Monday, April 22nd, 2024 Church Directory

Policing in rural communities

When many Americans think of police departments, they sometimes envision big agencies with large numbers of detectives, forensic specialists, and SWAT teams at the ready. But about half of this country’s law enforcement departments have fewer than 10 officers, according to a 2015 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and approximately 70 percent of them serve communities of fewer than 10,000.

Ala Andy Griffith and Barney Fife from the Andy Griffith Show.

However, unlike what is depicted on TV shows, small town police departments face many of the same challenges as their big city counterparts, but there’s one big difference between the two: Small town law enforcement typically only has a fraction of the resources — and manpower — as the big city departments do. It can make policing a real challenge in a small city, especially if there’s only one or two officers on duty at a time. For this reason, it’s important for smaller police departments to uncover ways to work smarter, and not necessarily harder.

These small, usually rural, communities have the same problems that their counterparts in metropolitan areas have, including substance abuse, violent crime, and homelessness. But small towns have small tax bases, which results in less funding for personnel, training, equipment, technology and other resources that local, state, and tribal law enforcement need to prevent crime and maintain public safety.

And yet, when people start talking police, small town cops suddenly are gouped in with the bigger city cops and the actions of these larger municipalty departments reflect throughout the agencies. The troubles of urban tends to trickle down to rural.

Police officers do more than just patrol and pull people over for speeding. POs are regularly responsible for answering calls and initiating actions that place them in dangerous situations, causing daily stress and anxiousness. Further, they are expected to manage their anxieties and behavior in such a way that minimal harm is done to others while protecting themselves. This sometimes places police officers in emotional conflicts that require the suppression of instinctive reactions and the maintenance of behavior and image that projects rationality and professionalism. Over time the psychological effects of such stress may reduce proficiencies of coping mechanisms and increase the risks for posttraumatic stress disorder, physical ailments, substance abuse, and suicide (suicide among police officers is three times greater than the national average). 

People sometimes only see the “bad apple” cops that grab the media attention and headlines when the majority of American police, experts say, do not run afoul of the laws they’re sworn to uphold.

“We’re finding the numbers are pretty constant,” said Neal Trautman, executive director of the National Institute of Ethics and author of “How to be a Great Cop.” “It is less than one percent.”

Police officers are not superhumans. Research shows that they are affected by their daily exposure to human indecency and pain. That dealing with a suspicious and sometimes hostile public takes its toll on them; and that the shift changes, the long periods of boredom, and the ever-present danger that are part of police work do cause serious job stress.

In addition to the foregoing stress-related factors common to policing, small town police officers have distinctive risks related to stress, including regular on-duty and off-duty contact with individuals who may become offenders or victims, critiques and rumors about an officer’s off-duty behavior, and unrealistic demands from town officials and residents given the limited personnel and resources available. Police agencies must not only recognize and promote on-duty and off-duty measures that are effective in reducing the presence and management of stress among officers, but in the case of small-town officers, the community must be made aware of the need for officers to be genuinely off-duty when the time comes. 

In the past, departments either ignored officers with problems or dealt with them informally by assigning them to desk jobs. During the 1950s, some departments began to formalize their responses, usually by incorporating officer-initiated Alcoholics Anonymous groups made up exclusively of alcoholic officers. In the 1970s, departments instituted “employee assistance” programs to deal with problem officers, particularly those suffering from alcoholism. These programs have expanded into a broad range of responses to police stress. Some programs focus on physical fitness, diet, relaxation, and biofeedback to cope with stress. Others emphasize family counseling to involve spouses in reducing police stress.

Measures that individual officers can take are to eat a balanced diet, drink plenty of fluids, avoid the use of tobacco products, exercise daily, sleep a minimum of eight hours every 24 hours, schedule time for themselves, take vacations, take time for hobbies, and have an annual physical.

The few cases of police misconduct have been magnified and exaggerated, mainly by videos on TV.

The resulting pressure on law enforcement is unfair. Of course, police misconduct must be openly investigated along with accountability. But all of America depends on protection from the officers in blue.

Without them, we would descend into chaos.

The following are just a few things people can do to help make a police officers job a little easier: 

Always be polite;

Always be respectful;

Always give them the benefit of the doubt;

Always comply.

And thank them for all they do to risk their lives to protect all of us.