As we approach the one year memorial of the horrific events which took place on 14 December 2012, for one Newtown, CT, police officer, the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre dwells deep within in the form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). No one can deny the unspeakable loss of life which transpired on that gruesome day took its toll on humanity.
For one policeman who was one of the first responders on scene to witness the carnage at Sandy Hook, Police Officer Thomas Bean’s police career is shrouded by more grim news: A potentially career-ending PTSD diagnosis and the Newtown Police Department (NPD) claiming it may terminate Bean for inability to perform his duty.
Although most can agree police officers are highly trained individuals who are expected to make some sense out of tragedy…to pick up the pieces, to restore order, the viability in doing so with circumstances beyond any expectation and/or training is tantamount to placing logic and subdued emotion with a robotic cop.
Officer Thomas Bean is not robotic; he is rife with human emotion. No matter any police officer’s training, life experiences, and professional development, a human entity is still first and foremost wired to emote. The polarity of human emoting ranges from highly euphoric to deeply sad.
With that said, the gruesome nature and totality of circumstances regarding the slayings of six adults –and 20 school-age at the Sandy Hook Elementary crime scene– is unfathomable. To expect any one of the numerous first responders to not be tainted by such an explicitly-surreal scene of carnage is implausible, to say the least.
However, as Officer Bean is encountering, his professionally-based diagnosis of PTSD stemming from the Sandy Hook massacre now has him confronting an unsupportive police administration. Equation? Officer Bean is reeling from a distraught state of mind not only from the macabre scene he witnessed while in the Sandy Hook domain, he is also having to battle resistance pertaining to due-diligent efforts in securing his police job or compensation stemming from an official diagnosis.
Based on his reported mental inability to practice law enforcement, the Newtown Police Department is waging it can only afford to compensate Officer Bean for approximately two years of disability pay, after which he is essentially on his own.
To suggest a shortchange for such a noble practitioner who is utterly impacted by such gross human depravity is, well, grossly inhumane.
Akin to other human evolutionary character traits, we are quickly realizing the enormity of burdens absorbed by cops, most of which is brought on by confronting malfeasance of tremendous proportions. Once the shift concludes and the uniform is peeled away, that human soul still remains…emoting and unable to easily filter away the thrust of mental baggage gleaned while on duty.
As is the case with military personnel, post-traumatic stress disorder is pervasive among first responders. Entirely related components of PTSD abound, primary of which is police suicide. Experts in the study of this phenomena (such as Dr. John Violanti) urge taking a much closer look at police suicide. PTSD diagnoses appear to be a significant correlate from which to start examination of the potential of suicide, particularly when precursors are lacking.
The Badge of Life organization has amassed data illustrating the increasing propensity for suicide in police culture. Moreover, the National Study of Police Suicides (NSOPS) delineates the growing trend among police officers who opt suicide.
Notwithstanding the requisite basic skills taught at law enforcement academies, it must be part of police cadet curriculum to be aware of PTSD and similar effects. We do not expect police officers at crime scenes to go in blind, so why not indoctrinate a framework regarding mental maintenance and recognition of significant pressures from the course of police duty? Empowerment is key.
A recent Washington State Basic Law Enforcement Academy class was asked what part of their police career choice troubled them most. One of a few responses was “abandonment by their agency’s senior management because of political expediency.” This response was reportedly from a police cadet class about to graduate; nary experience was relied upon to render such an answer.
ANY police academy curriculum has at its core the principle of teamwork, back-up, and unity in performance of duty.
To simply shuck away some –if not all– responsibility is akin to turning your back on a partner in need, when it is needed most: Direly.
Any implications of the Newtown PD to simply sever ties with one of its own, based on a deeply troubling situation caused by a duty-related impetus, is against the police officer’s credo to uphold the Constitution and protect and serve…including protection of and service towards others in uniform.
As Police Officer Thomas Bean has publicly stated: “That night I drank alot. The next day, I wanted to cut myself because I felt so numb.”
Newtown’s collective bargaining agreement with its police force is predicated on taking heed to such human tragedies and the debilitating effects it has on its police officers. To care for its own police officers is a basic tenet spelled out in the town’s collective bargaining agreement via union negotiations.
Via official letter, Newtown Police Chief Michael Kehoe informed Officer Bean in August 2013: “Termination of your employment with the Newtown Police Department is warranted and will be my recommendation to the Newtown Police Commission.”
Perhaps most telling is a declaration made by Officer Bean in which he asserted that he expects the government of Newtown to uphold its end of a bargain made with the police union, that it will take care of its own police force if something were to go wrong. Bean argues that the town is reneging on its pact with its officers.