The story hit the news a little while ago. Sgt. Bullard of the North Charleston Police Department actually shot himself in the early morning hours of July 4th, 2012. We were automatically suspicious because no real description of a suspect was issued, but we refrained from discussing the case. The comment sections of the local media sites are now going crazy with citizens calling the officer everything but a child of God. Justifiable outrage? Maybe. Knee-jerk reaction? Maybe.
Immediately after the incident we were informed by our local media of all the good work done by Sgt. Bullard in his fifteen years of service, including his years of work with juvenile victims of sexual assault and child abuse, juvenile suspects and organizations supporting victim's rights. The media reported on the commendations he received from organizations representing those victims, noting he even devoted his off-time to assisting those who needed it.
Will Sgt. Bullard lose his job? Definitely. Will he be charged with a criminal offense? Possibly. We expect the local media to go after his head. They do love a scandal when the party involved is not one who falls under their protection. What concerns us is the thirst for blood exhibited by the public.
So, what could drive a person with an exemplary career to do something so out of context with the character previously exhibited? We don't know, but we can venture a guess. We are not excusing Bullard for what happened. We are simply presenting facts you won't hear from the talking heads.
Police officers in the South are not often paid on par with those in other areas. We firmly believe most of those in law enforcement in the Lowcountry are highly dedicated and go into the profession in spite of that drawback so they can serve their community. If a department allows it, many officers take on additional details, sometimes referred to as 'off-duty security'. The officer who fired a shot at an armed suspect in a convenience store on Dorchester Road a few weeks ago was working one of those details. Officers who have families to support will take any chance to do what they love and make a few extra dollars.
The law enforcement field is hard enough on families. Read through the pages of Charleston Thug Life and you get an idea of what these officers are dealing with during a typical shift. If the things we bring to light here frustrate the average citizen, we have to take a moment to imagine how police officers feel when they have worked hard, jailed a violent criminal and have to watch as a solicitor or a judge sets them again. Bullard's specialty was crime against children. Even worse.
Officers work long hours, see things we can't imagine and spend considerable time away from home and family. They are told they shouldn't take any work related issues home with them. They are told to make sure problems at home don't affect them at work. We think those are impossible goals.
When we factor in forty hours in a normal work week, another twenty hours of off-duty jobs, time spent in court and probably a variety of other drains on the limited hours in a week we begin to see issues. A person can only miss so many anniversaries, birthdays, baseball games and school functions before some modicum of resentment sinks in among other family members. Just ask a military family about that.
All of this takes place in a culture where the individual officer is supposed to be 'tough'. It takes place in departments who only provide nominal mental health counseling to employees - just enough to limit the liability of the department should anything untoward happen. It takes place in departments whose main source of mental health services is nothing more than an on-call volunteer chaplain.
We aren't claiming any of these factors are in play in the case of Sgt. Bullard. We don't know him and we don't know anything about his situation, but we think the public should at least consider the possibility before throwing him to the wolves. Maybe further investigation will prove him to be the complete opposite, but until additional information comes to light we will give him the benefit of the doubt. We can still agree the act was costly and wrong, but we won't string him from the gallows until we try to understand the 'why' behind the act.