Force Science News #217:
If you name it, train it: Make policy more than just words, court says
In this edition:
I. If you name it, train it: Make policy more than just words, court says
Having a policy on critical operational matters is one thing. Training on it is another. And if the two aren't yoked together, brace for the worst.
That caution has recently been emphatically underscored by both a jury verdict and a judge's ruling in a U.S. District Court in the state of Washington in a case involving police use of deadly force against a mentally ill man. (Legal documents relating to the case can be accessed online by Googling Ostling v. City of Bainbridge Island.)
Two years ago two officers responded to a 911 call from a family home where a couple's agitated son, suffering from schizophrenia, had locked himself in his garage apartment. Yelling and at times somewhat incoherent, the subject insisted "he did not need help, that he was fine, and that the officers should leave."
Details are in dispute, but the officers persisted until the door was open, revealing the subject standing inside the room holding a double-bladed axe. After one officer Tased him unsuccessfully, the other shot him. The man had bled out from a wound to his femoral artery.
The PD's General Orders state that when confronting a mentally ill person, an officer should "assess information on the subject" and speak with acquaintances or family members regarding the illness. Where violent or destructive acts have not occurred, an officer should "avoid physical contact and take time to assess the situation," requesting professional assistance if it's available to aid in communicating.
Yet in the trial of a lawsuit brought by the deceased's family, the two officers testified that they had "received no training on how to deal with the mentally ill" from their agency, even though officers on that department confront EDPs about twice every week. One of the involved officers opined that he did not "think special police skills and abilities are required to effectively deal with" mentally ill people.
The trial jury agreed with the plaintiffs' argument that the officers' actions were "directly counter to what a properly trained officer would have done." Jurors let the officers off the hook personally, but found the defendant city liable for failure to train. Damages were assessed at $1,000,000. City lawyers moved to have the judgment reversed, but Judge Ronald Leighton declined, emphasizing the responsibility of agencies to train officers on official policies.
In this case, Leighton wrote, the police were "the moving force" in "causing an unnecessary--but very predictable--confrontation.... At the time he was shot, [the subject] was in his own home, had committed no crime, and was yelling to be left alone." The officers persisted "without any pressing need and without any forethought as to how the schizophrenic man mighty react." Their agency's failure to train them--"even minimally"--on policies "it already had in place...ultimately caused [the subject's] death."
[Our thanks to litigation consultant Michael Brave, president of LAAW International, Inc., for bring this case to our attention.]
II. Let's not ignore the positive side of policing...
A reader writes, after receiving Force Science News #213, which summarized research findings about the mental and physical health risks to officers from occupational stress:
"Am I missing something? I have done this job for 21 years, and I feel great. All of the people I work with seem to, as well. We laugh and have fun and see some really bad shit, and talk it out, and move on. We socialize and have good family lives and relationships and hobbies outside of the job. This info [concerning the prevalence of sleep problems, depression, cardiovascular disturbances, cancer, and suicide in law enforcement] just doesn't mirror my experience."
Sgt. Charles ("Chip") Huth
Certified Force Science Analyst
Kansas City (MO) PD
Dr. Alexis Artwohl, who for 16 years provided clinical psychological services to multiple agencies in the Pacific Northwest, and has done training for law enforcement for the past 28 years, responds:
"It also does not match my own observations. I think the experience of you and your colleagues is more typical of cops in general. Of all the professions I worked with as a mental health practitioner, police officers appeared to be more squared away than most and most of them actually enjoy their work. Colleagues of mine have published articles agreeing with that viewpoint.
"There is a lot of good research that shows that 90% of people are fundamentally resilient when faced with even extreme stress and there is no reason to think that cops are the exception. Like all groups, there is a small percentage that have serious problems but the majority do not. Focusing our attention solely on adverse findings may convey negative expectations that do more harm than good."
Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Institute, adds:
"In any profession, unrelieved stress can have unfavorable consequences. The important thing to know is that undesirable outcomes can often be prevented or overcome with proper lifestyle habits and a willingness to recognize potential problems early on and consult professionals for help.
"If you take care of yourself, police work can be a very rewarding profession. Officers need to take personal responsibility for their physical and mental wellbeing. No one has to be a victim."
We're interested in your thoughts and experiences. Share them at: email@example.com
III. But let's do acknowledge the price some officers pay...& what helps
For courageous first-hand accounts of searing trauma and for excellent insights into battling potentially debilitating stress, here are two reading recommendations:
1. "The After-Effects of Law Enforcement Trauma," by Lamar Blakely and Dr. Olivia Johnson
A highly decorated sheriff's corporal from South Carolina, Lamar Blakely leads off this narrative in The Journal of Law Enforcement with a litany of horrors that have come his way in less than a dozen years on patrol.
These include watching a man burn to death as Blakely tried to rescue him through the window of a flaming house...holding the hand of a fellow officer choking on his own blood as his life slipped away...dealing with an unstable mother who chopped up three of her kids with a hatchet because she took literally a religious dictum to "punish by the sword"...and finding himself "staring down the barrel of a .45" at the end of a foot pursuit, to cite just a few.
He's as candid about the consequences as he is about the relentless assaults on his psyche: heavy drinking, a broken engagement due to his stubborn refusal to communicate what troubled him, and the moment he raised the barrel of his sidearm to his temple and began to press the trigger....
"We take in all the death and hardships surrounding our careers until our mind becomes like that old junk closet," Blakely writes. "[W]e all have that closet, where we open the door and all this stuff falls out, letting us know it needs to be cleaned out, but we just push it back in and throw more crap in it."
Eventually, Blakely explains, he faced up to his grim situation, sought help, and got his life back on track. In his article, he offers resources for officers who "need assistance or know someone who does."
"Police executives must acknowledge the toll this job has on the body and the mind," states his co-author, the Illinois representative for the National P.O.L.I.C.E. Suicide Foundation. "Training and education must be paramount, regardless of departmental budgets. If you do not address the elephant in your department, it will address you." Click here to download a full copy of the article in pdf format.
2. Surviving the Shadows: A Journey of Hope into Post-Traumatic Stress, by Bob Delaney with Dave Scheiber
For Bob Delaney, a former New Jersey state trooper, his career crisis hit after he worked nearly three years undercover gathering evidence against East Coast Mafia families.
"The distance between my survival and certain death was often as thin as the wire I wore beneath my shirt," he says in this compelling book. When he surfaced from the investigation and tried to renew his previous life, "I found myself on a road that wove perilously through psychological and emotional upheaval."
With "no support system to help me sort through the storm," he sank into a common pattern of self-destruction: refuge in the bottle, wild spending, depression, unpredictable violent outbursts, paranoia. "My brain interpreted virtually anything unusual as a potential threat," he explains. Once a county mosquito-control helicopter circling his neighborhood sent him tearing into his house in terror, certain an aerial Mob attack was at hand.
A psychology professor from his old college days diagnosed PTSD.
Delaney's recovery began when he and the celebrated FBI u/c operator Joe Pistone (street name: Donny Brasco) sat down for soul-bearing heart-to-hearts that allowed Delaney to "get my pain out into the open." For years now, he has been a tireless advocate of peer-to-peer therapy combined with professional help for law officers, soldiers, EMTs, firefighters, and others whose work hurls them into "life-threatening situations and expose[s] them to suffering, pain, and tragedy."
Across 300 pages, skillfully written by a journalist collaborator, Delaney recounts his personal experiences, tells the encouraging ordeals of other "real people and how they have coped with real tragedy and trauma," offers a cogent explanation of debilitating emotional overload, and provides information not only on peer-focused interactions but also on ground-breaking new approaches to stress management and healing from innovative professionals.
You'll quickly see why he's a coveted lecturer at FLETC, the Dept. of Homeland Security, and other LE venues. And you'll appreciate his assertion that "the best thing you can do is change your thinking about what PTSD represents." Delaney recasts it as:
Process--Acknowledging, accepting, and becoming aware.
Time--Understanding that it's not going to be solved overnight.
Support--Relying on peers who have had similar experiences, and experts in the field.
Desire--Being dedicated to healing yourself.
[Our thanks to Force Science Analyst Brian Willis, president of Winning Mind Training, for alerting us to Surviving the Shadows, which is available through Amazon.com.]
IV. Generation Y hits the streets
We've all heard the tongue-clucking from veteran cops about the perceived shortcomings of "new breed" rookies: "They've never taken a school-yard punch," "they don't have military experience," etc.
But have you encountered the latest new-hire phenomenon that surfaced during the recent IACP conference in San Diego?
In a session dealing with patrol operations, chiefs from 2 different agencies remarked in passing that they had received calls from mothers of young officers, complaining that sergeants had "yelled at" their sons.
In the war on crime, some agencies may not have helicopters--but at least they've got helicopter parents!
© 2017 Force Science Institute Ltd.