Police officers in the United States wake up every morning unaware of what stresses and dangers the day holds for them. Ronnie Ward began his career at the Bowling Green Police Department over 14 years ago, working the streets for four years and serving as Public Information Officer for 10 years.
We reached out to Ward to ask what keeps him going.
Q: In your current position, what does a normal day look like for you?
A: My job is to deal directly with the media, but also handle the social media for the department. One of my other responsibilities is participate and coordinate talks to school. Seniors centers, teenage groups, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, football that organized one point in time, and we did tours of the department, I’ll organize all the tours, and then took care of those tours as well. Seems to have died off a bit due to COVID, but we’re coming back slowly and speaking to groups.
We educate senior groups on safety and scams, we educate the younger population on what it is police do, we also conduct a citizens police academy. I take care of organizing and presenting and all that goes along with with that program. And then I participate in the junior Police Academy, which is designed for 10 to 13 year old kids. That takes place in the summertime.
A normal day, to answer the question specifically, is if I’m not speaking to a group, I’m dealing with the media, depending on what issues are going on about the community.
I work closely with the detectives and other people in the department to make sure that we’re getting the appropriate, correct information in a timely manner out to the media, and social media, as well. I take care of all the [social media] posting for the department. Any responses that come from that, I answer those questions or give those out to the detective working the case, or whoever needs that.
So a normal day — yeah, isn’t really a normal day. I could be doing anything from just answering questions, looking at reports, finding information about reports, or trying to come up with social media posts to put out for the public, because we also do a lot of officer interaction with the public.
We try to post that information on social media as well. So organize those interactions, or if they’re spontaneous, just obtaining photographs and posting.
Q: What are some aspects of your job that cause you stress?
Something that people don’t think about when when we post something on social media, we are responsible for every action that we take, and we may have to answer for that action in court. So we don’t want to take an action that’s going to jeopardize a case.
We want to make sure we don’t put out too much information so that we mess up a case in regards to exactly how something happened, we oftentimes hold some of the facts close to our best and we don’t let those facts out and harm the investigation.
Social media has created an up-tempo to how information comes out. I slow that tempo down. There’s some stress in that, just trying to keep that at slower pace, because the news media feels that tempo is well, and they want to pass that information off. They know how I am, they know how I’m gonna act and react, they try because they’re just trying to pass that [information] on. They need something faster, quicker, first, whatever; but, my philosophy is be right, not first. If you can be right and first at the same time, that’s great, but typically that doesn’t happen.
Beyond that, just dealing with the everyday stuff, that’s really not that big of a deal. The stress from this job comes from just making sure that I’ve spoken to everyone involved in the case, the detectives through the chief, to make sure that we’re not doing something that’s gonna mess something up.
Q: How did the pressures and stresses changed when you went from working the streets to working in public relations?
A: On the street, what would stress you there is just dealing with the tempo of the job, or the pace of the job as you’re going to call to call. And actually, as a patrol officer, I liked going call to call, which just means that we are on one call, we complete that call, we have already another call waiting as soon as we finish this call, we go right to the next one.
That oftentimes is your day, all you’re doing is going from one call to the next call the next call, sometimes not even being able to take time for lunch. That’s a little bit of a stress in itself.
Then the heavy stress comes with making sure that you’ve completed the investigation to the best of your ability, trying to find people, trying to make sure that you have all the information that’s correct from the victim, and then determining finding the suspect.
Oftentimes there’s three stories to a case: his, her side and the truth. Those three rarely will ever line up. Trying to get to the bottom of it is time consuming and stressful, just because you’ve got to make sure that it’s done, because it’s it is very, very serious.
If we put someone in custody, we want to make sure that, 100%, we know that we are backed by both the city and the law. That goes through your mind every single time you start put handcuffs on someone. It’s a very serious offense if you go outside of that.
Those are stresses themselves, but then added on top of that you have to consider officer safety, with every single thing that you do. You don’t want to get hurt, you don’t want one of your fellow officers to get hurt, and you don’t want a member of the public, somebody standing around you, to get hurt.
People do not like the police, people do not like to see the police. We deal with people, sometimes it’s their absolute worst day. We have to write tickets, that’s just something that police do. One of the things we’re charged with is promoting driver safety, and that comes in the form sometimes of writing tickets. There’s a little bit of stress in that just because you never know what you’re going to encounter when you walk up to a vehicle.
Q: How have the ways in which police treat mental health among officers changed since your time working the streets?
A: You know, it’s never seemingly accepted in this profession to to let anyone know that something’s bothering you. You certainly can’t cry, even if you can. Those human actions that are normal under high stress situations, you’ve got to figure out some way to deal with those.
I think [mental health resources] have always been there, but what I think has changed is the fact that we’re recognizing that we need those resources. That’s something that I think is coming to light more.
But people recognize that police in general, like holy crap, I can’t believe y’all deal with this, all the time, somebody’s running their mouth like that, or trying to fight you or trying to run from you or trying to hurt you or whatever.”
Some people ask me, oftentimes, what’s the worst part about your job, and I think it’s very generic. I would say the worst part of our job is dealing with what one person can do to another person. It’s shocking what one person can do to another person, from simple assault all the way to a homicide with domestic violence thrown in the mix, all that. That’s bad in itself and sometimes tough to deal with.
I think now people recognize the idea of ‘oh, you guys have a terrible job, we’re okay with you going in finding mental health.” Whereas before, it was “I don’t want to deal with this guy, because he’s having a hard time coping with the things of his job, and this is what you signed up for.” That’s not exactly what I signed up for, but this is just what comes along with it.
I didn’t realize I was going to have to deal with what one person did to another person in this manner. But the fact is it’s more acceptable now to access the resources that have always been available.
Q: You’ve talked about some of the worst parts of your job, but whats the best part?
A: The best is when you get to help somebody. Most of the time, you don’t even realize it; maybe sometimes you never do. But other times, you may realize that years later that you made a difference.
I mean, officers, we all have stories of somebody that we found out later that we helped. In fact, I stay in contact with some people that that I dealt with when I was on the street 10 years ago, literally had a lady came out to the station about a month ago. She said I “every time I’m in town, I come over here, because you helped me and you don’t even know how much you helped me.”
I was just doing my job, I just happened to be at the right place at the right time and just continually checked on her because I knew she was struggling with the situation and and she seemed to fix it. She credits me for some of that mountain. I don’t really need the credit, because she did it. I was not there every day.
I had a guy that actually ran across my dad and found out who he was and said, ‘you’re Ronnie Ward’s dad?” and he said, “yeah.” He says “Well let me tell you about your son. Because of him, I’ve been sober for seven years. And it’s only because of him, because he continually told me there was a different way, a better way.”
I knew the guy but I had to take a minute to remember the situation and what I did and then was like “oh, I remember that.” I didn’t set out that that day to try to make a difference in that guy’s life, I set out to try to get him to stop doing what he was doing.
Those are stories that we get. Every every officer has one if they been here for any length of time, you get one that you’re like, “wow, okay, I made a difference in that situation.” That’s really good for me.
Q: What do you think police need right now?
A: That’s that’s a tough one. I would never go to the public and say, “you need to do this and you need to do that, because this is what we need.” Do we need more officers? I don’t know. Do we need more cars? I don’t know. More equipment? I don’t know. I don’t know what the fix is, because we’re not really sure what the problem is.
What would really be nice is for cops to stop doing stupid things. But sometimes, what people don’t realize ,is that when you’re looking at a video of a cop doing something stupid, you have the freedom and the luxury of stopping rewinding, playing it frame by frame, looking at it from 14 different angles. The officer has one angle, a half a second, and no luxuries to make that decision.
They’re making that decision based on the information that they have at the moment, what they see, which fortunately, the court has gone back and said, we’ll take it from your perspective, which you should have taken it from my perspective the whole time.
You do have to realize how fast a half a second goes away. Fortunately, I’ve never had to pull the trigger, but came very close to taking someone’s life. Very close, very close. But these things happen in such a quick timeframe that we don’t get the luxury to back up and look and to say, “well, I should have done this.” Well, we can tell you that after the fact, but only based on when you learn something new. That’s what someone else tells you when you see the video and you’re like, “oh, this wasn’t going down any way like I thought it was.”
I wouldn’t even ask the public for understanding, because they don’t really want to understand what it is that we do. What I would ask for is that people stop and take all of the facts into account before they speak, because that’s what we have to do when we go to court.
Unfortunately, with social media, you’re allowed to, to express your views unwarranted and without taking fact into account. I would like for folks to stop and before you say anything, find out what the facts are. Then if you want to speak, that’s great, even if the facts don’t favor the police, that’s okay. We don’t do things right all the time, but you need to know what you’re talking about before you stir up a storm that other people have to deal with, not just the police, but communities in general.