Behavioral Trends in Law Enforcement Due to COVID-19
In October of 2020, some six months into the COVID factor that was going to last a “few weeks,” Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) sent out the “trends and data” they had discovered as they related to COVID-19 and behavioral health. I found that summary to be so revealing. In fact, I was amazed at what they had discovered!
Remember that this was produced only months into this pandemic. Anxiety and depression symptoms had more than tripled in one year. Stress from social isolation and other COVID-19 related life changes had a serious impact on substance use. For instance, alcoholic beverage sales had increased by 55% in one year. Child care/home-schooling, separation from families, etc., had caused mental health claims to increase significantly.
All this had its most serious influence/impact on first responders. Those that had been forced to work and, frequently, eat dinner behind closed doors while quarantined due to close contact with a COVID-positive person on the job or those that had used up all their paid time off because of an employer who wouldn’t consider the contact duty-related were in the cross-hairs only months into this.
For instance, alcoholic beverage sales had increased by 55% in one year.
This all occurred in the deadliest of years for law enforcement. 522 line of duty deaths with 358 of those having COVID-19 listed as the COD. Meanwhile, employers were writing officers up for not wearing their mask and, in at least one case (Ann Arbor) mandating full vaccination or, without an acceptable (to them) exemption, you’re FIRED!
I recently had a highly regarded/decorated senior officer who had been fired for allegedly being insensitive to a homeless (likely mentally ill) person who was attempting to get run over by a car. I watched the video. I didn’t see what the administration saw, but I did see something in this officer that led me to believe he was not his usual self that day. No one wanted to ask what was different. They simply fired him. I couldn’t believe it. For one reason or another, it has become simpler to just fire someone. Let the arbitrator figure it out, I guess. Meanwhile, the person’s MCOLES status is suspended, he/she is without pay for 6-7 months, and the arbitrator, even when the case is compelling for the grievant, gives the officer their job back without back pay!
On a positive note, that employer I just wrote about has decided to give some consideration to these behavior changes. There is some hope in this case, and I have thanked them for the opportunity to re-examine the circumstances. Not the circumstances of what happened as much as the circumstances that led this officer to behave in a manner that seemed different for him. One five-minute incident in his more than twenty years of service should not have been what judged his ability to do this job on that day. I’m hopeful for him.
I sent this BCBS summary to about twenty bosses out there that I know or deal with. I’ve asked BCBS to put together a 2021 version, if possible. We, as business agents, you as local leaders, employers, family, or friends would do our fellow officers a real service to consider what the last twenty months have been like for our law enforcement officers. We recruit from the human race. They are parents, siblings, and friends with kids and a dog (generally).
They deserve more than our respect. They deserve our understanding. Be careful out there. I wish all of you the very best.
For More Information
See the aforementioned summary from BCBS below.BCBS COVID-19 and Behavorial Health Summary Document
The document was received from Blue Cross Blue Shield.