Law enforcement authorities in Pasco County, Fla., convened a Spouse's Academy Saturday, September 21, 2013, a first of its kind. Spouses of detention deputies were invited to the reality of duty their respective loved ones are exposed to on a daily basis. What was quite unique about this program, however, was the venue in which Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco and his staff decided to have this gathering.
It did not transpire at a class room at the local school. It did not take place at any conference room at the Pasco County Sheriff's Office Operations Center.
The Pasco County Sheriff's Office (PCSO), a 1300-plus member department, operates a state-of-the-art detention facility, namely its main jail in Land O' Lakes, Fla. With recent additions to the pre-existing structure, a total of 345,992 square feet is home to 1,432 beds. Last year's population almost maxed out; 1412 beds were filled at one time. Suffice it to say, the PCSO detention deputies' hands were full, as often is the case no matter the population level.
With that said, one can only imagine experiencing the life of a detention deputy other than pop culture television shows and depictions in jails across the country. Yet, in total, those shows are pared-down versions of modern-day reality: Long hours in confinement with unruly and often violent behavior.
In context, law enforcement officers working on the street encounter criminal elements in minutely low increments at one time. Moreover, street cops are proactive and thus seek out the bad elements; other events require reactive measures, such as shoplifters already in custody.
Conversely, detention deputies maintain the entire population in custody at once, under one roof, with a staffing ratio seemingly defying logic, respectfully speaking. Detention deputies working the jails make do with what they have, an admirable quality.
To immerse human psychology and its mindset into such an occupationally-threatened environment, its modes, its strict movement protocols, and its inherent peril, is a phenomena unparalleled by other occupational classifications. To seemingly add insult to injury, the inner workings are often within tightly-secured, confined quarters.
As such, imagine the physiological pressures and constraints of sheriff's staff who work at the jail. Stress as a constant has been proven again and again to wear down the human design. The human psyche is far beyond strained from duty as a detention deputy. Albeit recognized and facilitated with internal programs for sheriff's office employees, the magnitude of stress-related issues abound, as may be expected working in a jail setting.
The distinction between balance and safety would seem to be inconceivable, especially given the propensity for inmates' violent tendencies to be omnipresent.
Consider the sheriff's civilian staff, such as nurses in the jail's medical section. As a nurse, merely administering to an inmate's health needs, jeopardy still exists. Inmate assaults on nurses are not uncommon, despite the law enforcement members standing right along with the nurses; inmates employ any manner of schema so as to effect some personal gain, whether it be attempts to gain pain medications simply for the high, an opportunity to feign illness just to get out of the cell, and to exude control by making demands, needlessly.
Either way, notwithstanding the subculture typically breeding in jail environments, danger persists.
The inmates may change as days transpire and court rulings are made by judges, but the detention staff report for duty daily. Inmate faces may change, but the constructs of working at a jail do not.
As a relatively workable solution to maintaining interrelationships among deputies and their respective families, Sheriff Nocco supported the notion of inviting spouses in to the Land O' Lakes jail facility (within reason, given safety parameters) so that each is exposed to what their sworn-in loved ones endure on a daily basis.
Just as our society expects law violators to be detected by police and incarcerated so that justice can be meted out, such an undertaking inherently requires peace officers --detention deputies-- to maintain the jailed populace.
Inasmuch as the value of families are concerned, the administration of the Pasco County Sheriff's Office and its decisive movement to include law enforcement family members into the working arena of their respective spouses and significant others is an evolutionary, altruistic ingredient. Pervasively, the care and concern for not only those who don the Pasco County Sheriff's Office uniform, but also to those whom PCSO members return home, is an empirically sound organizational ethos.
Recognizing the vitality of family unity and understanding is essential to survival, especially as it relates to the demands of a detention deputy. The glimpses at life working at a jail site affords a clearer understanding and, as such, cements the integrity of family bonds so threateningly weakened by a stressful career, its underpinnings of peril, and chronic demands of duty.
Akin to the psychological aspects employed by military branches and principles, so too law enforcement has among its tenets the sanctity of family core.
Knowing the dire circumstances at times of a duty-bound detention deputy fulfilling his/her oath is made easier by inclusion of family and a loving support system: Balance.
The innovative measures implemented by the Pasco County Sheriff's Office are progressively heralded.
Albeit the first of its kind for Pasco County detention deputies' spouses and significant others, the stage is set so that subsequent dates duplicitous of Saturday's open Spouse's Academy can transpire.
Among the participants at the Spouse's Academy was Renee Harrington, wife of Pasco County Sheriff's Colonel Jeffrey Harrington. Mrs. Harrington recounted: "It was great! There were wives and husbands of detention deputies, about 30-plus in attendance...and some great questions were answered. It is a wonderful setting."
Mrs. Harrington explained how she was personally impacted by a guest speaker at the open house event. Donna Schulz, invited to speak on an increasingly-evolving law enforcement epidemic, covered personal attributions with respect to law enforcement suicides. Harrington was riveted by Schulz's account of a personally-related suicide dear to her and, as such, courageously exposed the audience to the potential reality of suicides among law enforcement officers.
"She spoke with personal affect...you could tell it unsettled her, but she bravely told us about signs to look for in law enforcement officers, possibly recognizing signs of a suicide before it happens," Harrington said. As it relates to an eye-opening experience and seriously valid information, Harrington added, "I never really considered it that deeply until I heard Donna Schulz speak! What an important part of the discussion today! It opened my eyes even wider."
Recognition of the incipient fabric of police suicide is embraceable, even if uncomfortable. Donna Schulz exposed to the spouses at the open house her personal reality --a gross tragedy-- regarding the loss of her husband, an FBI agent. Schulz's husband took his life after years of law enforcement service among a few police entities.
Schulz dedicates her life to traveling and orating before crowds with respect to reality of police suicides. Schulz maintains a website and amasses information pertinent to police suicides, such as recognition of cues, preemptive measures to be considered, the pervasive nature of law enforcement as it relates to police being subjected to the I can not show weakness mentality.
Saturday's Spouse's Academy served more than the perfunctory job description and practical rituals in a career as a detention deputy, it also emphasized the reality-based aspects of a downtrodden demeanor common among law enforcement officers. Law enforcement practitioners have a very difficult job, an undeniable fact. It doesn't have to be this way, providing more-than-adequate support systems are implemented.
Spouses were exposed to a law enforcement chaplain who projected assistance and resource material not only for law enforcement officers but also their respective spouses.
Also, Taser device demonstrations were exhibited for the crowd of spouses. A vast tour of the jail's pods, blocks, and a grouping of make-shift tents to adequately accommodate a growing populace was traversed and experienced.
Lunch was consumed as discussion permeated the group.
Given the insidious spoils of society and the daily duty of commingling among inmates, detention deputies are encamped with seriously-troubled, violent, anarchy-prone individuals; it is part of duty fulfillment to which each detention deputy swore an oath.
After long hours among hardened souls incarcerated at the Land O' lakes jail facility, each gets to return home to a spouse or significant other. The abrupt transition dictates switching out masks, modes, and attitudes. This amelioration may not be easy for any human, but assuredly the transformation can be adopted by an understanding loved one who comprehends exactly what his/her spouse is feeling...and why.
Among the many rituals, philosophies, programs, and innovative measures implemented by the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, it is resoundingly clear that family values are espoused, supported, and instituted as part of its organizational constitution. The building blocks to the PCSO integrity are mortared by the relationship among administration, front-line staff, and their respective spouses.
Perhaps ironic, maybe coincidental, is that the first-ever Pasco County Sheriff's Office Spouse's Academy at the jail was scheduled on the same celebratory day as the 2nd annual national "Thank a Police Officer Day". No matter the coincidence, it is nevertheless highly timely to project and cater gratitude not only to law enforcement personnel but also to their most-precious resource and support system: Spouses.
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