DECADES OF ADDICTION KILLED MY BOY

(This Op-Ed by yours truly, appears in Florida Today, 20 October 2019, under title “I Got The News Families of Addicts Fear.”)
 
In 1972, a flower-child, divorced mother of a 12-year-old named Bennett introduced her son to marijuana. Pot use had been common in the household, so she said to Bennett, “Here. Try this. You don’t have to do this behind my back.”
So he did. Not only that, he found her secret stash in a closet and brought a pocketful to school, which turned out as a lucrative endeavor, hoisting his status to a seventh-grade drug dealer.
Not only did his mother ignorantly and wrongfully teach him that drugs were harmless, the subliminal message was worse, as he wondered why the one person who is supposed to protect her child from wrongdoing, actually encouraged it. So he wondered: Why doesn’t my mom love me?
Fast forward to age 18. After several episodes of runaway behavior, minor crimes and shifting residences with his single father, Bennett began showing signs of mental problems. A prominent psychiatrist diagnosed him as “manic-depressive,” which entitled Bennett to Social Security disability income from the government. Bennett spent three months in a treatment center under care of the doctor. When released, Bennett was prescribed Haldol and Lithium, powerful drugs meant to balance bipolar disorder.
The results were catastrophic. Bennett turned into a quivering, drooling zombie, with loss of control of body functions. Basically, the psychiatrist prescribed powerful drugs, of all things, to a drug addict, while earning his fees from the government. The doctor said he’d have to take those drugs for life.
Eventually, Bennett ran away again and went on into a drug-infested lifestyle while still collecting money from Uncle Sam for 40 years. Repeated efforts to help by family members never helped. He could not hold a job and ultimately joined the ranks of America’s homeless and mentally ill populations.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attributes roughly 70,000 deaths a year to drug overdoses. Some 553,742 people experienced homelessness at least one day in 2017 while 19 million generally experience “housing insecurity.”
The CDC estimates that 50% of homeless people suffer from addiction. A study by the National Institute of Mental Health reports that 20% to 25% of homeless people suffer from severe mental illness. In a separate report, 17.3% of mentally ill prison inmates were homeless prior to arrest.
The crisis is clear: The land of prosperity, the free and brave, turns its back on those who are clearly mentally ill, drug dependent and imprisoned, giving them no hope at all other than more drugs and/or jail cells.
What is wrong with us?
We open our gates to third-world populations providing all the benefits of American citizens, while turning our backs on so many bona fide Americans, including war veterans suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder, relegated to finding bushes for shelter and thievery for bread.
Basically harmless to others, Bennett found ways to survive while living in a derelict used car lot, pandering for nickels and dimes. Thanks to government disability, he still maintained his flow of drugs from doctors who overlooked his motives.
In his last doctor’s visit in January, unkempt and needy, Bennett asked and received refills for Xanax and OxyContin. The next morning he was found dead in the back seat of a derelict SUV with a needle filed with Fentanyl in his arm and two empty vials of Xanax and OxyContin.
At age 58, he had struggled enough. The government system gave him money for 40 years, which only helped to maintain his habits. But he had no life.
The next morning, a plainclothes cop wearing a badge on his belt knocked on the door of a house in Suntree, Florida, and asked the man, “Do you know someone named Bennett Frank?”
“Why?” the man asked. “Is he dead?”
“Yes.”
That man was a former police detective who had notified family members of deaths hundreds of times. This time, that family member was me. Bennett was my son.
There are no lobbyists or committees for homelessness or the mentally ill.
Out of sight …
The full story of Bennett Frank’s life and death, and what we can do, is outlined in Frank’s new book “A Boy Who Mattered.”

Marshall Frank is a retired police captain from Miami-Dade County, author and frequent contributor. Visit marshallfrank.com.        

CORRECTIONS OFFICERS – AMERICA'S FORGOTTEN HEROES. Op-Ed M. Frank

(This Op-Ed was published in Florida Today, Sept 24, 2019.)
 
Out of sight, out of mind.
That adage applies to many entities or programs throughout our land. The most visible of professions are public servants who make society a safe place to be. Naturally, we think of police officers, firefighters and military, plus many skilled workers who ensure our power lines are functioning, roads are repaired and pilots are flying airplanes that carry people 2.7 million people daily in the U.S.
They, plus many more, are heroes. They’re out there in plain sight, and greatly appreciated.
There is, sadly, one exception.
The most underappreciated public servants in America are corrections officers or jail guards. Unless we have a significant friend or relative in prison, we rarely give a second thought to one of the most dangerous jobs on the planet. Out of sight, out of mind.
In my 30 years as a Miami-Dade County cop, I often met with corrections officers and wondered how they were able to maintain a positive attitude, managing inmates and coping with the pall of danger from the moment they arrive at work to the minute they finish their shift. I recall many officers within prison halls who wore a burdened expression, though most were quite professional handling my concerns.
Turnover rates for such officers are exceptionally high, thus leading to too many unfilled positions. According to the Bureau of Labor, Florida’s prisons have a 20% turnover rate. Consider Mississippi’s turnover rate is over 50%. That’s a lot of vacancies that the working guards absorb.
According to the Department of Justice, suicide is the leading cause of deaths among inmates at 29%. It is reported that over 33,000 corrections officers are assaulted by inmates each year, or 90 assaults per day.
It is an environment of gloom. Imagine working in a place where no one is happy. Inmates have few personal choices to engage in. An inmate’s every move is monitored, one way or another. Corrections officers do the tough job of keeping people safe and under control, but the average citizen doesn’t know that. There is no glamour. Very few books are written or movies made about day-to-day prison life, the boredom, the wailing anger from inmates, the monitoring, the discontent, the screams, the fights, sex offenses, and much more.
Sexual issues are blatant in prison settings. In a 2018 article published in Vice, female officer TaLisa J. Carter graphically imparts how she often faced chilling degradation from inmates that cannot be described in this article. She suffered while working as a woman in a man’s prison, most often from mentally imbalanced inmates.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 2.2 million prison inmates in America supervised by more than 415,000 corrections officers in state systems. That’s roughly half the number of police officers. Florida employs the third most corrections officers behind New York and California.
Risks are great. officers must be cautious and alert while working in a prison system, especially for:

  • Drug addicts coming off a high;
  • Risks of being blindsided or assaulted by angry inmates;
  • Mental illness among the prison population;
  • Attacks with homemade weapons;
  • Exposure to inmates carrying diseases, i.e., Hepatitis C, HIV, tuberculosis, and more.      

One published article by Scottie Andrew in Newsweek in July, 2018 concluded that post-traumatic stress disorder was just as prevalent among corrections officers as among veterans of foreign wars.
These are the unsung heroes of America who rarely receive recognition for their service. Their average salary in Florida is $48,000, which sounds acceptable — but is it? Some would rather have had regular police jobs but settled for prisons instead. Most do a credible job amid so many risks.
Next time you drive a highway where you pass by a distant building surrounded by razor wire, give a thought to all the misery that prevails inside that facility, among correctional officers as well as inmates. They are the forgotten heroes.

FOCUS ON GUN ACCOUNTABILITY NOT CONTROL: Op-Ed. M. Frank

(This article appears as Op-Ed in Florida Today, this date)
 
Here we go, focusing on “control” as a means to fix the nation’s problems with gun violence. Government leaders, to one degree or another, offer the perennial answer which is to control gun ownership by people who have a history of mental illness and/or felonious behavior. We’ve been doing this for many years. How’s it going so far?
     Now, the House of Representatives is considering new legislation which will improve background checks, ban high-capacity magazines and create red-flag laws entitling local police to remove guns from people believed to be a threat. Well, something is better than nothing. But it will not reach the heart of the problem. Nothing is really going to change.
     Year after year, decade after decade, we’re constantly focusing on “gun control,” instead of “gun accountability” as the issue in need of attention. Background checks are important, but they do not identify people who have severe mental problems unless they’ve already been incarcerated, and then it’s too late. Most of the recent notorious shooters had no past record by which a background check would mean anything. The real issue should be “accountability” and not “control.”
     Guns are certainly dangerous instruments, but they are also needed for self-protection and we must never deny a law abiding citizen their 2nd Amendment rights. But there is an alternative, if politicians and the NRA had the guts to implement. That is, treat every gun as it were an automobile. Every owner should receive due process after passing similar requirements that protect others, as well as themselves, when cars are on the road.
     American citizens possess two instruments that are responsible for the majority of violent deaths in America; Cars and guns. But there is a vast difference between the two regarding accountability. Automobile ownership has stringent accountability requirements while guns do not.
     When someone owns and operates an automobile, he/she must provide records that they have a license to drive. They must also show status of insurance plus a title of ownership when purchasing from a dealer or a private party. Same as with cars, private sales should be recorded for accountability. Nothing in the 2nd Amendment, which guarantees rights to gun ownership, prohibits any of these things. It’s simply a matter of holding gun owners (and car owners) accountable. Things have changed enormously since the 2nd Amendment was ratified in 1791, from single shot weaponry to repeating bullets and magazines that can hold hundreds of cartridges.
     Criminals buy and sell guns in the streets. The current proposed legislation would have no effect on that.
     Passing gun “control” and extended background checks will have very little impact on the mass shooting dilemma. It will make some law-makers look good, that’s about all. Thousands of felony crimes in the U.S. are committed using stolen or illegal weapons from the “hot” marketplace. Chicago, among others, is well-known for their random shootings, year after year. According to the Chicago Tribune, as of August 12th, this year 1,692 people have been shot so far in 2019. Most of those guns were bought or obtained illegally by criminal elements with no accountability.   
     The National Safety Council reports that 40,100 people died in vehicular crashes in 2017.  The Center for Disease Control reports 39,773 died by gunshots the same year. A dead heat. The death records are almost identical, so why not accountability?
 
     Focusing on “control” offers little in terms of doing anything that will actually impact the problem. There are many other issues that we should be focused upon, particularly within inner cities. One would be the dilemma of fatherless kids throughout big cities in America. Studies are replete with statistics and predictable outcomes when young males choose gangs as their adopted family over mothers. And, yes, automatic repeating weapons and large capacity magazines should be prohibited.
     In order to make a real difference, we must invoke accountability as a starting point. That may irk some pro-gun folks, but it’s also hard to argue the logic.
    

RISKS OF BECOMING A COP – Op-Ed

(This article, by yours truly, appears in today’s issue of Florida Today Op-Ed page)
Anyone applying for a police officer job these days is doing so at great risk. Never before have public servants been the target of so much undeserved hate and condemnation. The real losers? We, the people.
Police officers were my extended family for 30 years in Miami-Dade County. Times have changed, not for the better. No sane and selfless man or woman would voluntarily enter the pits of hate, surrounded by enemy cameras, weapons and rebels, subject to unrestrained harassment and assault. It’s difficult enough knowing you are a target for rogue criminals simply because you wear the uniform, protecting the very people who hate you.
No one mentions how police account for the sixth highest rate of suicides among all professions, according to a recent CBS study and behindthebadge.com. In 2018, 159 cops killed themselves, more than the numbers killed in line of duty, according to the Huffington Post. In my career, I personally knew 10 officers who killed themselves.
There’s a lot of stress out there.
Worse times are ahead for law and order, particularly in larger cities. The more breaking of laws and demeaning of cops, the more disorder will explode. Perhaps that’s the intended goal.
When law enforcement is openly denigrated, assaulted and stripped of authority and power without support from political leaders, the more we will see escalated crime and chaos in the streets. Those water buckets dumped on the heads of New York officers by young men were not lethal weapons, but they were lethal to the heart of law enforcement personnel and, ultimately, to America’s future. Many qualified potentials will be looking for other jobs.
In recent debates, some presidential candidates stupidly revisited police shootings, particularly the Michael Brown case in Missouri in 2014, in which Eric Holder’s Justice Department found civilian witnesses who completely exonerated the officer. That cop did nothing wrong, yet politicians still fuel the fires.
In the Baltimore fiasco of 2015, six officers were charged broad-brush without an iota of evidence that any cop had killed Freddie Gray in a transport van. Three were acquitted, the other charges were dropped. The city exploded into riots causing millions worth of damage. The mayor stated at a press conference, unbelievably, “We also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.” The city shamefully settled with the Freddie Gray family for $6.4 million before any trials were held, prejudging the officer’s guilt.
In 2018, while eating, two officers in Central Florida were shot dead through a restaurant window, for no other reason than wearing the uniform. In 2017, two Brooklyn cops were parked in their patrol car when a hater walked up and shot each in the head, for no reason. Protesters in New York organized a street march in 2015 chanting, “What do we want? Dead cops” In another hate-cops march, Black Lives Matter spewed, “Pigs in a blanket, Fry em like bacon.”

The political climate is worsened when certain governors and mayors act as law breakers, openly defiant to federal agencies while declaring their jurisdictions “sanctuary cities and states.” That translates to open season for crime and violence. Defiant officials, like the mayor of Oakland, forewarned illegal immigrants that ICE agents were coming for them. If that’s not “obstruction,” what is?

Every day is a risk for police. In 2018, 144 line-of-duty cops were killed, 52 by gunfire, 26 in car crashes. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 31,000 officers suffer non-fatal injuries annually. Between 10 and 15 cops are killed in ambushes each year. 

Officers these days will answer calls, but many will avoid pro-active policing. What for? To be doused with water buckets? Next time, it might be acid.

Police and military are the life-blood of our democracy. We better protect them, or else.

RISKS OF BECOMING A COP – Op-Ed

(Correction…my webmaster erred in logging this article as her work.  This, and other materials cite her name, but it is a mistake.
(Written by yours truly, by yours truly, appears in today’s issue of Florida Today Op-Ed page)
Anyone applying for a police officer job these days is doing so at great risk. Never before have public servants been the target of so much undeserved hate and condemnation. The real losers? We, the people.
Police officers were my extended family for 30 years in Miami-Dade County. Times have changed, not for the better. No sane and selfless man or woman would voluntarily enter the pits of hate, surrounded by enemy cameras, weapons and rebels, subject to unrestrained harassment and assault. It’s difficult enough knowing you are a target for rogue criminals simply because you wear the uniform, protecting the very people who hate you.
No one mentions how police account for the sixth highest rate of suicides among all professions, according to a recent CBS study and behindthebadge.com. In 2018, 159 cops killed themselves, more than the numbers killed in line of duty, according to the Huffington Post. In my career, I personally knew 10 officers who killed themselves.
There’s a lot of stress out there.
Worse times are ahead for law and order, particularly in larger cities. The more breaking of laws and demeaning of cops, the more disorder will explode. Perhaps that’s the intended goal.
When law enforcement is openly denigrated, assaulted and stripped of authority and power without support from political leaders, the more we will see escalated crime and chaos in the streets. Those water buckets dumped on the heads of New York officers by young men were not lethal weapons, but they were lethal to the heart of law enforcement personnel and, ultimately, to America’s future. Many qualified potentials will be looking for other jobs.
In recent debates, some presidential candidates stupidly revisited police shootings, particularly the Michael Brown case in Missouri in 2014, in which Eric Holder’s Justice Department found civilian witnesses who completely exonerated the officer. That cop did nothing wrong, yet politicians still fuel the fires.
In the Baltimore fiasco of 2015, six officers were charged broad-brush without an iota of evidence that any cop had killed Freddie Gray in a transport van. Three were acquitted, the other charges were dropped. The city exploded into riots causing millions worth of damage. The mayor stated at a press conference, unbelievably, “We also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.” The city shamefully settled with the Freddie Gray family for $6.4 million before any trials were held, prejudging the officer’s guilt.
In 2018, while eating, two officers in Central Florida were shot dead through a restaurant window, for no other reason than wearing the uniform. In 2017, two Brooklyn cops were parked in their patrol car when a hater walked up and shot each in the head, for no reason. Protesters in New York organized a street march in 2015 chanting, “What do we want? Dead cops” In another hate-cops march, Black Lives Matter spewed, “Pigs in a blanket, Fry em like bacon.”

The political climate is worsened when certain governors and mayors act as law breakers, openly defiant to federal agencies while declaring their jurisdictions “sanctuary cities and states.” That translates to open season for crime and violence. Defiant officials, like the mayor of Oakland, forewarned illegal immigrants that ICE agents were coming for them. If that’s not “obstruction,” what is?

Every day is a risk for police. In 2018, 144 line-of-duty cops were killed, 52 by gunfire, 26 in car crashes. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 31,000 officers suffer non-fatal injuries annually. Between 10 and 15 cops are killed in ambushes each year. 

Officers these days will answer calls, but many will avoid pro-active policing. What for? To be doused with water buckets? Next time, it might be acid.

Police and military are the life-blood of our democracy. We better protect them, or else.