Veterans & Police Interactions
The hardships faced by Americans returning from battle are many. Veterans have sacrificed everything to protect America, yet, the hurdles they come home to as they try to rebuild their lives can be excruciating. One of those hurdles is a bit of a surprise to some: military veterans are arrested at higher rates than other Americans. Why is that?
Multiple Risk Factors
Veterans of military service—whether we’re talking about decades ago and the Vietnam War, recent wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq, or anything in between– come home with a number of risk factors that put them at higher risk of arrest. Some of those factors include:
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of trauma during their service;
- Traumatic brain injuries;
- Additional trauma to the body, including the loss of limbs, vision, or injuries resulting in significant limitations;
- Serial deployments;
- Issues with substance abuse.
Undoubtedly, post-traumatic stress disorder and other serious injuries may be contributing factors to substance abuse, which may in turn lead to difficulties with the law.
The Numbers Tell the Story
We know that roughly one-third of veterans report that they’ve been arrested once or more since returning to the States, a number appreciably higher than the rate for non-vets—just one- fifth of whom have experienced arrest. Just under 200,000 vets are currently incarcerated in America—about eight percent of the population behind bars. The median age of incarcerated vets is around 50-52, which is about ten years older than the average for other inmates. Over 90 percent of incarcerated vets are men, two-thirds of whom were arrested for violent crimes.
Is There a Better Way?
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has put together a free toolkit for officers who encounter vets who may be suffering from PTSD. The goal is to identify and provide sensible interventions for them rather than dumping them into prisons. The first step is to understand symptoms of PTSD—flashbacks, thoughts that are out of control, and high levels of anxiety and paranoia, for example. Oftentimes initial symptoms lead to withdrawal, sleep disorders, mood swings, and intense visceral reactions and emotional trauma when reminded of traumatic events experienced during deployment. These individuals are frequently detached from loved ones; emotional numbing leads to increased isolation. Paranoia grows, potentially causing one to easily startle and to suffer eruptions of aggression and fury. For police, effective training in de-escalation procedures can make a huge difference in what might otherwise be dangerous, or even deadly outcomes. Simple strategies regarding posture, facial cues, hand gestures, and voice modulation can be critical to obtaining positive outcomes. Treating these veterans with deference, responding to their proximate concerns, and minimizing distractions that could be alarming are all central precepts of the police toolkit. When officers have firm training in the assessment, acknowledgement, and questioning strategies outlined in the toolkit, safer, more successful interactions for both officers and veterans who suffer from PTSD are the likely outcome. Then vets can be directed to the services that will help them, rather than lost in the criminal justice system.
A Strong Defense for Veterans
If you or a loved one is a veteran who’s had a run-in with the law, the need for a vigorous defense of any criminal charges is crucial. At Salazar & Kelly Law Group, our experienced Kissimmee criminal defense attorneys are dedicated to providing a strong defense while preserving dignity. To discuss your situation, schedule a confidential consultation in our office today.