Humanizing the Badge
Building community to share the emotional side of police workBy Karen Solomon | Nov 21, 2016
After the events that coalesced in Ferguson, Mo., late in the summer of 2014, supporters of law enforcement began an earnest effort to spotlight on the overall good done by our peace officers in order to balance the negative rhetoric that abounded on social media. Books were written, documentaries promoted, and soon social media became the tool of choice for people who believed they could open hearts and minds of those who were influenced by the negative publicity. “Humanize the badge” became a battle cry for many. Deputies Hook’Em and Book’Em used humor on their Facebook page; Hearts Beneath the Badge was an attempt “to see them as what they are—human,” and U.C. Santa Cruz uses their citizens academy to, again, “humanize the badge.”
Humanizing the Badge
Elizabeth Ogden unwittingly took the movement a step further. In December 2014, after Detectives Ramos and Liu were ambushed and killed in New York, she sat down and wrote Dear Officer, I See You. Written from the heart, it was a simple message: we see you, we care, and we know how much you hurt. Motivated by the vilification of officers by mainstream media and the pain she saw in the faces those around her, she wanted them to know they hadn’t been forgotten. When she awoke the next morning, her message had been shared on social media more than 600,000 times.
Using the momentum of Dear Officer, Humanizing the Badge (HTB) was born. Ogden has spent time recruiting people who express themselves with softer tones and kind honesty. She initially partnered with Mike the Cop, whose brother, Corporal Matthew Edwards, was killed in the line of duty on July 23, 2010.
“We knew that we had the same ambitions and end goal. When we joined forces, we agreed that we would add people slowly. After some time, we started to pursue them as members of our team and we wound up with some unbelievable people doing really incredible things,” said Ogden. “We brought on people like Juan Wilson, a police officer in the St. Louis area who dedicates his entire life to community policing and development. Adding people like him, with different strengths, helped us to grow into more a family and a team than anything.”
In less than eighteen months, their Facebook page grew to more than 230,000 followers with a reach of 2 – 8 million people per week. Their biggest week was after the tragic events in Dallas on July 7. Officer Dan, an officer with the Dallas Police Department, publicly bared his heart and mind, and people were drawn to the raw emotion.
Although HTB is still changing and growing, their success depends on the one factor that differentiates them from the pages that are news sources and commentary on law enforcement: emotion. HTB opens up in ways that many of us are afraid to. They believe in love, trust, and hope. Ogden takes the darkest moments in law enforcement and talks about them from the heart. She tries to put our nightmares into perspective.
“We know that times haven’t been easy and that people are hurting substantially,” Ogden said. “That goes for officers and that goes for people in the communities. So many people are afraid and fearful. We want to have the hard conversations, we want to love people, and we want to show people that we are all human beings just like them. With so many officers running in the red, with an officer choosing suicide every 22 hours, the time is now. We need solutions now.”
As a group that’s accused of being emotionless and is often told to cope with trauma as “part of the job,” police have come to believe that our feelings are something that should be buried. Ogden is peeling back that layer and building a community that can see law enforcement at their most vulnerable. This new community will understand that police are brave, strong, and stoic, because sometimes that’s necessary to go on doing the job. But police are also vulnerable, damaged, and human. We all are.
HTB represents that ideal many of us seek for ourselves: that rare person who speaks with their heart, forgives, and builds bridges. Many of us aren’t there yet. Many of us cannot go into communities and talk to people with hope in our voice. We want change, but we aren’t sure how to be a catalyst without exposing our private selves. HTB is willing to bring the message to whomever will listen. They are in a position to bring the community to law enforcement rather than bringing law enforcement to the community. They are saying, “Look at us, we are here, we are human and we are doing what we can to make you safe. Help make us safe.”