Ladies and Gentlemen of the Anne Arundel County Police Department, both active and retired, families at home. I write this to you today not just as your Chief, but as someone who loves you as a brother or sister in this police family. Each and every day we brave the worst society can throw at us. We go through this to make our community a better place to live. I am not telling you anything you do not know when I say we often sacrifice much of ourselves for the greater good.
This sacrifice comes in many forms and each officer weathers the “storms” of his or her career differently. Our retired brothers and sisters have in the past, dealt with the same struggles our active officers continue to deal with today. Whether it be in the past, present, or in the future, we all have to deal with the toll this career takes on us. I want you to know that you are not alone.
Almost every day we lose a member of our law enforcement family to suicide or addiction. That number continues to rise every year at a tragic rate. We cannot idly stand by while our family continues to suffer. To help change this tragic trend we need to get to the heart of the matter. Post-Traumatic Stress is a real condition many in our profession struggle with every day. What causes this is different for every person and the symptoms we experience and ways we deal with them vary. Please, know that this condition is highly treatable, but PTS is not the only elephant in the room. Below is a quote from an article written by Dr. Olivia N. Johnson of the Blue Wall Institute, a veteran and a former police officer.
“There is no doubt that the job can and does play a role in completed suicide. I have been researching suicide among law enforcement for nearly 15 years and what I am not hearing anyone talk about are the things that happen behind closed doors. We see and feel the grief, we hear about the pain and the immense hurt of those left behind, but we rarely hear about the relationship issues, the pending divorce, infidelity, domestic issues, financial problems, mental health issues, the addictions, and so on. The truth: every family has secrets, every family has issues, and every family has moments of regret and turmoil.
The thing that brings us together is that we are all human. Often, we all struggle and hurt with many of the same human things. We have all loved. We have all lost—some more than others. Many of us are just trying to pick up the pieces, trying to make sense of what happened, and trying to make life seem livable again. And the truth is, every second, every minute, and every day can feel like an eternal struggle in an ocean filled with quicksand.”
For all the struggles we deal with during our careers, there are others at home as highlighted by Dr. Johnson. Some of these struggles can be life altering, while others can be simple every day stressors that build up over time. You do not have to deal with these struggles alone and in the dark. You are NOT the only one dealing with them. I promise you that. We pride ourselves in this profession with our ability to “deal with it” on our own. I want you to know that there is no shame in seeking help. We all need it at some point in our lives. We often feel like we will be labelled or “less of a cop” because we seek help. I can tell you that is far from the truth. It makes you a stronger person and a better officer when we seek the help we need. If you need more proof of that, know that I am currently seeking help for depression and anxiety that are most certainly made worse by my own issues with post-traumatic stress. (Paper cuts weren’t always the worst thing I dealt with.)
Attached to this letter is the contact number for Peer Support, a service by officers for officers, provided at no cost. The only goal of Peer Support is to offer assistance when you are dealing with the weight this job puts on your back. Brothers and sisters, both retired and active, whatever life throws your way, you do NOT have to struggle alone. This resource is confidential and offers assistance with everything from bereavement to addiction. Peer Support is constantly growing and improving to adapt to our ever changing department and our needs. There are also several vetted resources for mental health and addiction, specifically designed for first responders. These resources are available to you 24/7/365. Please do not hesitate to contact any of them. Put the numbers on the kitchen refrigerator and share them with your family.
For our family members reading this at home, you are part of our law enforcement family as well. You are the foundation that supports our officers every day. In order to maintain that strong foundation, I encourage you to use these resources as well. They are as much for you as they are for the officers you love and support.
As the saying goes, we are all in this together. Please, if you are suffering and hiding it, reach out to your brothers and sisters trained to help you. If you are not currently suffering and you see someone who is, help bring them out of the dark and let them know there is nothing to be ashamed of in seeking assistance. Lead them to the resources here to help them so that we may continue to grow stronger as a family. I end this letter with some wise words of the great baseball player Lou Gehrig, “So I close in saying that I might have had a tough break – but I have an awful lot to live for!”
Peer Support 410-222-3475 and Safe Call Now 206-459-3020 (24/7/365 hotline for first responders only)
-Timothy Altomare, Chief of Police