We feel so grateful every single day for the incredible people we connect with via Blue Love. One such person is Donna Brown, a retired LEO with over 26 years of experience. Donna is the Author of the published book series called Behind and Beyond the Badge, to give insight into the lives of law enforcement officers and how we can support them. The book is available on Donna’s website and also on Amazon
Take a look below as Donna’s amazing story!
Donna, thank you so much for sharing your story with Blue Love! Can you tell us about your background in Law Enforcement?
I graduated from Florida State University with a Bachelor of Science in Criminology and was hired by the Tallahassee Police Department in 1979. I was one of only five female officers at the time; women were still relatively new to the law enforcement profession. Like most new officers, I began my career working the streets and answering calls for service. I eventually became a Field Training Officer and then transferred to the department’s Training Unit. A few years later, I was promoted to Sergeant and went back to the streets. I became a Field Training Sergeant and was in this position for a few years until I was transferred to our department’s Criminal Investigation Division. I spent fifteen years in CID supervising the General Property Unit, Sex Crimes Unit, Robbery Task Force and then the Homicide Unit. I spent ten years supervising the Homicide Unit and the Victim Advocate Unit. I retired in 2006 having served for twenty-six years, three months and five days (but who’s counting?)
Could you share about your books and your mission?
In all honesty, the idea for my books was born out of anger. It was 2016 and I became angry at all of the predominantly negative media attention law enforcement officers and the profession as a whole were receiving. It seemed everywhere I looked, whether it was television news, the newspaper or social media it was all negative. The actions of officers were being questioned by everyone, most who had no clue about training, the law or what it was like to do the job. They portrayed law enforcement officers as people who were brutal, uncaring and covered everything up. I do believe that there are people out there, a minority, who shouldn’t be wearing a badge and their actions make it difficult for the thousands of overwhelmingly good, honest and hard-working officers who go to work every day. I’m all for transparency and weeding those people out of the profession. It’s really no different than any profession, some people enter their chosen field for all of the wrong reasons.
I felt strongly that all people saw was a badge; behind and beyond the badge was what they needed to know, the person. A person who is no different than they are, living in the communities they serve and wanting them to have a safe place to raise their families. The people in the book ARE just like everyone else with one big difference, they might not come home from work at the end of the day. Not too many other professions can say that.
I wanted to tell stories about individuals who had done the job but I needed them to be willing to open their hearts and talk about it all. Their favorite parts of the job, the most difficult and the affects that it can have on them and their families. But I also wanted to include other first responders, people that I couldn’t have done my job without. Each of my books include stories about law enforcement officers, firefighters, EMS personnel, dispatchers, forensic/crime scene technicians and victim advocates. It’s not just law enforcement officers who work long hours, nights, holidays and see the horrible things that humans can do to one another or the tragic accidents. Most people don’t realize that.
Dispatchers hear and deal with some awful things over the phone and do some amazing things over the telephone and radio. And at times they save lives. Forensic technicians do a job that is nothing like what television and film portray. They have to see it, photograph it, measure it, collect it, process it, attend autopsies and testify about it all. Some scenes take days to process. It’s a stressful job. My department had a Victim Advocate Unit staffed with four full time advocates. They were on-call just like detectives and often responded to fresh, violent crimes scenes. They deal with victims and the families of victims well after the incident has occurred.
I also included a woman whose husband was killed in the line of duty and a mother whose son was killed in the line of duty. Those are perspectives I felt people needed to hear. I call all of these people my Village of First Responders.
A friend of mine who is a police officer read my books and told me he felt that every person who is in a police academy should read these books. They are eye-opening, they are about real people and they are the truth behind the badge. Some people have told me that they don’t know these people so why should they read the books. That’s not the point; these people are open and honest about what it’s like to do their job. These books are for family and friends of those working in these professions, for someone thinking about entering one of these professions, for those who are doing these jobs to let them know they are not alone in their thoughts. It’s certainly for those who are not supporters.
My mantra has become this, “My books don’t have the power to change minds but perhaps by offering a different perspective, I can open them.”
How do you feel about the anti-police rhetoric in the USA?
It makes me sad. I loved my job and the years that I spent serving my community. But I started seeing a shift in how people looked at law enforcement several years ago. We started getting calls from parents to come to their home because they couldn’t get their child to go to school. Or when I happened to be eating a meal in a restaurant and a child was acting up, they would threaten the child that I, the police, would take them to jail if they didn’t behave. Most often when we would go to the home and talk to the child, all they really wanted was someone to listen to them. They were often encountering bullying at school or some other issue. Why couldn’t the parent figure this out?
With the restaurant situation I would always politely approach the parent and ask to speak to them. I’d explain that we don’t want kids to be afraid of police officers but for them to be seen as someone safe they could approach when they needed help. Something is inherently wrong with both of those scenarios and I think society as a whole has bigger problems. Every officer I’m sure has similar situations they can relate to. As I stated earlier, there are people who shouldn’t be wearing the badge and they tarnish the oath every good police officer takes. They are a minority but need to be weeded out. We need to do better and can do better, on both sides and that starts with open communication. That means both sides who are willing to be open minded, listen and learn.
Writing the books has afforded me some amazing opportunities especially with speaking engagements. It has become clear to me that people really don’t know or understand.
I encourage people to attend their local Citizen’s Police Academy, do a ride-a-long with an officer or ask if they can go through their department’s “shoot/don’t shoot” simulator. Most departments offer at least one of these options. Knowledge is a powerful thing. People used to respect the uniform and that just isn’t always the case anymore.
As I mentioned earlier, I was one of only five female officers at my department when I was hired. The public wasn’t quite ready for us and saw us as “less than” our male counterparts. We had to work extra hard to earn the communities respect.
I believe the law enforcement profession is at that point now. Respect from the community is no longer a given, it has to be earned. But I also feel it goes both ways and the old saying of treat others as you would want to be treated, or a loved one, is still true. Sometimes I feel that it has gotten to a place of its “us against them” and that also makes me sad. Some reading this may disagree with me and that’s okay. We all have thoughts and opinions about this topic. I could discuss it for hours! Bottom line though, I will always support my brothers and sisters in blue and all first responders. I bleed blue and always will.
Have you dealt personally with PTSD/PTSI and/or poor mental health due to the job?
I don’t believe anyone can do this job without it taking a toll emotionally and I’m one of those people. During my ten years in homicide I supervised 561 death investigations. That’s an average of over one a week. That doesn’t take into account other death scenes I encountered while working the streets. I’ve seen just about every imaginable way a person can die. Some were tragic accidents, some were intentional and some were the result of mental illness, hatred or anger.
I remember the call early on in my career where I made a conscious choice to shut my emotions down. It served me well in my job but not so much in my personal life. People often say that police officers are cold and uncaring. That’s so far from the truth. It’s a defense mechanism, a place you have to go internally to get the job done. Trust me, cops do feel!
I still live in the city that I served. There aren’t many places that I pass by that I don’t recall a death or a particular incident. But, I’ve learned to feel again and when I think of those victims I know they are in a special place and are at peace….as am I. I’m happy to see that many departments are now trying to address the stressful side of the job. PTSD is classified as a mental illness so once you’ve been diagnosed with it, you‘ve been diagnosed with a mental illness. That can be a fine line for an employer, especially when you have employees who carry firearms and make life and death decisions. Officers are afraid that they may lose their job or even their pensions by asking for help. We have to find a way to ensure that doesn’t happen. Progress is being made and I hope that it continues.
What advice would you give to people that are going to become first responders?
Talk to people who are doing it have done the job you are interested in. See if you can ride a shift. Whether it’s with a law enforcement officer, a firefighter, a paramedic or EMT. If you’re interested in being a dispatcher, ask if you can visit the dispatch/communications center and shadow for a shift or two. The same applies for crime scene work. I think they would find all of these people more than willing to talk with them and show them the real world of these professions. None of these jobs are what television, film or the media portray. All of these jobs are honorable professions, not easy or for everyone but, they are incredibly rewarding. Educate yourself. Fnd out all that you can about the profession and above all, ask yourself why you really want to do this job.
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