OpinionTrending Commentary

When America Stops Honoring Its First Responders, It’s Their Families Who Suffer Most

The past three years have been a living hell for U.S. first responders — and their families.

More than 1.1 million Americans died from Covid.

Police officers became a target of political wrath and budget cuts.

Wildfires ravaged entire communities, gruesome mass shootings became a near weekly occurrence, and teen suicides and drug overdoes are at record highs.

Is it any wonder that first responders across the nation are leaving jobs early en masse, or that new first responder recruitment numbers are way, way down?

We often forget that first responders are flesh and bone, just like everybody else. They are mothers and fathers who feel the stress of an extraordinarily difficult and unpredictable job, never knowing when they’ll have to jump into dangerous situations at a moment’s notice.

Anyone who has gone on a police or fire “ride-a-round” in the past few years can tell you what officers face on a daily basis — harassment, extreme danger, constant mental health emergencies on the street.  It takes a toll, and not just on the officers themselves.

Their kids feel it, too. Every day they’re forced to wonder whether a parent will return home from work. They know that police shootings are up across America. As of today, 324 U.S. police officers have been shot in the line of duty this year, and in the past two years alone there were more than 1,000 law enforcement deaths in this country, including suicides. First responder suicide rates in general are also up — way up. Los Angeles lost two firefighters to suicide in recent weeks.

During Covid countless first responders were forced to live sequestered from their own kids for months, while those children witnessed on the nightly news hearses and refrigerated trucks filled with Covid victims, wondering if mom or dad would die next. Imagine what that does to a young mind.

These children can also experience second-hand trauma from parents who experience unimaginable crime scenes. As much as a parent might try to shield a child from modern day realities, the job comes home with them. That’s not conjecture; second-hand post traumatic stress disorder is a genuine psychological phenomenon that can hit children hard.

Things have become so politically-charged for police officers that their children often hide their occupation to avoid being harassed by classmates, especially within minority communities. Not long ago, that would have been a point of pride. How sad.

It’s no wonder that police and sheriff departments across the nation are experiencing waves of resignations — nearly 50 percent more last year than in 2019, according to the Police Executive Research Forum — and new applications are drying up even faster. Last year alone, 2,465 NYPD officers left the force, nearly half before becoming eligible for a pension, and recruitment numbers are way down.

If that’s not worrisome enough, check out national data on firefighters, EMT’s and other first responders. Seemingly everywhere you look, resignations or changes to career paths are proliferating. Our first line of defense is strong but struggling.

For a time, Americans near-fully appreciated the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform. We cheered as they passed our homes. We banged pots and pans from apartment balconies to herald their bravery and hung signs outside of hospitals and firehouses reading “Thank You!”

But as symbols of authority in an unsettled world, first responders — police officers especially — are once again feeling a profound lack of support from some members of the public and their elected representatives. It can’t continue.

A civil society cannot exist without front line defenders, and it shouldn’t take a recruiting crisis to recognize their struggles and express appreciation for the extraordinary job they do for us every day. The weight of the badge is heavy, and those who carry them deserve more far support than they’re getting.

Jillian Crane is President and CEO of First Responders Children’s Foundation.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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