Who Protects Those Who Protect & Serve?

This past weekend Brewer Police Capt. Chris Martin was arrested for Operating Under the Influence (OUI). Bangor Daily News (BDN) posted this news at 1:06pm on Monday. Within 3 hours, BDN had accumulated over eighty responses to the article, most of which showed outrage and disgust.

It’s understandable that folks are disappointed. Once we move past that, we can recognize that this behavior is out of character for all that is known of Officer Martin and is therefore cause for concern for his well being.

I hate prefacing…but let me say this clearly – I do NOT excuse anything about drinking and driving. I am interested in the health and wellness of a man who served my community faithfully and honorably for 19 years and I will not condemn him nor judge him any differently than if he were employed in any other field given that his actions took place while off duty.

The work of police officers in greater Bangor/Brewer includes responding to a wide array of dangerous and potentially dangerous situations daily. We expect that they behave ethically when dealing with criminals. We expect them to defuse violence of every sort. We expect them to bear witness to tragedies and moreover to do a largely thankless job without repercussion.

The remarkable lack of research regarding police officers experiencing drug & alcohol abuse/addictions, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression is indicative of the prevailing norms of the profession. For as unyielding as these beliefs and values may be; they exist within a broader context of a society that expects those who keep us safe to be invulnerable.

Admitting the need for help requires a great deal of vulnerability.

Find a therapist, a counselor, or a member of the clergy and ask them how many cops they’ve treated. The number will be staggeringly low. In general, cops just don’t talk to us. The stakes are too high. Who wants to think that an officer in their community might be struggling with mental health issues, relational issues, or episodic substance abuse (off duty)? How would we judge them for being human?

It’s not just police officers who face this dilemma. Military personnel, doctors, nurses, teachers, clinicians, judges, and many other professions are not only held to higher standards; they also face additional stigma and higher stakes for admitting their struggles (loss of jobs, reputation, licenses, status, opportunities for promotion). There have to be opportunities to come forward before all is lost – before the costs are too great to the public , to ourselves, and to our families.

We continue to fail to learn from our history. We have generations of veterans who struggle(d) with similar expectations and similar downfalls. We expect them to be resilient beyond reasonable measure. We expect that they manage remarkable amounts of stress within a subculture that is incredibly rigid, stoic, and which celebrates heroism.

We’ve known for decades that countless soldiers who served overseas suffer lifelong conditions. As a society shall we continue to expect that our armed forces care for active duty personnel and the Veterans Administration care for our veterans? We know better. We should know better with those who protect us domestically as well. This is a crisis for us all. This is a problem in our communities, in our neighborhoods, and in our families.

I look at Chris Martin’s mistakes and I say, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Those of us who bear witness to suffering provide honorable service and are at higher risks for countless consequences. None of us are immune from burnout, heartbreak, or tragedy. If we cannot count on our brothers and sisters, if we cannot count on those who lead us and those within our communities to support us, what choice have we but to suffer silently?

Reduce stigma. Reach out a hand to those your gut tells you are struggling. Let’s be more humane.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in assisting people in recovery (whether from drugs, alcohol, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles and improve their quality of life.