MN law enforcement is hurting
Last Tuesday, just hours apart, two police officers here in Minnesota took their own lives, leaving behind spouse, fiancé, kids, family, friends, and co-workers. One of these officers, Sgt. Cory Slifko, was the husband of Katie Berge, who grew up here in Dodge County. This just over a month after former Chief Deputy Joe Modjeski of Wabasha County took his own life in September.
A recent study by the Addiction Centers, examined the tragic relationship between police officers and suicide, and determined officers are at a higher risk of suicide than any other profession. In 2018, there were 166 officers who died in the line of duty while there were 167 documented cases of officer suicides. Most experts estimate many more suicides occur within the ranks of law enforcement but go unreported.
This career is tough both emotionally and physically. Unfortunately, it’s also being made tougher and more dangerous because of anti-law enforcement rhetoric nationally in the media along with much political misrepresentation by many at local, state, and federal levels to further agendas and garner votes.
A few recent examples: Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders recently told a young black student at HBCU Benedict College in South Carolina that they should respect cops (while being stopped in a traffic stop) so they don’t get shot in the back of the head. In that same forum, Presidential Candidate Joe Biden was asked by another young black student how she should behave, if she were his daughter, if stopped stopped by law enforcement. VP Biden told her if she were his daughter, she would be a Caucasian girl and she wouldn’t be pulled over – implying all cops are racist and indicating he would put an end to institutional racism in law enforcement. San Francisco supervisor Sandra Fewer was videotaped chanting F*** the POA (Police Officers Association) with an election party crowd last week in California.
Here in Minnesota, State Representative Aisha Gomez participated in violent protests outside the Trump Rally – protests chanting anti-police statements. Comments and actions like this, especially from our leaders, do nothing but make our job that much tougher and more dangerous as we continue to work to build community trust and keep our communities safe.
Combine the stress of this constant barrage of anti-law enforcement rhetoric from the news and from our government leaders, with the daily exposure to the worst our society has to offer –it’s no wonder why the mental health numbers are so high - PTSD, depression, anxiety, chemical dependency, etc. Conditions often unreported and untreated for fear of being deemed “unfit for duty,” especially in larger metro agencies. These challenges, our current political climate, and the often unfair and biased microscope we work under, have resulted in the lowest application numbers and highest suicide numbers in history.
Most officers don't like asking for help - they are often type A personalities, the ones that help people, that are supposed to be strong, that are supposed to be able to handle what most cannot. We need to make sure these local heroes know there is help available to any cop who is struggling. If you are a spouse, friend, family member, or co-worker who is concerned about an officer who is struggling - please talk to them, or talk to their supervisor. They'll thank you for it later. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Please talk to someone. It's ok not to be ok - especially in our line of work.
Minnesota law enforcement is hurting as we say goodbye and pay our respects to two more young officers lost. In spite of all the challenges our profession faces today, thank God we still have some truly amazing men and women willing to take on this calling to serve and protect our families, our friends, and our communities.
We need to support our law enforcement – with our actions and with our words, and we need to speak up when others don’t. Please thank your local trooper, deputy, and officer for their service, say a prayer for their safety, and keep the families and agencies of South St. Paul Police Sgt. Cory Slifko and Roger's Police Officer Blake Neumann in your thoughts and prayers as they say goodbye to these two heroes this week.
Scott Rose is in his second term as Dodge County Sheriff. He writes a column regularly for this newspaper.