The ongoing COVID pandemic and political unrest have increased stress and strain for many LASD employees and their families. As essential employees, most of us have been asked to work throughout the pandemic, admirably performing duties while weighing and managing risk of exposure against the greater public good. In many cases, we have loved ones at high risk of illness, and on-the-job exposure may mean you have been unable to see them for long periods of time. While you may not feel at risk of serious illness secondary to a COVID diagnosis, many of your peers and co-workers are or do. How does the LASD family remain supportive and aware of our collective fears and concerns, while at the same time ensuring public safety? But even more importantly, how are you doing with all of this?
Human beings, even those working in law enforcement, are social creatures who thrive with social connections. My mother, for example, who is elderly and in a high-risk category, spent time with me during two of the longer lockdowns. While my work may have raised her risk of exposure, her being with me also prevented her from being isolated. She also, however, has been unable to see her new grandbaby or to help ease the burden of a newborn for my brother and his family. Though mom has learned to use technology to find ways to connect, she admits to feeling helpless or powerless to do what seems most needful and normal. This experience is far from unique, as I have heard similar and far worse stories from many of you. The truth of COVID is that the social supports and investments we normally count on may be dramatically changed or even absent. We have missed birthdays, graduations, weddings, baptisms, holidays and other events crucial to our sense of belonging, support and well-being. How are you and your family adapting? How do you take stock of what is missing and what has been gained through new technology and new habits? Do you talk to your co-workers about these losses or missed memories? Have you been able to talk openly about the things you are needing as COVID restrictions head into a second year? But even more importantly, how are you doing with all of this?
Here in L.A. County, we have had a very particular form of social and political unrest, and many of you have been called upon repeatedly to provide protection for our citizens as they engaged in protests and even civil unrest. Uniquely for law enforcement, you have provided physical security for people who are protesting current law enforcement practices or other perceived injustices. On more than one occasion, you may have been asked to face bodily risk of harm, and in some cases, you may have been threatened or even injured. As friends and co-workers of mine do what brave men and women invariably do in times of great stress (their duty), I have found myself alternatively deeply proud of and impressed by your selfless efforts, and deeply dismayed and angry at the willingness of the others to put you in harm’s way. I have found myself more frustrated, as I have felt that so much is being asked of you with so little public acknowledgement. Because of this, I would like to express my family’s gratitude and acknowledgment for keeping all of us safe. But even more importantly, how are you doing with all of this?
In short, 2020 through present has been very tiring, exceptionally abnormal and often difficult. Following a long season of political and social unrest during COVID, there is no one set of advice or rules psychological science can provide for these unique and uncharted waters. Many deputies and staff may feel frustrated, angry, anxious, depressed and tired. Some may even feel betrayed and undervalued. These understandable reactions can negatively impact quality of life, physical health and damage relationships. For some, the reactions may be more impairing or made more painful by social isolation. Without doubt, our LASD family has experienced some moral injury as a result. Moral injury is a deeply felt sense that things are unfair or not as they ought to be. It is highly common among both sworn and civilian/professional law enforcement personnel, but rarely discussed. Research has shown that psychologists alone are not likely the best way to address this issue. It is more important than ever to lean in to one another and ask, “But how are you doing with all of this?”
So we need your help. This is a great opportunity to enhance unit and Department utilization of peer support and chaplains. It is a great opportunity to reach out to one another. We must lean in together to provide and receive the support that has and will continue to maintain us all during trying times. In the coming months, you may be asked questions about the support you give to and receive from one another. Technically called Peer Support, we together are the key counterbalance to moral injury. We look forward to hearing what you think. You may be approached with questions about the unique way you may experience moral injury or observe it in your friends and co-workers. Above all, we hope you will ask and be asked, “But how are you doing with all of this?”
If you would like our support (either from a psychologist, a chaplain or a Peer Support member), please contact Psychological Services Bureau at (213) 738-3500 to learn more about our services or to schedule an appointment. Your appointment is confidential and free. To obtain additional information, you may visit our intranet site at http://intranet/intranet/ESS/Index.htm.