In 2006 I was attending a Field Training Officer Class. Field Training Officers, or FTOs, train new police officers after they leave the academy on how to do field police work. As I perused the class syllabus I saw a topic that surprised me. A one hour block on dealing with military veterans who are training to be police officers.
In law enforcement, it’s generally accepted that veterans make good cops. They are recruited heavily and are often given preference during hiring. They adapt well to the job and are well respected.
So I was surprised to see it as an instructional topic. When we got to that point in the class the instructor, not a veteran, began discussing the difficulties FTOs would have with teaching vets. This included:
-How vets would handle dealing with people of Middle Eastern Descent
-How vets would react to loud noises like explosions
-What to do if a vet has a “flashback”
Adding fuel to the fire was a student in the class who regaled the rest of us with stories of dead bodies he had seen in Iraq and how it haunts him to this day. I later met a guy who served with him and he said the necromancer never left the wire. Must have been scores of bodies seen during marathon Call Of Duty sessions.
Needless to say, I was appalled. I voiced my concerns, called bullshit to the “out of control veteran” theory. I added that vets are used to things like gunfire, stress, death, etc. and they should probably be more concerned with the 22-year-olds who still live at home with little or no life experience that we often have to train. I see young cops all the time who have never even been in a fistfight! That’s generally not the case with veterans.
The crazy veteran theme pops up time and time again and is used by criminals, the media, and others to explain or rationalize bad behavior. I sat in court one time during the trial for a man accused of robbing a drug store of OxyContin. His lawyer argued that his exposure to dead bodies (the corpse argument again!) during a tour in Bosnia 10 years prior caused PTSD, leading to his addiction and subsequent crimes.
In 2005 a “Marine” got into a shootout with the Ceres Police Department in California. He killed one officer and wounded another. He was also a Norteno gang member but the media chose not to focus on that. Later reports showed he never saw any significant combat. The news painted him to be John J Rambo, the mentally unstable veteran, rather than the gangster criminal piece of shit that he really was.
Now it has been brought up again in the Ft Lauderdale shootings. A mentally ill person with possible ISIS leanings is being touted as yet another example of a crazy veteran gone bad, driven insane by his war experiences. The reality is his military experience has nothing to do with it. It just makes good press. There has been no evidence reported that he was involved in any actual combat. Just stories from family members that he came back from the war changed and that he saw, “bodies”(again with the bodies…).
He was kicked out of the Alaska National Guard which, I’m sure, will undoubtedly be blamed on his wartime experiences…
Preliminary reports show that he had reported to the FBI that an “intelligence agency” had forced him to watch ISIS videos. He is also a convicted wife batterer and had previously brought a loaded gun to an FBI Office. NEWSFLASH: He is mentally ill, not suffering from some war-induced PTSD.
I’m not trying to downplay the effects of PTSD. It is a very real ailment that affects many. But, as we have seen time and time again, vets who are afflicted with it turn their suffering inward. This manifests itself in drug and alcohol abuse and, in the worst cases, suicide.
As a cop I routinely see crooks blaming outside influences for their behavior. From, “I didn’t get enough love as a child” to, “I got too much love as a child”. They blame their race, my race, their gender, my gender, their religion, my religion, and so on.
And, on occasion, when they are veterans (or claim to be veterans), they sometimes claim wartime experiences as the cause for their abhorrent behavior. Or their friends, family or the media provide that excuse for them.
Service to one’s country is one of the finest things a person can do. It shouldn’t be tainted by the criminal behavior of those who use their service as an excuse to harm others.
This first appeared in The Havok Journal on February 14, 2019.
Nick Perna is a Police Officer with the Redwood City Police Department in Northern California. He has spent much of his career as a gang and narcotics investigator. He is a member of a Multi-Jurisdictional SWAT Team since 2001 and is currently a Team Leader. He previously served as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army and is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He has a Master’s Degree from the University Of San Francisco.