June 28, 2019 at 1:37 pm #9748Stephen WilbanksMember
As I type this, the SWAT team is in the room next door with our agency’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) personnel, debriefing a hostage situation that ended horribly in the early morning hours on Thursday. After a domestic, a 24 year-old father took some shots at our folks, then after a lengthy in-vehicle standoff, he shot and killed his own 2 year-old son, who was sitting in his lap inside the car, before taking his own life. As you might guess, many of those officers are fathers to young children, so this was not a small thing for them.
Since a big part of 360armor is emotional wellness, I think this might be a good forum for the discussion. Our EAP folks are civilians who are contracted by the county, so they see everyone about everything, not just cops. Don’t get me wrong, they are good at what they do, but I’ve found myself wondering at times if there isn’t a better option. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve sat down with them a time or two myself, and I had a hard time accepting the idea that they “got” me. I know they possess the education, and they know all the right clinical things to say in response to what we tell them, but they’ve never rolled around in a roadside ditch with anyone. They’ve never (I presume) looked over the sights of a weapon at another human and had to make THE decision, one way or the other. It leaves me wondering if many officers who talk to them are doing so simply because the command orders them to before returning to duty (just checking all the boxes), but in reality they are hesitant to open up completely and thereby putting themselves at long-term risk.
Please don’t misunderstand, I am absolutely NOT a fan of creating a victim mentality among our officers. We are strong and resilient individuals, but if we run around telling ourselves that we are definitely going to suffer emotional trauma and PTSD, then we are setting ourselves up for failure. Are those things real? Sure they are, and we need to address them, but not everyone will be affected similarly.
So my question is this: are we best served by professional EAP-type services similar to what my agency currently uses, or is there more success to be had in dealing with these issues through a peer-based network? I know there is a great deal of informal peer-to-peer counseling that takes place (usually with patrol cars parked side-by-side in a back parking lot somewhere during the shift), but I’m referring to a more structured, departmentally sanctioned network that has the command’s blessing, but without the command’s interference. I welcome others’ thoughts on the subject.
June 28, 2019 at 4:18 pm #9752Dave EdmondsKeymaster
Holy Crap that’s terrible stuff, especially being there when it happened. UGH!
I worked a case once where dad slit his three little girls throats and threw them in the local dump, one miraculously survived and was found after 36 hours. I was the young LEO in charge of the case and so far as I remember my agency did nothing for us. We just kept working and stuffed it. Thank God I wasn’t a dad then. I still see those images and others in my mind’s eye….and one particularly even worse when I was a dad that maybe I’ll tell you about one day.
As a supervisor and then a manager I’ve seen men and women suffer and even get taken down completely from this stuff. We instituted critical incident stress debriefings for any worker who wanted to attend. Led by psychologists that we trust and allowing select non-proselytizing chaplains to attend, keeping managers and look-i-loo’s out, no note taking or reports coming out of it, and absolute assurances of confidentiality, and encouraging all present to share…we got good feedback on that and it helped.
I suppose there’s no way to absolutely be emotionally invulnerable to these critical incidents and all and all, that’s a good thing. After all, a hardened heart is a trapped one. But still, IMHO, too many LEOs have almost no intentional fitness regimen in advance to help them better contend with these inevitables, and for even more of us, we do some stuff to help but not enough.
Knowing this is part of our reality and sacred trust, I think the biggest hope is to be as best prepared in advance that we can. After all, it’s poor timing to be trying to fix your roof when the big storm arrives.
Like you say, emotional fitness is crucial, and especially in times like these. That mostly comes from having deep, close relationships with core people who you truly love and who truly love you back. That is essential, as a burden shared is a burdened divided. But I believe our best hope is staying as fit as possible in advance on all fronts, and that includes spiritual fitness.
To be able to contend with these storms, all of us particularly (and all of humanity in general), need to nurture our spiritual fitness. I believe that this is also a relationship-based based pursuit, not only one with ourselves but also with our creator who I believe is waiting for us and wants to walk beside us in these valleys of the shadow of death, if we will let Him.
The goal of spiritual fitness is inner peace. Who needs inner peace when life is beautiful and your fully content and happy? I believe we do need it, but we only feel the need when we are somehow suffering…but then, we really do, and not having it is crushing. Some say they can get there without the relationship and I respect that, but that’s not my experience or frame of reference. I believe that an honest willingness to recognize, accept, and, like other workout regimens, intentionally pursue spiritual inner peace (meaning dedicated intentionality through time and effort), will always be faithfully met, and that it is indeed, all over the world.
Man Stephen, I literally have a lump in my throat right now thinking about what your troops went through and are going through. You’ve hit on the epicenter of the hope and vision of 360ARMOR for the entire LEO culture, and a big part of what our model hopes to achieve, 360 Fitness, on a broad scale…even if it is like the modern parable of the little boy out on the beach, one starfish at a time.
Thanks for sharing and starting this good conversation.
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