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):
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.


Anonymous said...

How odd as to the timing of this article.

I was thinking the exact same thing just the other day. Police Officers have already largely become para-military groups (SWAT, ERT, etc.) - yet face no similar opponents (i.e. military or paramilitary units)in country.

These militarized police units have virtually no real use, in fact spending 99% of their "deployment" time instead serving up warrants ( the job of peace officers - not warriors).

And returning veterans are highly sought after by police departments.

We have and are going to have an ever increasing deadly debacle due to mission confusion and scope creep.

It's a train wreck waiting to happen.

And given the military's properly used penchant and necessity to storm possible combatants buildings - one can easily see the 4th amendment being completely neutered as civilian suspects' homes also become (improper) targets to be stormed military style.

Anonymous said...

So are you suggesting, Grits (and Anon. 3:17), that in a time of high unemployment we should not allow veterans from Iraq or Afghanistan to become law enforcement officers?

Anonymous said...

For: 3/12/2010 04:01:00 PM

The "high unemployment" wordage used is an obvious red herring.

But to answer your question, I am suggesting that the skills learned and ingrained in one job are not always well suited for, and are possibly dangerous, in another profession.

Similarly, am I suggesting that former attack dogs not be employed as seeing eye dogs.

Likewise, am I suggesting that former abattoir employees not be employed a surgeons.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

4:01, I suggested no such thing. You're just trolling.

Anonymous said...

10 percent unemployment is a "red herring? I'm sure that's very comforting to the millions of Americans, including many Veterans, who are wondering where their next paycheck might come from.

Grits, if you didn't think there was a problem here I'm curious as to why you posted this story? What, if anything, are you implying?

Anonymous said...

To 3/12/2010 05:46:00 PM:

Why are you babbling on about unemployment; which by the way is under-reported, i.e. your 10% figure is actually low.

No one disagrees that our economy is a serious problem and quite frankly more serious than most are aware.

But attempting to argue the non-sequitur of unemployment as opposed to skills inappropriate for a profession (in this case "warrior v peace officer") is clearly a red herring.

Next you'll be "arguing" that those whose families have a long, long history of military service to this country to this day, like mine, are unpatriotic because we are intelligent enough to recognize the need to match appropriate skills with appropriate jobs.

"Your Kung Fu is weak!"

Gritsforbreakfast said...

6:23: You meant to say, "Your Troll Fu is weak." ;)

5:46, read into it what you will. You're going to, anyway. I posted the story, as I said, because it addressed an issue I've wondered about before and the article presented the results of recent research on the topic.

Jerri Lynn Ward, J.D. said...

"So are you suggesting, Grits (and Anon. 3:17), that in a time of high unemployment we should not allow veterans from Iraq or Afghanistan to become peace officers?"

No, we should consider them to have prior claim to law enforcement jobs because they are veterans. After all, mothers and children in minivans are just collateral damage.

I can't believe that there is even a debate about this. It's bad enough that "officer safety" seems to be considered more important than the lives of innocent people who get in the way. Now, jobs for battle-hardened occupation-force veterans is more important than the people that peace officers are supposed to serve and protect?

I try not to think in collectivist terms, but I sure want maximum scrutiny before putting one of these guys on a civilian police force. I sympathize with the veterans of these two crappy, useless wars, but to me, the safety of our people is more important than their need for a job.

Anonymous said...

No doubt the very definition of policing has gradually changed over the past thirty years from a purely domestic policing role to a highly militaristic and increasingly "secret" force. The public worship of all things military, soldierly, and anything of the warrior mentality has helped it along. People love it and support it by reflex. It is now to the point that it is dangerous to not support it or to criticize it. It scares me, seriously, because what it says to me is that Americans WANT a militaristic police state. They seem to be mesmerized by the excitement of the violence and force in their otherwise boring lives (boring now because everything is either illegal or expensive). It has a chilling effect on free speech and expression.

I have frequently voiced Jerri Lynn Ward's argument by asking why "officer safety" has taken precedence to all human rights of American citizens. I am generally looked at like I have said something crazy. There is a fundamental breakdown in reasoning with that, unless you like military dictatorships. Now, the same reasoning has gone to new levels -- whatever is "easiest" for the police is what we all should favor. Clearly, under the constitution, the goal of American life should be to make the lives of police officers "easier". To most Americans today, "officer safety", or making police work "easier", is an acceptable rationale for anything, regardless of who else's "safety" or "ease" is compromised. Clearly, the logic is gone from our ideal when "officer safety" and "ease" are more important than the very reason for their existence -- citizen safety.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 4:01-
I don't speak for Grits or the other anon poster; but yes I am saying that military personnel should NOT be allowed to serve as civilian police officers. I am steadfastly opposed to even national guard members serving as police officers.

I am a criminal defense lawyer who has nothing but respect for those that serve our country in times of peace and times of war. However, they have no business being police officers. The reason for this is that the mindset for these professions are not compatible. The us vs. them mentality of the modern police department is bad enough. If you throw actual military service into the mix it is even worse.

It's unfortunate but it's the truth.

Anonymous said...

"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."

Given the pro-police source of the information: the IACP and th USBOJ, the above pretty much says it all.

We don't need more "warrior cops" in our neighborhoods.

TxBluesMan said...

Grits, are you suggesting that we have police departments violate Federal law on veteran's re-employment rights? IIRC, Dallas PD wanted to do something like that following Gulf War I - right until the Feds mentioned that they would cut all federal funding for all city programs if Dallas followed through on it, including housing, human services, roads, etc., not just funding for the police.

Just another liberal slapdown of veterans.

Your fans should be ashamed of themselves.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"are you suggesting that we have police departments violate Federal law on veteran's re-employment rights?"

No Bluesy, I'm suggesting you're a clueless, cowardly moron taking cheap shots from behind a veil of anonymity. I said no such thing and you know it. Asshole.

Jerri Lynn Ward, J.D. said...

I don't usually respond to that factotum of statist power, TMB. Frankly, I'd rather flick him across the room like the dried up piece of snot that he is. However...

A REAL conservative would look to the 10th amendment and tell the federal government to screw itself and the pony it rode in on, especially when it comes to the safety of Texas citizens.

Hoof said...

So let's punish the veterans. Better yet, let's put more emphasis on the innocence of violent felons and their victimization over an honorable man or woman that served their country. I believe the right attention to rehabilitate returning combat veterans will be more successful than rehabilitating most offenders. But that wouldn't fit into the agenda here. I bet it's easy to make a career out of finger pointing and blame gaming with absolutely no effort to contribute to solving each one identified.

Anonymous said...


I think you are missing the point in the most comic of ignorant knee-jerk fashions. (BTW "ignorance" does not mean unintelligent... I'm not calling you stupid … just rabidly hoof in mouth uninformed and melodramatically hyperbolic.)

Where in any post has anyone "punished" or denigrated our fine veterans? If anything I see the opposite. In fact, I’ve never run across anyone anywhere at any time denigrating our veterans. They may be against the “wars” but it’s pretty clear that the entire nation stands behind and supports our fine soldiers.

The point you and some others are missing is that issue is about matching skill sets with a specific job that literally has the tremendous power to take or imprison an American's life.

Would you hire a claustrophobic person to work on a submarine? Hopefully, your answer would be the sane one: “of course not”.

Warriors do not make good peace officers. Warriors are trained as they fight and fight as they are trained. Their missions are diametrically opposed to those of a peace officer.

Especially if that veteran has been in a fire fight or the like. Those instances and the resultant instincts are forever encoded within that person's "DNA" IMHO.

Those experiences and instincts are the antithesis of the skills needed in America in the profession of "Protect and Serve" Peace Officers.

It is notable that you conveniently skip over that fact that the key people in the article recognizing this issue are Police Chiefs, the Bureau of Justice and most tellingly, veterans themselves.

So I guess the people you’re most upset with as relates to “punishing veterans” are really the Police Chiefs, the Bureau of Justice and the veterans themselves?