United States (TFC)— In Standing Rock’s wake, many looming questions perforate the airwaves. A new one was raised through a Greed Media opinion piece, questioning the psychological stability of DAPL (Dakota Access Pipeline) officers. Former Baltimore police officer and Marine Corps veteran Michael Wood Jr. weighed in on this notion. Are officers who policed DAPL, and now returning to work, anonymous community liabilities?
The resistance at Standing Rock against the billion dollar pipeline project erupted in an extremely volatile year of protest. From Baltimore to Milwaukee, protests, riots, surveillance and crackdowns devoured nightly news. Images from Standing Rock possessed a darker edge.
At one point, officials blockaded water protector camps of food and medical supplies. Dogs were unleashed while people and their devices were relentlessly monitored. Journalists faced arrest, and a no-fly-zone was even established. Effectively, the message was sent that Standing Rock was a properly militarized zone. The officers sent to police these grounds came from a variety of departments and states.
Deployed under an EMAC (Emergency Management Agreement Compact), they aided Morton County’s anti-protest operations. When their time was up, officers returned to their respective jurisdictions. DAPL officers are largely unidentified, and records related to their deployments are strictly controlled. In Ohio, resistance against releasing documents has shocked attorneys into accusing the state of “espousing to having secret police.”
As such, determining whether any were psychologically screened post-deployment becomes complicated. In a piece by another TFC journalist, it was determined that training protocols for deployed officers were lax at best. Training for DAPL officers deployed under EMAC was “preferable, but not required”, TFC found.
If that’s the case, then systematic psychological screenings upon after DAPL appears dubious. Standing Rock’s resistance caught officials off guard, and plans were rushed. On the other hand–in at least Wisconsin–officers were debriefed and an after-action report was produced to prepare for future engagements. Shedding light on some of the intricacies of how police handle these sorts of evaluations is where Michael Wood Jr. comes in.
Michael Wood Jr. spent 10 years with Baltimore PD, following time in the Marines. Since leaving law enforcement, Wood has become a vocal advocate for police accountability and reform movements. He now serves as executive director for the group Veterans Stand, which sent volunteers to Standing Rock.
Veterans Stand focuses on assisting communities which request its aid. During DAPL, volunteers helped water protectors logistically including building structures, food, and medical treatment. Veterans Stand arrived shortly after other veterans groups flooded Standing Rock to protect protesters.
Although Wood reported a “dramatic difference” between how police treated them and protesters, his group was also subjected to surveillance. ““We have seen the same things everyone else has seen”, he recalled in a TFC exclusive. Following DAPL, Wood too ponders over the after-effects of policing such a violent crackdown. TFC journalists picked the ex-Baltimore PD sergeants brain on how these questions should be explored.
“As a commander in Baltimore, I would have counseled them and observed for any indications and ordered to psyche eval’s if behavior changes were noted. Some jurisdictions make this mandatory through policy, which I have no objection to and would encourage.”– Michael Wood Jr.
Wood did, however, highlight “the quality of services as connections to problems” from a “management perspective”. Reaching back into his own backyard, Wood referenced how those handling Baltimore PD psych evaluations were “fired for negligence”. It all circles back to ineffective systems being patched with equally ineffective reforms, which Wood calls “band-aids.”
Similarly, the transition of police into paramilitary units rather than peace officers factors in. “The police should have never been on those lines in the first place”, Wood told TFC, “that is the problem. Just like with the services we argue about providing for veterans. The goal is not to provide better services for vets, the goal should be to create less and less vets.” Instead, each year seems to only bolster the warrior cop ideology.
The systematic failings and pitfalls Wood experienced at Baltimore PD certainly echo in many other departments. North Dakota’s use of an EMAC to request reinforcements further complicates navigating this system. In some cases, open records requests were denied specifically because the officers were sent under EMAC. In these examples, reports are either on lock or–because of the EMAC deployment–were never produced.
DAPL officers returning to the in’s and out’s of routine policing, are ghosts in their community. With so few mechanisms available to tend to officer PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), and other stigmas, the chances of these officers being volatile is real.