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Law enforcement face daily dangers

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When it comes to the day-to-day work of law enforcement, one thing is for certain: it is not easy. Deputies and officers face countless physical and mental health risks, from exposure to cold temperatures for a long period of time to traffic dangers and even the risk of losing their life.

The extra stress can in turn put an officer in the direct line of danger. Recently, Goodhue County Patrol Sgt. Jason Johnson was delivering civil papers to a Red Wing house and was assaulted. The incident left Johnson radioing for assistance and later transported to Mayo Clinic Health System in Red Wing with facial and skull injuries.

While this is only one instance, Red Wing and Goodhue County have seen an increase over the years of reported assaults.

Each time an officer is assaulted or injured, they must fill out an FBI form, titled LEOKA, meaning Law Enforcement Officer Killed or Assaulted. According to Red Wing Police Chief Roger Pohlman, the number of local officers who have filed forms has increased dramatically over the past four years. In 2012, there were three reports, two in 2013, three in 2014, nine in 2015 and 14 in 2016.

"When people resist, it's like anything: if you resist the force, there's a potential for injury. That potential is on the suspect or the officer," Pohlman said. "There were more people overtly resisting arrest last year than I can remember in a long time."

The trend of an increase in resistance and assault across the nation is not an exception to Red Wing or Goodhue County. However, Goodhue County Sheriff Scott McNurlin addressed an underlying issue as to why this increase may be happening.

"There's a fundamental misunderstanding of what we're required to do as citizens," McNurlin said.

"There's this prevailing attitude that this show of resistance is acceptable."

Rather than putting blame on anyone, McNurlin encourages citizens to question the current rhetoric in the country surrounding police.

"Without all the facts being present, we're prejudging the individuals involved in a deadly force encounter," McNurlin said. "It plants the seeds for people to adopt a rebellious attitude. Every time they have an encounter with a cop, they feel they have a right to resist. That lends itself to violence."

The violence and negative attitude toward cops is nothing new to McNurlin. "We were in this predicament back in the '60s, the pendulum has gone back and forth several times."

While this issue may have resonated in the past, it's proven to be a challenge again today. Police have to play the role of the messenger. They enforce the law when it is broken and ensure that it is followed through safely, and sometimes this is met with adverse consequences.

When news and social media coverage of the Minneapolis police officer who fatally shot Philando Castille July 6, 2016, was presented, it put the work of police officers in question and for citizens to ask when it's OK to use a deadly weapon.

"Just because there is a group formed or an alliance made, doesn't mean that that's what everybody feels is right for the community, let alone the country," McNurlin said. "Let's face it, we're in charge of enforcing the rules. In all of this turbulence and finger pointing, we lose sight of that. Our job is to hold cops accountable when we do things wrong."

Police pick up on the negative attitude and behavior with practice, McNurlin says. "You often hear people say, the individual 'snapped.' That takes an entirely different skillset from an officer or deputy."

With crisis intervention training and more time on the field, police are able to use the knowledge of a suspect's nonverbal cues, which they rely heavily on, to detect a potential assault. Whether officers are delivering civil papers or writing out a ticket, they are trained to expect the unexpected.

Red Wing officer Mark Mandelkow said during a ride along, sometimes the best thing to do is "watch the hands."

While the risk of being assaulted in the field is a very real possibility for officers, the environmental risks behind the job pose just as much of a threat. One of the biggest inadvertent dangers being the impact it has on mental health.

"You are exposed to so many things that the general public would never have to see or deal with or internalize," McNurlin said. "You kind of become a casualty in that regard, it's not uncommon for police officers to become a bit calloused because of their exposure to things. Their normal emotional pattern becomes a little bit different than a normal person."

The busy schedule, exhausting work and being a witness to traumatic experiences causes troubles not only in their own lives, but their loved ones' as well.

"Your normal relationships do suffer as well because of the hours you work," McNurlin said.

On top of the stress, officers can't always discuss what they see on the field and end up internalizing the trauma they see every day.

"One of the toughest things I've dealt with is having to deal with the death of an infant or young child. Those things really can wear on you," Pohlman said.

Because of this stress, the department provides training and support for anyone in law enforcement to reach out. When situations happen, Pohlman encourages his officers to communicate and take care of others in the department during their traumatic experiences.

"I'm hoping and praying for better times," McNurlin said.

Pohlman hopes that in the future, the negative attitude toward police can change by starting a conversation, and police and citizens of Red Wing can work towards strengthening their relationship. "We can't police a community by ourselves, we have to rely on our citizens to provide input and feedback."

Kit Murray

Kit Murray joined Red Wing Republican Eagle in Aug. 2016, covering government, transportation and public safety. She is a graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead with a degree in photojournalism and philosophy. 

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