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The God Complex
By Tracy E. Barnhart
Published: 09/29/2008

Tracy Barnhart is a Marine combat veteran of Desert Storm / Desert Shield. In 2000, he joined the Ohio Department of Youth Services at the Marion Juvenile Corrections Facility, a maximum security male correctional facility housing more than 320 offenders. Barnhart works with 16 to 21-year-old, male offenders with violent criminal convictions and aggressive natures. In his monthly column, he discusses everyday issues affecting corrections professionals.

Akron, Ohio — Stephen Krendick was identified this afternoon as the Summit County Sheriff's deputy responsible for stomping on the head of inmate Mark D. McCullaugh Jr. during the fatal 2006 struggle at the county jail.

Fellow deputy Keith Murray, who witnessed the struggle in McCullaugh's fouled cell in the jail's mental health unit, testified that McCullaugh was kneeling on the cell floor — his head over his bunk, his hands cuffed behind his back and his legs shackled — with four or five other deputies around him.

''I observed Deputy Krendick standing on the bunk, and I observed Deputy Krendick striking Mr. McCullaugh in the head with the bottom of his foot,'' Murray said in questioning on the witness stand.

Four Fayette County jail officers and one former officer have been indicted on charges they beat inmates and then conspired to cover it up by writing bogus reports and threatening others not to report the incidents. Those named in the federal indictment are Sgt. John McQueen, Cpl. Clarence McCoy, former Cpl. Scott Tyree, Sgt. Anthony Estep and Lt. Kristine Lafoe.

The first count of the indictment alleges that "the five defendants conspired with each other and with other unindicted individuals to assault inmates without justification, and to cover up their conduct by filing false reports and charges."

I read the aforementioned headlines from local newspapers and thought, “what drives an officer to use force excessively or unnecessarily?”

I remember talking to my grandfather when I was young about times during the great depression and he told me several fascinating stories. One of them being whenever a man came and knocked on the door and asked for something to eat, his mother always fried him two eggs and made him toast and coffee but, no matter how cold it was, she made him eat it outside. Her infinite quality of mercy was tempered with caution.

As I ponder what to write in this training article I must temper my words with realism as some officers may disagree or say to themselves, “this is not me he is talking about.”

When I was a police officer I would often arrest individuals who, for better words, turned my stomach. To stand and look at them and try to understand why they did what they just did would baffle me endlessly.

After a while I was giving community policing seminars at churches and schools, knowing that the information I was relaying was landing on deaf ears as the next day those same individuals came in to report thefts and similar types of police reports. At one seminar I looked around the room and thought to myself, “You know what, the only real friends I have are police officers.”

I had grown so unattached to the individuals I policed and those who surrounded me that I looked upon them as unworthy, liars, cheats and individuals just waiting for me to arrest them. I had placed myself into a social bubble preventing most entry into my world.

This, as it turned out, made it easier for me to punish those who disrespected or defied my authority. I was only written up once during my career for excessive force, but as I honestly look back at my profession there were many other occurrences that were undocumented.

I am sure that I am not the only one looking out of this same tightly woven social bubble. I relate this discipline or punishment oriented behavior to, “the God Complex.”

In uniform, as well as out, I was above retribution and reproach. I was the one you called if you had a problem, and I easily solved it for you.

I stood at fire scenes holding back hundreds of onlookers. I responded first at all medical calls for assistance, and I started CPR, or stopped the bleeding, or comforted the children after a death. It seemed that I was a god.

I stopped seeing the public as human beings and started seeing them as a lower branch on the developmental evolutionary chain. As I read the news article above I wondered if these officers were thinking as I once did?

Now these officers will be drug through the mud, their careers ended, and they face the possibility of a long prison sentences. Did they have the God complex that night?

Was the individual who died during the brief incident, less of a human being than the officer? Was the officer dispensing punishment for not being compliant or respectful? We will have to wait for the gavel to drop to find this out.

What is the God complex? This is where you feel superior to others for some reason.

Doctors are often accused of having this because they see themselves as gods saving and sometimes ending lives. A God complex is a psychological state of mind in which a person believes that they have supernatural powers or god-like abilities.

They believe they are above the rules of society and should be given special consideration. The vast majority of the law enforcement and corrections officers in this country perform their very difficult jobs with respect for their communities and in compliance with the law. Even so, there are incidents in which this is not the case.

    “I have an M.D. from Harvard, I am board certified in cardio-thoracic medicine and trauma surgery, I have been awarded citations from seven different medical boards in New England, and I am never, ever sick at sea. So I ask you; when someone goes into that chapel and they fall on their knees and they pray to God that their wife doesn't miscarry or that their daughter doesn't bleed to death or that their mother doesn't suffer acute neural trauma from postoperative shock, who do you think they're praying to? Now, go ahead and read your Bible, Dennis, and you go to your church, and, with any luck, you might win the annual raffle, but if you're looking for God, he was in operating room number two on November 17, and he doesn't like to be second guessed. You ask me if I have a God complex. Let me tell you something: I am God.”
    Alec Baldwin in Malice
This behavior is difficult to defend in a court of law, especially knowing that you have been taught that contempt is not an excuse to initiate punishment. Throughout your career you will come into contact with individuals whose outlook on like is different from yours.

It takes all walks of life to create this one country under God. It is not however, your job to dispense punishment for violations.

It is not our job to punish people even though we see a visible need for the corrective change. It is our job to report violations of the law.

Individuals above our pay grade are responsible for the issuance of punishment to our citizens. It is when we cross this delicate line of reporting and punishment that we go too far and get caught up in misconduct and corruption.

So do you need to have compassion for everyone that you encounter? Well, that psychology is debatable. I say you do not necessarily need to have compassion for everyone, but you do need to respect everyone as individuals.

Respect is the key to keeping the “God complex” at bay.

Respecting or displaying respect to individuals is the path less traveled by most officers today. It is difficult to keep a positive attitude in humanity when you constantly deal with the dregs of society.

When it comes down to percentages, most officers on the street deal with ten percent of individuals within their communities ninety percent of the time.

In corrections, you deal with similar numbers when interacting with the inmates inside your institutions. It is easy to get a poor opinion of humanity, but you have to remember you are only dealing with a small percent of the population.

The easiest way to fix this aspect of the God complex is to make sure we’re thinking about the bigger picture. In the scope of life and your career, what we’re dealing with isn’t as important as our families, friends, or our health.

Focusing daily on the fact that there are other important things in life help with our “black and white” perspective while we are swimming with the sharks. Having an open mind is the easiest possible solution, but it’s also the hardest.

Putting ourselves outside the situation and looking at another’s perspective objectively is an almost impossible task. Instead, try thinking about how your solution could benefit from another’s proposed thoughts. That way you’re not giving up on your idea, but other thoughts are supporting your own.

This might be just my own personal experience, but if I’m honest I sometimes find myself looking down on others. It’s not necessarily a conscious thing, but sometimes thoughts tend to creep into my head about how much better I am at something than the average Joe.

If I can compare myself to someone else and point out their faults and how superior I am to them, I’ll feel better. But, we should be aware that we’re looking down on others. It really can be an automatic, subconscious thing.

Stopping the comparison before it starts is the most effective fix. There isn’t a hard-and-fast rule on how to fix it, other than becoming aware of our actions and thoughts. Once we’re aware, we can start thinking of ways to change how we think about others.


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  2. darev2005 on 10/08/2008:

    I know exactly what you are talking about. I've tried to put it down into words several times on my blog http://10-49.blogspot.com but I have yet to put it as eloquently as you. There have been many times I have caught myself wanting to use more force than necessary to control an offender who has angered me. I've managed to stop myself with an effort of will, but it was sometimes difficult. Am I god? No. AM I the hammer of justice? No. Prison is the justice, according to our laws. I have to constantly remind myself that the offenders are people and I try to keep that in mind as I work. But somedays it is very difficult to equate the offender who spits in your face or throws feces at you with your next door neighbor and treat them accordingly.

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