishing or defunding the police in the previous post on this blog.

Defund the Police, like Abolish the Police, is an arresting (sorry), but inadequate slogan. Like most ideas, if you take the logic to its farthest extreme, it’s a terrible idea (hint: for real-life applications, never go to the farthest extreme). But people have begun to have valuable discussions about the way forward.

In this Kevin Siers cartoon, two protesters carry a large banner, emblazoned with a very long slogan that takes up several lines and goes off the edge of the cartoon. Part of it says, "Defund reform repair reeval ... improve rework reenvision ...reinvent cleanse reshape recreate ... Police." One says to the other, "We need a new slogan!"
(Kevin Siers cartoon courtesy of Charlotte Observer/McClatchey)

Deciphering what they actually mean

In the simplest statements I’ve heard, the idea is to reallocate some funds from the local police department. Then to spend them building up departments that would be more appropriate responders to certain kinds of situations. Police solutions often end with someone arrested or ticketed, possibly taken to jail. That’s appropriate for some things, but not for others.

For example, if it’s a mental health crisis, deploy some kind of mental health equivalent of EMTs (and yes, I know we don’t have those yet). This would radically reduce the number of incidents in which a mentally ill person in crisis (but mostly a danger only to themselves) isn’t confronted, further agitated, and then eventually killed by police.

Another example we often hear cited is when police are called to deal with persons experiencing homelessness. What do these people need? Certainly a better place to live. Many also need mental health counseling, physical health care, possibly addiction treatment, additional education so they can find a job, or other services. What can police do about them? Usually none of those things. They can arrest them, or force them to go somewhere else. That’s pretty much it.

A large, multi-spout teapot labeled "Defund the Police" pours tea into cups marked "education," "universal healthcare," "youth services," "housing," and "other community reinvestments."
(Illustration courtesy of Aleksey Weintraub, @LAKUTIS via Twitter)

Why many say policing itself needs a re-think

Diversity training is only as good as the trainer who teaches, and the personal investment of the people who show up. Until individual officers take the messages to heart–and until there’s greater diversity and cross-cultural understanding in most police departments, cultural clashes will continue to fuel bad outcomes.

If the overall culture of the department doesn’t change (and changing police culture is an uphill climb), street-level outcomes won’t, either. Many American police are actively trained to distrust their communities, and to believe every encounter could end in violence against them. They are taught to “fear for their lives” almost as a default-setting. The “warrior” mindset of increased police militarization isn’t helping any of us.

Even when radical overhauls happen, there’s often still a gap between desire and result. It’s discouraging. But allowing ourselves to feel defeated and saying, “I give up” isn’t a sustainable solution. Sweeping problems (and problem officers) under the rug doesn’t work. Perpetuating and doubling-down on “how we’ve always done things” doesn’t cut it. We’ve been doing that for decades, and the results keep getting more extreme.

A city worker power-washes "Defund the Police" from the road outside the Atlanta Police Department, after the protests in Atlanta.
A city worker power-washes “Defund the Police” from the road outside the Atlanta Police Department, after the protests in Atlanta. When the protests subside, will calls for reform be as easy to erase or ignore? (Photo by Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

What is policing supposed to do?

It gets down to questioning the very purpose of policing. Why do we have police? To keep public order, so we feel safer in our neighborhoods? To respond to (or ideally limit/prevent) crimes such as murder, assault, rape, fraud, and similar invasions of property and person

Do they have a role in limiting vandalism, truancy, and roving bands of unoccupied youths, or should other programs address those ills?

Do we want police to prioritize our privacy and personal autonomy at the expense of the privacy and personal autonomy of others? How much governmental intrusion is acceptable, and are we okay with knowing that some people experience more heavy-handed treatment than others?

De-criminalizing our society

Many proposals start with a laundry-list of things to de-criminalize. I’ve already mentioned de-criminalizing homelessness in this article. A strong case also can be made for de-criminalizing addiction and drug possession

Much is made, in gun-violence arguments, of the urgent need for better mental health services. Yet we are a very long way from de-criminalizing mental illness and creating a robust safety net of mental health services.

De-criminalizing poverty is another consideration. We could do this in part by examining all proposed statutes, civil codes, and local ordinances to see which disproportionately afflict poor people. Another good starting place might be not over-policing poor and minority neighborhoods.

This cartoon by artist Barrie Maguire makes the point that de-criminalizing drug addiction would free up jail space.
Decriminalizing addiction, drug use and other “offenses” that could better be handled by other agencies would also free up jail space (Barrie Maguire cartoon courtesy of the Philadelpha Inquirer).

Where do we go from here?

Some”de-fund” arguments focus, not on policing itself, but on problems that perpetuate the conditions that encourage crime

Even before the pandemic threw them into glaring prominence, inequalities in educational opportunities, in health care, in food security and economic opportunity were major concerns. So it’s not surprising inequities claim prominent places on many people’s “to-reform” lists. Yet all of those things get less money from local governments than policing. Many cities’ biggest budget item is its public safety budget.

Some observers fear we’re rushing into things with half-baked approaches to revamping police forces or radically altering them. Others fear we’ll only use half-measures, then reluctant politicians will have an “out” to declare, “well, that didn’t work!” a few weeks or years from now.

But what if we were really serious about this? What if we actually tried a well-thought-out plan to readjust the way we do social well-being, including efforts to ensure law, order, and justice for everyone? For real.

I think we’re all still trying to figure out how that would look. But next week in this space, I’ll take a stab at relating my own vision and thoughts to my stories about policing in the future on Rana Station.

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to the Charlotte Observer/McClatchey, for the Kevin Sierscartoon. The “Defund the Police Teapot” illustration is from Aleksey Weintraub, @LAKUTIS via Twitter. It appears to be a clever adaptation of a photo of an actual, multi-spout teapot from Tea Exporter India (now a defunct link) via Alobha Exim’s Pinterest board. The photo of the city worker power-washing the street in front of the Atlanta Police Department is by the formidable Alyssa Pointerof the Atlanta Journal-Constitution The remarkable Barrie Maguire (who also did a stint at Kansas City’s own Hallmark) is a marvelous fine-art painter of Irish-inspired work, but he also created cartoons for the Philadelphia Inquirer for a while, including this one dramatizing prison overcrowding.

This photo shows crisis dog Tikva, a Keeshond, with responders at Ground Zero.

Service dogs for first responders

In light of Wednesday’s post, here’s a video about service dogs for first responders. 

Thank goodness, leadership in some areas has begun to cut through the “tough-guy” culture in many agencies. It’s high time we recognize the huge impact of stress on first responders. When more than twice as many police officers die by suicide than in the line of duty, something is seriously wrong!

Anyone who’s followed this blog for a while knows I’ve posted about service dogs many times before. I’ve featured dogs who help calm child witnesses in courtrooms, and others who aid deaf people, or help with mobility.

Some comfort hospice patients, or support recovery from PTSD. Especially as they’ve become more widely used to treat PTSD in military veterans, it’s logical to expand the idea to include service dogs for first responders.

Dogs’ roles have evolved

This kind of caregiving role for our canine friends isn’t a universal centuries-old tradition. Over the millennia they’ve been our co-hunters, herding dogs, and guard dogs. But in isolated instances people have used animals as helps in therapy or guides throughout history

L-R in a wonderful composite photo created by Tori Holmes for Bark-Post: A mural from Herculaneum shows an ancient Roman dog used to guide a bind person.  Morris Frank and his guide dog Buddy walk down a city street (she is popularly considered to be the first guide dog in the US). The third photo portrays a contemporary guide dog with her person.
L-R in a wonderful composite photo created by Tori Holmes for Bark-Post: A mural from Herculaneum shows an ancient Roman dog used to guide a bind person.  Morris Frank and his guide dog Buddy walk down a city street (she is popularly considered to be the first guide dog in the US). The third photo portrays a contemporary guide dog with her person.

Our contemporary understanding of what a service dog can do began in Germany after World War I. Former ambulance dogs found new roles as guide dogs for blinded veterans. The idea spread to the United States, where trainers established several schools.

Developing the concept

From there, a whole new chapter in the relationship between dogs and humans has unfolded. Service dogs now help people deal with all kinds of medical and mental health issues

But the first time I became aware of therapy dogs helping first responders cope was through stories about therapy dogs at the site of the 9/11 wreckage

This photo shows crisis dog Tikva, a Keeshond, with responders at Ground Zero.
Crisis dog Tikva, a Keeshond, helped responders cope at Ground Zero. (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)

Individual agencies have begun bringing in therapy dogs occasionally. In the 911 Call Center for Sheboygan County, WI, a team of therapy dogs visits on a regular schedule. 

Back in Fairfax County, home of the police in our opening video, they also have a Goldendoodle therapy dog named Wally in Fire Station 32. Therapy dogs have been brought in to help firefighters battling wildfires in Californina (I hope in Australia, too!).

I think this trend of providing service dogs for first responders is positive. What do you think? Should more agencies should explore it as a way to offer our first responders some relief?

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to VOA for the video about therapy dogs in the Fairfax VA Police Department. I deeply appreciate the three-photo composite of guide dogs through the centuries from Tori Holmes and Bark-Post. Finally, I want to thank the New York Daily News for the photo of Tikva the Keeshond, and the accompanying article about therapy dogs at Ground Zero.

A police officer defends a medic who is trying to help his wounded partner.

Daniel Sundahl’s artwork about first responder stress

When I first stumbled across Daniel Sundahl’s artwork about first responder stress, it left a resounding impression. A major theme in my upcoming novel A Bone to Pick is first responder stress and the marks it can leave on a person. (A Bone to Pick is the second book in the XK9 Trilogy. Its projected pub date is in August 2020). 

Post-traumatic stress is a huge problem for first responders

The toll that traumatic events can take on professionals who are regularly exposed to blood, gore, violence and death is huge. The first responder community is beginning to understand it’s impossible for people to “tough it out” indefinitely and continue to thrive. Not without help and support. But cultural change is slow. It’s hard for “tough guys” of both/all genders to admit they need help.

In his public appearances, Daniel Sundahl uses his artwork to get people talking about hard-to-discuss issues. (This December 2019 photo is currently Daniel's Facebook profile picture.)
In his public appearances, Daniel Sundahl uses his artwork to get people talking about hard-to-discuss issues. (This December 2019 photo is currently Daniel’s Facebook profile picture.)

Unfortunately, it also can be hard for them to find help once they realize they need it. That culture of denial can go all the way to the top. And the US has never been a great haven of enlightenment when it comes to mental health.

Daniel is a firefighter and paramedic as well as an artist. He’s also an activist on the topic of first responder post-traumatic stress. He pours his passion on the subject into both his artwork and his speaking engagements.

With that introduction, I hope you’ll be moved and fascinated by Daniel Sundahl’s artwork about first responder stress. He depicts scenes featuring all types of first responders. In this post I’ve shared one example each from Communications/Dispatch, EMS, Fire, and Police

But you can see much more of his work on his website and his Facebook page. All images are © by Daniel Sundahl and DanSun Photo Art, and have been used with the artist’s permission. Please do not reproduce or re-post them without express permission from Daniel!

Communications Departments

A uniformed woman sits in an emergency dispatch call center station with an exhausted look on her face, while the faint, ghostly images of people in danger or pain float around her.
The Ghosts of Dispatch © by Daniel Sundahl. Of this image, he writes, “Speaking with someone as they kill themselves or hearing someone pleading for help as they’re being murdered is something the rest of us just don’t understand. This one is for all the dispatchers. Stay safe brothers and sisters.” 

My first encounter with Daniel’s art came when I discovered The Ghosts of Dispatch while searching for images to illustrate my blog post “Merry Christmas, and be careful out there.” It took my breath away the first time I saw it, for a multitude of reasons. 

Emergency Medical Services

Is there anything I can say that’s more eloquent than what Daniel himself has written about this next image?

An EMT holds a shrouded baby in his arms, against a black background. One tiny, bloodless arm dangles from the wrapping, but the ghostly image of a living baby reaches up to touch his face.
Children of Heaven © by Daniel Sundahl. “I often hear from fellow Paramedics of the terrible calls they’ve had involving children. . . . Calls involving children are the ones that affect us the most. . . . I still have many calls in my head that I can’t get out that involve children. . . . I call this image Children of Heaven. It brings me peace thinking where these kids are now instead of thinking of what happened to them. “

First responder stress probably can’t get much worse than a murdered baby. But then, it also seems there’s an unimaginable range of horrors it is possible to confront, and the folks who’ll confront them are first responders, God help them.

Fire

Artwork about first responder stress among firefighters is a recurring theme from Sundahl.

A group of firefighters in full gear confront a blaze and billowing smoke. At the heart of the flames an angry dragon's head spews fire at them.
Fire Fight © by Daniel Sundahl. “Fighting the Dragon…my fellow firefighters know what this means.” As a fantasy artist myself, I absolutely could not resist this one.

Firefighters stand between the rest of us and that dragon. Whether it’s a raging structural fire,  vehicle-turned-inferno, or a wildfire roaring up a steep hillside, they stand between it and us. All too often they pay a steep price, as well.

Police

Police officers never know what’s coming, but like all first responders their lives are spent on call. Their schedules exist at the mercy of the next emergency. A day can be fairly uneventful, and then turn suddenly deadly. 

In a wintry landscape with a city at sunset behind them, one officer kneels and fires a gun. Nearby a female medic bends over to render aid to his partner, who has been shot.
Officer Down, © by Daniel Sundahl. “Would you enter a live shooting event to treat the injured and help take them to safety? What if it was someone you knew? The medic and fallen officer in this image are close friends in real life. They work on the same shift so this situation is a real possibility for them. I have no doubt she would risk her life to save him.”

hope you’ve been inspired by these images and the brave people they represent. Daniel Sundahl’s artwork about first responder stress is real and authentic because he has lived the situations he portrays. They all fight the dragon for us, one way or another. They all stand between us and that unimaginable range of horrors.

IMAGE CREDITS: All images are © by Daniel Sundahl and DanSun Photo Art, and have been used with the artist’s permission. Please do not reproduce or re-post them without express permission from Daniel!

Santa's traded his red suit for police blue for this Merry Christmas message.

Merry Christmas, and be careful out there

Not everyone gets to celebrate at home with their families today. With that in mind, today’s post is a tribute to the first responders who have to work. Because heart attacks don’t take a holidayNeither do fires. Nor mental health emergencies. Nor crime. “Let’s be careful out there” was an iconic line from the 1980s show Hill Street Blues, but it applies in all decades. 

In the past I’ve written about ways to thank first responders, and I hope I’ve expressed my thanks and respect through other blog posts as well. But it’s time to do it again. So to all first responders I’d just like to say, Merry Christmas, and be careful out there!

911 Dispatchers

The Dispatch Center at the Ada County Sheriff's Department in Ada County, Idaho is a busy place during the holidays, just like practically every other 911 Dispatch center.
The Dispatch Center at the Ada County Sheriff’s Department in Ada County, Idaho is a busy place during the holidays, just like practically every other 911 Dispatch center.

It’s a too-frequently-forgotten crucible of chaos that’s often a center of frantic activity on holidays: the place where the calls come in. 9-1-1 dispatchers have a high-stress front row seat on the worst day in the life of practically everyone in town.

That goes double for busy winter holidays. Roads are often wet or icy. People are distracted, inebriated, or both. Stuff happens. And 9-1-1 dispatchers are expected to remain rock-steady through it all. No, they’re not out in the weather, but never imagine they’re not in the fight. And never imagine their job is easy. 

hope they’ll accept my heartfelt thanks, for what they’re worth!

Emergency Medical Service and Firefighters

EMS doesn't always get shoveled sidewalks or plowed streets when it snows, but it's nice when that happens. (Photo by Gold Cross Ambulance/Post Bulletin)
EMS doesn’t always get shoveled sidewalks or plowed streets when it snows, but it’s nice when that happens. (Photo by Gold Cross Ambulance/Post Bulletin)

EMS is part of the local Fire Department in much of the United States, but not always or everywhere. However they’re organized, when Dispatch calls they go. No matter what’s on the ground. Shouldn’t matter which neighborhood (although, sadly, sometimes it may). And it doesn’t matter how gory or horrible the things they see when they arrive might be. 

Winter is a difficult time to fight fires. Added to the usual dangers, cold weather can cause falls from slips on ice, frostbite, and related hazards. Add all of this to the strain of being away from one’s family, and you can see that holiday duty comes with added stress

Many thanks to all of you! Merry Christmas, and be careful out there!

A fire truck stands inside a fire station. A Christmas wreath adorns its grille.
Christmas cheer is where you make it at the fire station, when you have to work that day or night. (Photo: WJHG Channel 7, Panama City Beach, FL)
Someone has completely covered this fire truck with more Christmas lights than you could easily imagine. It is blinged out past the max.
Sometimes it’s a modest wreath . . . sometimes it’s a bit more elaborate. (Photo: Ephraim325 on Reddit)

Police Officers

Many of the people who come into contact with police officers during the holidays are not happy to see them. Drunk drivers, domestic disturbances in stressed-out households, thieves from porch pirates to armed robbers, and many other criminals take no holidays. In fact, Christmas is “the most dangerous time of the year.

This makes police officers’ Thanksgivings thankless, their Christmases critical, and their New Years nasty. Whatever holidays they celebrate, they know they’ll receive more curses than holiday greetings on those days.

I know one blog post can’t make up for all the abuse, but this blogger thanks you! Merry Christmas, and be careful out there!

I found a couple of cartoons by this unidentified artist, featuring an "Officer Santa" character. Here's one that says, "Thank you to all our first responders working over the holidays to keep us safe."
I found a couple of cartoons by this unidentified artist, featuring an “Officer Santa” character. (If you know who the artist is, I’d love to know and give credit!) (Sidney Ohio City Government on Facebook)
Here's the second picture. Clearly the same artist, same "Officer Santa" character, same rousing thank-you message: "Thank you for working the holidays so others can enjoy theirs."
Clearly the same artist, same character, same rousing thank-you message. (Police Benevolent Foundation)

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to the Ada County (ID) Sheriff’s Glassdoor listing, for this uncredited photo of their dispatch center. I’m grateful to The Rochester (MN) Post Bulletin and Gold Cross Ambulance (now called Mayo Clinic Ambulance). I also thank WJHG Channel 7, of Panama City Beach (FL), for their photo and story about first responders working on the holidays. I’m very grateful to Ephraim 325 on Reddit, via Pinterest. I’m grateful to the Sidney, Ohio City Government’s Facebook Page for the first “Officer Santa” picture, and to the Police Benevolent Foundation, via the “Sh*t My Callers Say” Tumbler, written by an emergency response dispatcher. The Featured Image is thanks to Mike Morr on Twitter, via Pinterest.

New Year’s Eve reminders

Not all of us get to party tonight. Please spare a thought for our first responders, who’ll be on the job to keep us safe!

Holiday Cheer for Our First Responders, a painting by Teresa Ascone.

Be nice to them at checkpoints, and designate a driver, please!

Keeping us safe this Holiday Season, a poster by Teresa Ascone.
They’re working hard tonight! Don’t give them more to do!

IMAGE: Many thanks to Teresa Ascone via Fine Art America for her Holiday Cheer for Our First Responders painting, and to Teresa Ascone’s “Holiday Art” Pinterest page for her Keeping Us Safe this Holiday Season poster. Thanks to Bonfire Designs for the EMS greeting.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén