By Officer David Berez (Ret.)
When the roads of hurt, anger and betrayal intersect, the streetlights can only shed so much light. No matter how hard you try to navigate through the darkness to find the right path forward, we can be blinded by our own emotion and go full throttle into a dead end. Here we find ourselves at a point of no return, no matter how bright the light may shine.
In the early morning hours of July 29, 2020, my friend, a Detective Sergeant with a local police department, came to this intersection and chose to hit the brick wall head on at the end of the road. He made this choice, knowing he was to leave behind what mattered most to him, his two young children. He made this choice knowing the hurt and vicarious trauma that they would now endure. One can only imagine having to make that decision. What were the other factors that rose above living in a hurt locker, only to place your children in their own?
As Police Officers we face fear every day. We face horror the eyes can never unsee, we hear sounds that will keep you up at night, and we endure tragedy that will take a lifetime to process. Yet, we press forward each and every day, living with the nightmares and the guilt, and we drive on to get to tomorrow because someone else will need us again.
Where our road ends, is at the brick wall of betrayal and the subsequent distrust that follows. When it comes from your boss, you tend to check out of work. When it comes from your partner, you kick them out of your car. When it comes from a friend, you delete them from your life. When it’s your spouse, the burden can often be too big to bear. You try to shield your kids and divert the focus, and in this case, that diversion came by the way of suicide, as my friend saw no path forward.
I will never understand why the daily calls and texts of support, the plans we made only a few days prior for lunch on Friday, the next youth sports event, the next vacation, the next birthday, the next whatever…were not enough to light his path and overcome the darkness. So many cared to help him see, and still the only light he was able to turn to was that of the Eternal.
On that day, so many hearts were broken as he found his Peace. I will never know the hurt he endured, the trust he lost, or the love that failed him. I will also never know how it is possible that the love of his children was not enough to get him through. May the demons that plagued him, have also died with him. May those who loved him and cared for him find comfort in the memories that they share of his laughter, sarcasm, good heart, and caring soul for others.
Police Officers deal with the unthinkable and in this time of culture war against the very individuals we depend upon to protect us from evil, we have left them in the dark at an intersection of life that has no light at all. They have lost trust in the public from whom they were betrayed. They have lost trust in their leadership, from whom they were betrayed. And now they are losing trust in loved ones, from whom they were betrayed. Just remember my brothers and sisters, we will always have each other, from whom you will never be betrayed.
Sadly, there are approximate 200 Police Officers every year (not including retired officers) unable to see the light through the darkness. However, I will always be there to answer the phone if you call. Just be strong enough to make the call. From there I will take your hand, and we will walk together out of the darkness and into a place of light. I have learned to be the one, because I have learned that I may be the only one.
Rest easy Dan and may your memory always be a blessing. While I did not get to see you on that Friday as we planned, I still shared a beer with you and talked about you, instead of with you. I’ll miss you, bro!! EOW: 07/29/2020.
During this same time period that Dan was struggling and ultimately died by suicide, I too, was in a dark and hurtful place. I was struggling through my transition from being an active-duty police officer to retirement. I was struggling to find purpose and direction, like a rudderless ship in turbulent seas. Dan’s death caused me to recalibrate and find the necessary support to keep myself between the navigational buoys. However, my new direction was not forged alone. I surrounded myself with a tribe of a culturally competent cheering squad who lit my path until I was able to see clearly on my own.
For those who are at the start of their journey, learn to understand your why, identify your purpose, find your tribe, set goals, and check them off one at a time. The art of resilience is not just bouncing back from adversity, but rather bouncing forward. Then once you have found your way, take the time to share your story and light someone else’s path.
David Berez is a retired Police Officer and Drug Recognition Expert, having served more than 20 years with the East Windsor Police Department and a total of 30 years in Emergency Services, including Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and the Office of Emergency Management (OEM). Following his retirement, Mr. Berez is now the President and Founder of Six4 Consultants, a Public Safety Consulting Firm.
Mr. Berez is also a featured columnist, guest speaker and panelist on a variety of Public Safety discussions. In September of 2020, Mr. Berez was trained as a Resiliency Program Officer and Master Master Resiliency Trainer. He is a facilitator for "Resilient Minds on the Front Lines," "The Power of our Story," and is working to grow Resiliency for Law Enforcement, especially for Retirees, in NJ with the State's Resilience Program. In 2022, Mr. Berez was named to the Law Enforcement Advisory Counsel for Citizens Behind the Badge. Lastly, Mr. Berez also works as a security consultant and contractor.
Suicide and Crisis Hotline 988
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
Cop2Cop 1-866-COP2COP (866-267-2267)
The Wounded Blue 1-702-290-5611
Officer David Berez (Ret.)
By Sergeant Mike Simmons
Sgt. Mike Simmons is a second-generation police officer in Pensacola, Florida. A 30-year veteran police officer and Pensacola native, Mike has done extensive research on the history of Pensacola, but specifically on the police department. He has written several articles and a book on the subject. Mike and his wife Jerri live in Pensacola. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Mike also volunteers in a boy's mentoring program called Royal Rangers.
Officer Ray Lynn Barnes
Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, Florida
End of Watch Saturday, November 21, 1987
The rural country of west Florida doesn’t look like much to most people. It is stuffed with longleaf pines, water oak, southern magnolia and persimmon. Closer to the ground is the undergrowth: gallberry, sweetbay, titi, and redbay. The vegetation is so thick that a person can’t see 100 yards in front, especially near swamps.
To a native west Floridian, though, it is beautiful. It is full of deer, wild boar, squirrels, and rabbits, all good for eating. In warm weather, though, it is also fraught with alligators and poisonous snakes.
He was from Dorcas, only six minutes up the road. He had spent his entire life in these same woods. He grew up hunting here, and fishing here in the Shoal River. So, it was only natural that he would become a Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission officer – a game warden. But Officer Barnes wasn’t a tough, gritty, in-your-face type-guy. He was a laid back, friendly guy you would expect to invite you over to his house for some sweet tea on the front porch.
His name was Ray Lynn Barnes and that is what everybody called him. As a matter of fact, you didn’t call him by his first name “Ray.” He was “Ray Lynn.” He was like that -unassuming. You just liked the guy.
November days are sometimes cold in Florida, but not that cold. But the weather on November 21, 1987, was cold…well for Florida. It got down to 35 degrees at 7:00 AM. It was enough for Ray Lynn to be wearing a jacket.
As Ray Lynn was driving his unmarked police cruiser along where Laird Road turns into Richardson Road late in the evening, his mind was on getting home to his wife and two girls. Thanksgiving was coming up the next Thursday. It was only five days away, and he was looking forward to spending time with family and overeating, like you’re supposed to do.
Then he saw a vehicle – probably a hunter’s – parked near the Shoal River bridge. He got out to make one last check with the hunter and ensure he was legal. Maybe chat with him also as to how the hunting was going. Ray Lynn liked to do that.
It wasn’t long. He soon found a man in the woods – Steven Strange – with a 12-gauge shotgun, the preferred weapon to shoot deer with in the thick swampy woods of west Florida.
Steven Allen Strange lived a short ways from the Shoal River bridge, in the community of Mossy Head. Even though the small community is limited to a few houses and businesses along U.S. Highway 90, everyone for miles claims to live there. While Dorcas lay about two miles northwest side of the Shoal River, Mossy Head lay on six miles to the southeast.
Officer Barnes carried the weapon of choice for law enforcement officer during that era – a .357 magnum revolver. While it wasn’t as large as a Dirty Harry .44 magnum, it carried quite a wallop. The gun was on his gun belt, always part of his uniform. So, when he got out of his cruiser, he was ready to use it, even if he didn’t think he would have to.
When he met Steven Allen Strange, Officer Barnes, in his usual, easy-going way, greeted the hunter. What Strange knew and Officer Barnes didn’t is that he didn’t have a hunting license, and he had made his mind up that he wasn’t going to go to jail.
The conversation between the two is not known. What is known, though, is that a struggle ensued. Strange’s shotgun got stuck in the dirt and malfunctioned. It blew the barrel up when Strange fired it, probably at Officer Barnes. The explosion injured Barnes in the leg.
Barnes then pulled his .357. Strange lunged and overpowered Officer Barnes, taking the handgun. He shot Barnes in the chest. Then, he shot him again in cold blood in the head. The last glimpse of life that the officer had was his beloved woods that he grew up in. Barnes died immediately.
Frantic, Strange ran to his hunting partner, Kenneth Collars, and said “I just murdered a man!” Collars later said that he tried to talk Strange into surrendering to the police, but the murderer refused. The men left the scene.
A few minutes later, an anonymous phone call was made to the Walton County Sheriff’s Department. The caller reported the murder of Officer Barnes. Deputies raced to the scene, which was on the Walton-Okaloosa County line. When they arrived, they found the dead body of a fellow officer. Later in the night, Strange turned himself in to the Walton County Sheriff’s Office. He admitted to killing a man. He was arrested for murder.
In Florida, misdemeanor – minor – crimes are often dealt with quickly, especially if there is no objection to the story the prosecution gives the judge. In any case, a misdemeanor seldom goes longer than 90 days. Felonies – major crimes – usually work along a six-month timetable. In order for a trial to go longer than that, the defense must waive the Speedy Trial rule. In a murder case, the trial doesn’t usually begin until 8-9 months after the arrest, at the earliest.
In this case, the murder trial took place ten months later, on Wednesday, September 29, 1988, in Defuniak Springs, 18 miles east of the murder scene.
Prosecutor Drew Pinkerton laid out the case for the jury. Defense Attorney Dee Loveless then began to paint a different picture as Steven Strange sat at the defendant’s table and wept loudly. Loveless contended that, when Officer Barnes approached Strange on that fateful day, he was wearing a camouflage jacket over his uniform, covering his uniform, badge and gun, and he was driving an unmarked vehicle. Strange didn’t know he was an officer.
When Barnes asked for his hunting license and reached to take his gun away for protection, Strange thought he was trying to steal from him. The struggle began over the shotgun, which went off and injured Barnes. When Barnes pulled his revolver, Strange thought he needed to defend himself, so he grabbed for the gun. During the fight, the gun went off twice – once in Barnes’ chest and once in his head.
Drew Pinkerton countered by lifting Barnes’ jacket and showing that there was no blood on it. The uniform was covered in blood. Pinkerton explained that if the jacket had been covering the officer’s badge, it would have a bullet hole through it and covered in blood. Otherwise, the badge would have been showing, proving that Strange knew he was a lawman.
The jury didn’t buy the murderer’s story. They found him guilty of First-degree Murder. But when the day came for the sentencing phase, Defense Attorney Earl Loveless motioned for a mistrial on the basis that Judge Wells had given the jury a dictionary to use in deliberation, which was not in evidence. Sadly, the judge granted a mistrial.
Four months later, on Monday, January 30, 1989, the second trial got underway, this time in Pensacola, with Judge Lacey Collier presiding. Judge Collier is a smart, meticulous judge who allows no nonsense in his courtroom. As a result, the trial went along without a hitch. Overall, it was pretty much the same as the first trial. When the case was handed to the jury this time, however, they couldn’t agree on a verdict. They deliberated nine hours before Judge Collier finally declared a hung jury, which means that this one ended in a mistrial also. Later, it was discovered that all but one of the jury members felt that manslaughter was the correct verdict. One holdout was convinced that Strange committed first-degree murder.
Another four months went by – four agonizing months for the family. Finally, the jury was chosen for Trial #3 on May 1, 1989, under the watchful eye of Judge Collier once again. This time, the prosecutor played the tape from when Strange first called the police. In the conversation, he said he had no doubt that the victim was a law officer. Suddenly it was easier. The jury found Strange guilty of third-degree murder.
On June 8, 1989, Judge Collier sentenced Steven Strange to spend 35 years in State Prison. That didn’t happen; he was paroled on October 31, 2004, with the hope that he had turned from his criminal ways. Nope, a year later, he was arrested again and charged with Resisting an Officer With Violence.
After his second release, it appeared that he still hadn’t been rehabilitated. He was again arrested in 2007 for Felony DUI and Fleeing a Law Enforcement Officer. This time, the judge was fed up. Strange was sentenced to 30 years. He is scheduled to get out in 2044.
Officer Barnes, a favorite game warden, was survived by his wife and two daughters.
Sergeant Mike Simmons
By Ret. Detective Randall Snyder
Randall Snyder served with the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office from 2000 until his retirement in 2021. He served as a patrol deputy, patrol Corporal, and a detective in the Person's Crimes Unit, specializing in Internet Crimes Against Children. He served as a Task Force Officer with the Arizona Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force for two years, and was an affiliate member for an additional 4 years. During this time, he received the 2016 US Attorney General’s Special Commendation, a Medal of Distinction, Pinal County Attorney’s Victim’s Rights Award, and the Dr. Marie Griffith Distinguished Alumni Award from Arizona State University.
During his tenure with the Sheriff's Office he served on the Pinal County Mobile Field Force, Critical Incident Stress Management Team, International Law Enforcement Educator's and Trainers Association, Arizona Child Abduction Response Team, Arizona Missing Persons Investigators Association, International Association of Cyber and Economic Crimes Professionals, and the High Technology Investigators Association. He is a Domestic Violence trainer, and a court-recognized expert in age estimation of child exploitation images. He has a General Instructor's Certification from Arizona POST, and trained at the Central Arizona Regional Law Officer Training Academy from 2005-2011. He then obtained his Bachelor's of Science in Justice Studies, and a Master of Arts in Criminal Justice from Arizona State University, where he was an Honor's Instructor from 2015-2022. He was a member of Alphi Phi Sigma, and the Arizona Justice Educators Association.
He has been featured on the Catfish Cops and Badge Boys podcasts, among others, as well as multiple news pieces and print news articles. Randall has presented at local and national conferences and for numerous school and civic organizations on matters of child safety. He is available to speak about many child safety topics. Beyond criminal justice and teaching, Randall is a Star Wars super-fan, as a member of the 501st charity costuming organization. He has participated in charity events with the 501st, including the Arizona MS Walk, numerous children's hospital visits, and was even on Costa Rican television trooping as Darth Vader for their national children's charity, Teleton. He was published in the anthology Understanding and Preventing Community Violence and has published the memoirs of his great-grandfather in Hellbent for California. His own memoirs about his time investigating child crimes and Internet Crimes Against Children, Cyber Creeps, is available on Amazon!
When people think of PTS in law enforcement, the first idea is usually based upon a single traumatic incident. The officer involved shooting, a child death or some other singular incident that shocks the officer to the core. These are easy to understand. Being injured in the line of duty is traumatic. Having to use lethal force often causes trauma. Seeing death, especially of a child, can cause LEOs, especially if they are a parent themselves, to experience severe issues with depression, anxiety and other trauma responses. But what is often not considered, because of the gradual and insidious nature, is the recurrent trauma that builds up over time. Every day LEOs are subjected to the worst of humanity, the most horrific situations, and scenes straight out of a Stephen King story, and are expected to suck it up, and move on to the next call for service.
How often does a “normal” day involve multiple calls to resolve domestic disputes, child abuses, collisions with injuries and other acts of violence? We are expected to take each of these in stride, go on to the next call, and take any emotion associated with witnessing these events in stride. As a result, many times, the officer is left to take this trauma home, bottle it up, and put on a happy face for family and friends. We repress the emotions that would leave most normal citizens crying in a heap, and we must just pretend they didn’t happen. But each of these little traumas, like paper cuts, leave their mark. Each call leaves a little cut in the emotional wellbeing of the person. And while a paper cut won’t cause a person to bleed out, each “papercut” of trauma is a repetitive injury that compound upon themselves over time.
Often, this build up is exacerbated by self-medication, in the form of alcohol, to help keep the lid on the trauma. While we like to think the beer or whiskey is a medicine for the cuts, it is more like lemon juice, making the problem worse. Add to the trauma is the issue of desensitization, caused by repeated exposure to the very same traumas, which eventually cause the continually repressed emotions to burn out and stop working altogether.
This burnout often overflows to other emotions, such as happiness, love, and all the emotions we want to be feeling with our families, but no longer have a capacity to. This recipe, of persistent trauma, poor coping, self-medication, and emotional burnout has led us to the current epidemic in policing- a suicide rate that is more than twice that of felonious homicides.
In 2021, the ODMP lists approximately 89 acts of assault, gunfire, vehicular assault, and other felonious acts that took the lives of officers across the country. In that same time, Blue H.E.L.P. lists 183 known suicides. And this number is misleading, because while statistics of officers assaulted is well kept, many times officer suicides are incorrectly reported, to avoid traumas to the surviving family members, loss of benefits and the other consequences of this type of behavior. 183 officers who had the recurrent traumas of the job build up until they couldn’t take it anymore. 183 brothers and sisters that had been conditioned to “suck it up”, and who, if given the proper assistance may be with us today.
When are the administrations of the agencies going to wake up and realize that mental wellness should be stressed and provided just as much as firearms, driving and any other “skill” used to stay alive? As someone who knows firsthand how the daily stresses can build up, I can provide firsthand knowledge on how easily one can find themselves on a slippery slope toward self-destruction. In 2010, I had been on the job for a decade. I had been to my fair share of domestics, seeing spouses and children beaten, battered, strangled and worse. Plenty of fatal accidents, where men, women and children died as the result of an accident on the roadway, or carelessness of another motorist, or a DUI. But it wasn’t until I started working sex crimes and child crimes that the daily cut, cut, cut of trauma became a steadier and deeper cut (think cardboard versus paper).
At that time, we regularly had 30 or more cases active at a time. Children being abused, raped and worse. Having to listen to them talk, in detail, about the worst day of their young lives, often repeated over and over. Mix this in with more domestic violence, adult rapes, aggravated assaults and the worst actions humans can take against one another, and the “suck it up” got harder and harder. Then in 2014 I started working Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC). Now, not only was I talking to kids who had been raped and molested, but I had the images and videos to review as well. Hundreds of thousands of images and videos of children, some so young the umbilical hadn’t fallen off, being raped by adults, abused for the pleasure of not only the producer, but distributed for the enjoyment of the masses.
Most people can’t even fathom or stomach a single image of child sexual abuse material, much less the thousands per week ICAC is subjected to. Suddenly the paper and cardboard cuts are being made with other implements, which often cause open wounds. These wounds, which manifest themselves as intrusive thoughts, images that you can’t get out of your head, paranoia on a grand scale, and the traumas build up. There were nights during the 6 years I worked ICAC that I couldn’t close my eyes, as it caused a kaleidoscope of images and videos from my cases to play and replay behind my eyes. Whiskey became a necessary coping mechanism, because if I was drunk enough, I could pass out without the images. At times, the thought was that the only thing that would erase the images from my head, and my psyche, was a 9mm hollow point.
Fortunately, I had my wife, who God only knows why, not only stuck by me through all of this, but kicked me in the ass to get help instead of kicking me to the curb, which would have been understandable. She pushed, pulled and dragged me into EMDR, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Biofeedback Therapy, pharmaceutical interventions and plenty of other treatments to bandage my years of cuts, scrapes, knicks, and lacerations of all sizes caused by the years of trauma building upon each other. Sadly, not everyone has that support. Not everyone’s spouse or significant other is willing to put up with the copious amounts of bullshit my wife did, to pull me through instead of cutting me lose. But what each and every LEO has, whether they know it or not, is their brothers and sisters. There are hundreds, even thousands, of us in blue that would happily help our blue family members through these hard times. But we must be vigilant to see when our partners are struggling. We must be open to offering the help. And we must be willing to accept the help when it is needed.
To this end, many great organizations have been started to help. Blue H.E.L.P., Wounded Blue, Compassion-Alliance, BluePaz and many others are out there to provide services, treatments, or just a compassionate ear and shoulder. But we need to get past the “stigma” of asking for help. We have to understand that it is ok to not be ok. We must realize that, while each individual papercut isn’t fatal, a lifetime of them can be, and all to often, is. We, as individual LEOs and as a larger LEO community, must prioritize mental wellness, helping each other and recognizing that there is no shame in unburdening ourselves of the horrific world we inhabit as public safety. I urge everyone reading this to find that one person, that one treatment, that one thing that you can do to bandage those paper cuts, treat the wounds, big and small, to avoid an accumulation that eventually overwhelms.