By Alexandra Wessling, P1 Staff
For many officers, 2018 was a tough year. Controversial court cases and officer-involved shootings dominated headlines, and agencies continued to struggle with complex issues like recruitment and retention.
Still, there were many highlights: The viral Lip Sync Challenge promoted departmental solidarity. Heroes rose to the occasion. More departments adjusted to the times, removing unpopular policies like bans on beards and tattoos. Several departments authorized pay raises and took advantage of grants to fund much-needed training and equipment.
But though 2018 had its victories, members agreed: There’s room for improvement in the New Year.
Load-bearing vests, better mental health support and an end to the recruitment crisis topped P1 readers’ wishlists for 2019. What agency improvements do you hope to see in the New Year? Leave your comments below.
1. NEW YEAR, NEW GEAR: DITCH DUTY BELTS
Duty belts weighed heavily on cops’ minds – and backs – for 2019.
“Load bearing vests would absolutely be number one,” Matt Ross wrote. “[My] department likes to talk about tradition and ‘the look.’ I'm five years on and my back feels destroyed. It has altered my quality of life. I can't play with my 4-year-old because my back pain is so severe. I'm only 30!”
Andrew Conan agreed: “Right now my screaming back pain says load-bearing vests.”
“Load-bearing vests!” Jeff Walker said. “Get the weight off our hips and back. Two back surgeries now already!”
The science is on our readers’ side. A research team from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire determined that load-bearing vests are ergonomically superior to duty belts and can help limit hip and back problems for LEOs.
“The findings are clear and they are significant,” said Dr. Jeff Janot, a professor of kinesiology and the faculty lead on a six-month study that involved UW-Eau Claire, ECPD and Mayo Clinic Health System. “While the vests weigh more, the weight is more evenly distributed so there is less strain on the hips and lower back.”
2. MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORT AND DESTIGMATIZATION
High-profile tragedies such as the Parkland massacre and Thousand Oaks bar shooting dominated headlines this year, but what often goes unreported – not only by the media, but officers themselves – are the emotional struggles cops face after responding to traumatic events.
A lack of mental health resources and industry-wide stigma against seeking emotional support force many officers to keep line-of-duty trauma close to the vest, often with damaging results. P1 members hope 2019 is the year that changes.
“Oh my gosh, I would have to say counseling for every officer, especially those that have witnessed a traumatic event, which is pretty much everybody,” Susan Marie Teresa wrote. “Peer counselors to talk to after said traumatic event. Ongoing suicide prevention training.”
Proactive mental health outreach seemed unlikely to others, who cited a far-reaching bias against seeking emotional support.
“No way will that happen,” John Coffelt said. “If an officer admits to having a problem, they're immediately put on administrative leave. All their guns get confiscated, psychologically retired and permanently banished from the department. I've seen it happen to many good police officers over the years!”
3. CHANGES IN PUBLIC PERCEPTION
Policing is already a tough calling, but many officers feel negative public perception made it even harder to protect and serve in 2018. In the New Year, P1 members hope the public will better understand the challenges cops are up against every day and do more to support them.
“If I could change one thing? That would be easy: public perception,” Billy Green wrote. “Unfortunately, how police are perceived is not completely up to them. Humanity believes what suits them. It is the rare individual who, despite an emotional bias, can with a discerning mind accept the facts: That of over 800,000 sworn law enforcement officers in this country, the vast majority are out there serving and protecting.”
Others feel agency leadership has a chance to play a vital role in setting a supportive example for the community in 2019:
“[I’d like to see] departments brave enough to educate the public on the realities of the profession instead of cowering in silence,” Dustin Marvin said.
4. EQUIPMENT UPGRADES
Whether it’s a squad car that won’t start or a radio with reception spottier than a Dalmatian, equipment trouble on the job isn’t just inconvenient – it can be downright dangerous. For many, upgraded equipment and better technology top the list of agency improvements for 2019.
“Honestly it would be nice to have equipment that works well enough so that you don’t feel even more in danger while working,” Mieko Shroyer wrote.
Chris Jackson agreed: “Radio communication that works! Having to call in traffic stops to county dispatch on my personal cell phone is ridiculous!”
"The Federales have Blackhawk helicopters and we're driving around in Crown Vics with 150,000 miles on them,” Ian Tausig quipped.
5. AN END TO THE RECRUITMENT CRISIS
Fueled by a healthy economy and low unemployment, a recruitment crisis strained personnel and departments across the nation in 2018, leaving the thin blue line even thinner. Many P1 members listed staffing trouble as a top-priority agency improvement for the New Year.
“Our 1975 staffing levels aren’t cutting it,” Dave Fins said.
With diminished ranks, officers were left to pick up slack and work harder than ever.
“Need more people,” Jaxon Payne wrote. “Can't take a day off without throwing the schedule out of whack.”