POLICE VICTIMIZATION HAS WIDESPREAD IMPACT
By Karen L. Bune
Law enforcement officers have always been
considered the community protectors, but they are not immune from criminal victimization. On May 8, 2006, in Fairfax County, Virginia, a mentally unstable young
man armed with high-powered weapons shot and fatally killed Detective Vicky Armel as she was leaving the Sully station. An off-duty officer, Michael Garabino
, was nearby outside the station, and he was also shot five times by the gunman. The officer was critically wounded and remained hospitalized until he died on May 17, 2006.
Both officers were able to return fire during this volatile incident, and the gunman was killed at the scene.
The Washington-Metropolitan region was deeply impacted by these traumatic events. Detective
Armel’s funeral was held several days prior to Officer Garabino’s death, and the entire criminal justice community, as well as the public at large, was trying to cope with her loss.
Approximately 2,500 people attended her funeral, and the outpouring of support extended nationwide.
With the lingering grief of Detective Armel’s death, the subsequent news of Officer Garabino’s
passing augmented the sorrow and grief accompanying this shocking episode.
Detective Armel left behind a husband, who is also a Fairfax County detective, and two children.
Officer Garabino, a 23-year veteran of the force, leaves behind a wife and two children.
These events prove that police officers, too, can become crime victims. Though they are sworn to serve and
protect and are well trained, their most heroic efforts cannot, at times, even save themselves. The impact of officer victimization is deep and far reaching, and the law enforcement community is impacted
The death of fellow officers and colleagues is a blatant reminder of the existent vulnerability that prevails among even highly skilled law enforcement officers, and the realization hits very close to home when it occurs with one of their own. Though officers are frequently faced with crises and confront death in homicide cases, the loss of a colleague creates not only a collective grief but also one that is individually unique.
As a consequence, some officers will reflect, reevaluate their lives, and continue in their profession as they maneuver through the grief process.
For others, they may not be able to cope. They may develop post-traumatic stress symptoms, may become severely depressed, may resort to alcohol to ease the penetrating pain, or they may retire from the department on disability because they can no longer perform their duties in a functional manner. Others may be so impacted that they choose to leave the profession.
Throughout the time of mourning and during the grief process, the bond between everyone in the criminal justice system is solidified. There are no jurisdictional boundaries, and there are no
strangers. Everyone shares the loss, and everyone feels the pain and sorrow. Wide reaching support is extended to the families of those left behind.
Everyone tries to remain strong and supportive for one another, but it is often a difficult endeavor.
The community suffers secondary victimization because they now understand that the public servants who are
in their communities to preserve their public safety are just as defenseless, at times, as they are. Citizens who have become acquainted with the officers in their jurisdictions, through community policing efforts
or other means, also experience the significant loss and they, too, grieve.
As a community and as individuals, they may demonstrate an outpouring of sympathy and show their support by their actions of engaging in candlelight vigils, placing flower bouquets at a memorial site, or by standing on the side of the road as the funeral procession passes. The communal empathy that ensues and the sympathy that is generated reinforces recognition of the fact that the police department and the community strengthen their bond and more poignantly understand the commonalities they share as human beings and as an integrated community.
The significance of the officers’ lives and the sacrifices they made is imprinted on everyone. The memories never fade but remain forever embedded in the recollection of these tragic events.
Copyright 2006 Karen L. Bune
***Karen L. Bune is a Victim Specialist in the State’s Attorney’s Office for Prince George’s County, Maryland.
She is also an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at George Mason University where she teaches victimology. Ms. Bune is a nationally recognized speaker and consultant on victim issues. She is Board Certified in Traumatic Stress and is a Diplomate and Fellow of the Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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