Fear is an interesting, yet often devastating emotion. It can both incapacitate and thrill. The physical and psychological reaction to fear has been studied at almost every level by the psychiatric and medical community, yet it remains somewhat mysterious. It is an emotion that we as a group often run from, but it is individual. Some are transfixed by fear, some are more fearful than others, while some relish it and often seek it out.
I have believed for quite some time now, that police officers, especially those heavily seasoned with a few years and have a hardened crust, are a different combination of DNA, either by original design or having been molded by cultural and social circumstances. Their uniqueness has often been colourfully defined as the “thin blue line” and all those other rather overdone generalizations.
The general public has pre-loaded images of male and female officers, often a cross between a Norman Rockwell print and some variation of a super hero. There is no end to the books and films that try and capture this mystique.
Fear and how police officers face that fear is fundamental to understanding the differences.
There are other characteristics of course which seem more prominent in the policing world.
There is clearly a call to the power dynamic. It is an occupation that makes the person feel powerful, and that pleasure can be received from the ability to control others, whether we will make that admission or not.
We also seem to have a greater share of the “Type A’s” –often defined as outgoing, ambitious, rigidly organized, impatient, anxious, pro-active, and concerned with time management. I will personally, but reluctantly, admit to several of these “qualities”.
Police officers will also develop an addiction to adrenaline, also known as epinephrine, the physical reaction produced by the adrenal glands, which increases the blood flow to the heart and to the muscles, causes the pupils to dilate, and it is fundamental to the “fight or flight response”. Every police officer who has toggled the lights and siren has felt that rush. This “drug” needs to be acknowledged in greater depth– as it is also where many officers trip over the line and get in trouble.
However, I believe that the fear emotion as it relates to police officers is one of the under reported side effects. How police officers over time seemingly become numb to fear –and it’s two relatable cousins–anxiety and stress. It’s not that the fear doesn’t exist, but it becomes dulled and is usually accompanied by a general loss of sensitivity. Like the adrenaline shove, facing it becomes part of the officers routine.
During the last year or two, I have found myself inexplicably angry at the news in general. And when talking and sharing information with other cops, it seems to be a common theme. Not because the news has shown us a lack of journalistic ethics and a dwindling relevance to actual news; because that is both depressing and real. My complaint and the complaint of others is the abject marketing of fear– a clear purposeful manipulation of the senses aimed at the general public.
Of course, Covid and its implications have become the single biggest instrument which governments and the 5th Estate are now hammering at the citizens of this country. The fear of death and destruction is clearly being marketed.
This is not a conspiracy. It has not been conjured up in an effort for power, but instead because it is the nature of our current democracy. The media is trying to survive, to fit in to the ever rising tide of alternative voices, to be once again relevant, and they are willing to suborn the ethics of journalism in order to be preserved in some format.
The Paul Revere’s of the the Covid news, the Federal government spin doctors, the Provincial and City mouth pieces are constantly spewing forth headlines and video grabs filled with the constant over-simplification of science and the needless demonization of those that dare to question.
The photos of individuals on life-support, the constant testaments by those that did not get vaccinated and now are on deaths door. All are being generated, not to convey news, but to reach into the usually un-touched territory of fear and reaction. The fact that it is polarizing the country, creating good and evil camps, is a secondary result of little concern to the perpetrators.
Police officers on the other hand spend their lifetimes suppressing fear, downplaying dangerous and futile circumstances, denying and skirting the edges of death. They try to calm, not engender fear, on a continuous and ongoing basis, it is part of their daily lives. They are forever trying to diffuse, not light the situational detonating cord.
In a routine shift one could approach the door of a house in answer to a reported domestic; a man can be heard yelling, a woman crying, a child incoherently screaming. You knock on the door and it is eventually opened by the distraught male, the dishevelled female, or the dirty child. The fear you’re feeling is of the unknown, the unpredictable, the over-reaction of any of the parties, the possibility of serious danger, to one or the other. It subsides after an arrest, a long conversation, an assessment of all that went on. You return to your car either with an individual in tow, or a bunch of paper work trying to justify why no one went to jail. But the fear gradually ebbs, washed down with the remnants of a now cold coffee.
Off to the next call, a report of someone acting strangely in an alley or in a residential neighbourhood. You drive up to someone matching the description, the person starts yelling with no apparent purpose, hands in their ill-fitting sweatshirt, face blurred by a hoodie. It’s cold and wet, the person may be just in a miserable situation, maybe under some serious mental pressures known only to them– or just out for a walk. You feel that creeping fear as you approach and stand in their way, all to ask a few questions. It could go either way.
You book in a prisoner, Hep A, Hep B, and Hep C abound. The guard or attendant disinfects the counter in a practised way. You pull needles from the belongings. The prisoner coughs up phlegm, turning his head away only partially while begging for a cigarette before he goes into his or her new six by eight home. These “clients” reek of the streets, the Macdonalds cheese burger having been the only meal about twelve hours ago; constant diarrhea, constant aches and open sores. You handle them with cheap plastic gloves, sometimes having to bodily carry them, sometimes having to wrestle them, sometimes wearing a mask but not always. Dispatch is calling, asking you to quickly clear and move on to the next. No time to monitor or complain of stress.
This goes on call after call, dispatch ticket after dispatch ticket– twelve calls a day, four days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. The element of fear becomes part of your being. Quelling the over reaction given any set of sometimes bizarre circumstances is what makes you reliable, able to handle the situation, to calm the fears of others, to subsume your own fears. You learn that fear doesn’t shut you down it makes you wake up.
Some officers grow to love this life, this way of living, so different from those sitting in their homes watching the latest covid statistics with apprehension, wondering if they should go or be allowed to go to the company party or take that southern vacation. The inability to get to that spin class seems stressful and depressing, like the stock prices of Peloton, the affluents answer to work outs at home.
The world is now enveloped with a fear of Covid. It is a real fear. It is a fear greater than one would assume should have come from a flu virus. The general public are unaccustomed to constant fear, so the amplification of it and studying it has become all consuming; often causing people to react unreasonably and uncontrollably. The hoarding of toilet paper, the washing of groceries, the closing of the borders and forcing out those that dare to try and enter into your personal bubble sphere of safety.
The often disappointing attitude of Canadians to the mantra of “I’m ok to hell with the rest of you” is based on fear. It is not just on a personal level, it is on the Federal, Provincial and municipal government level. While we the developed countries were hoarding our vaccines, the Omnicron variant comes out of a continent which has only been able to inoculate 7% of its population. Our selfishness, dictated by this fear has now backfired.
As that famous old Jedi master Yoda said : “Fear is the path to the Dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering”.
Government’s fear of being politically exposed leads them to overreact, quick and un-thought out policy decisions are the obvious result. Optics is their only guiding principle. Our inability to plan for future disasters is being buried under a constant message of standing with you at the barricades, to save us from ourselves.
The war headlines of yesteryears have always been the biggest headlines in both font and attention. If there is no physical war, the war on Covid takes its place nicely. The governments play to the theme. They bring in the Armed Forces, declare Emergency Acts, and spend monies greater than that spent during World War II. Daily briefings attempt to mold Churchills out of Trudeaus. Fourth and fifth “waves” conjure up images of the beaches of Normandy and Dieppe. Over extended Emergency wards are being described akin to battlefield triage, one disaster leading to another comparable disaster.
There is a great deal being written now on whether our democracy can survive in these times of polarized fear. China and Russia, undoubtedly believe that North American culture is in a downward spiral fed by a society of pampered, over fed, and egocentric lifestyles. Our schools and our children’s education is in disarray, our hospitals and health care systems are displaying their inadequacies for all to see, our economies are fully reliant on others outside our control, and our infrastructure is in need of long term economic and social planning.
This is just to say that climate change and diversity may not in fact be our biggest future problems.
We need our next leaders to come from a group less fearful. Less inclined to over react. And we need the leadership of this country to run towards the fire, not away from it. Lead us to the battle, not to an encircling of the wagons where we crouch in fear, smugly safe in our homes and not letting anyone in. Our democracy and its fundamental principles may be at stake.