When natural disasters occur, law enforcement officers are there to aid anyone in need and maintain order. But those officers need help as well. When Hurricane Irma hit Florida and Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, outside agencies and members of the community stepped up to lend a hand to officers whose homes were damaged or destroyed.
Knowing their homes are taken care of and their families have somewhere to stay allows officers to concentrate on their jobs, which is good for the officers and the community.
"There were so many outside agencies that came down to the Keys to help—to help clear, put tarps on roofs, remove downed trees," says Chief Donie Lee of the Key West (FL) Police Department. "I’ve never seen this under other circumstances. Only in storms have I seen police officers so paralyzed when they see their homes destroyed. They do their job, but at home, they’re paralyzed. It’s important to have these outside agencies come in and help and get them on track."
Key West business owners and other members of the community provided housing for these officers during the hurricane until they could go back to their homes. Lee credits the relationships his department has established with the community and businesses for this outpouring of support. In fact, he sees building such relationships as part of the planning process.
The Miami police department provided chainsaws and heavy equipment to Miami police officers whose houses were affected so they could handle simpler matters of tree limbs and debris blocking access. But if a palm tree fell down completely on top of an officer's house, then that would require the FOP support team.
"They went out to officers' homes and, using saws and equipment, helped them cut through the brush, make sure their homes were secure, and relieved that off of some of things to take care of their own families, so they could go forth and take care of the community knowing other law enforcement officers were taking care of them," says Lt. Steven Castell, commanding officer for the City of Miami Police Department's Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. "That turned out to be a huge help."
More than 100 Houston police officers completely lost their homes, according to the Houston Police Officers' Union. "Over 500 Houston Police Department employees' homes were impacted by the storm, but they came, stayed, and never complained," says Chief Art Acevedo.
For more about hurricane response, read Hurricane Heroes.