For soldiers patrolling in Iraq and Afghanistan, death can come from a bomb hidden in a trash pile or an innocent-looking face in the crowd. Returning home alive can depend on the quick turn of a steering wheel or pull of a trigger.
Those heightened survival instincts don't always translate when those soldiers return home to their jobs as law enforcement officers.
In interviews with The Associated Press and in dozens of anecdotes compiled in a survey by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance, officers described feeling compelled to use tactics they employed in war zones after they returned to work in the U.S. and feeling less patient toward the public they serve.
One officer said he felt compelled to fire his gun in the air to disperse an unruly crowd in California. Others said they felt wary about being flanked when working crowd control. And others said after seeing the hardships ordinary Afghans and Iraqis lived with, it's hard to care about complaints over pet droppings.
The report, which was issued late last year, warns that the blurring of the line between combat and confrontations with criminal suspects at home may result in "inappropriate decisions and actions — particularly in the use of ... force. This similarity ... could result in injury or death to an innocent civilian."
In two high-profile cases, officers blamed their overzealous use of force on complications from their military service.
Wayne Williamson, an Austin, Texas, police officer who served 18 months in Iraq, was fired in 2008 after he opened fire on a fleeing assault suspect in a crowded parking lot. A dispatcher had reported that the suspect was carrying a knife, but Williamson said he didn't see a weapon when he fired.
None of the rounds hit their mark, but one struck a minivan with two children inside. They were not injured.
Williamson told investigators he had been having trouble readjusting to some aspects of civilian life and that he had trouble differentiating between Iraq and Austin during the confrontation.
Friday, March 12, 2010
Returning vets face rocky transition from soldier to cop
Given how many law enforcement officers were also part of military reserve units deployed after 9/11, not to mention the fact that police agencies recruit heavily among ex-military, I was interested to see an AP item on a topic I've wondered about: The not-always-smooth transition from soldier to police officer after they return. Here's how the story opens ("Study: Law officers struggle to readjust after war," March 10):