IN THIS ISSUE:
I.SHOULD TROUBLED OFFICERS TAKE ANTIDEPRESSANT MEDICATION?
II. FSRC RESEARCH AMONG LATEST INFO ON FORCE ENCOUNTERS FEATURED IN NEW
III. MORE FEEDBACK ON IACP’S REPORT ON HOW TO DEAL WITH SUICIDE BOMBERS
I.SHOULD TROUBLED OFFICERS TAKE ANTIDEPRESSANT MEDICATION?
Are antidepressants dangerous medications for cops?
That question was raised recently on the listserv for the IACP’s
Psychological Services Section. A psych professional from south Florida
reported noticing of late “a marked increase in police officers being
prescribed” antidepressants, known pharmacologically as SSRIs (selective
serotonin reuptake inhibitors). These include common brand-name drugs such
as Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Luvoc and Lexapro.
The staffer was curious about the possible negative effects of SSRIs on an
officer’s reaction time.
Other respondents, in effect, told him to rest easy. “Little evidence
supports a SSRI problem,” wrote a PhD from Louisiana, who cited studies in
the journal Psychopharmacology for Apr. 2001 and Jan. 2002. “Also recall,”
this correspondent suggested, “that untreated, emotionally impaired
officers may also have a reaction-time risk.”
A police psychologist from Colorado noted that he used to treat airline
pilots who were depressed but could not take antidepressants because they
would not be allowed to fly if they did. “I always thought this was odd,”
he wrote, “since I would rather have a depressed pilot on an SSRI who was
feeling good than have a depressed pilot not taking anything and feeling
lousy. I feel the same about police.”
Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Research Center
at Minnesota State University-Mankato, emphatically agrees. A specialist in
law enforcement psychology for more than 30 years, Lewinski is an
internationally recognized expert in police reaction times in lethal force
“Most of the time that’s required for you to react to a threat is taken up
with perceiving the danger, processing that information, deciding what to
do and then sending commands from your brain to your body to react,”
Lewinski explains. “The actual mechanical action of pulling a trigger to
defend yourself requires only 6/100 of a second, a very minute portion of
overall reaction time.
“The ‘front end’ of reacting, so to speak, depends on your ability to pay
attention to what’s going on around you so you pick up danger cues. If
you’re not or can’t be attentive because of your emotional state, the rest
“If you’re depressed you are preoccupied with your own suffering, your own
bleak view of the world. You’re focused inward, not focused on what’s
important ‘out there’ in the environment around you.
“Any effect on reaction time by antidepressant medication is miniscule
compared to the profound impairment of cognition, information processing
and survival-oriented decision-making caused by untreated depression.”
The case of a Midwestern officer who shot and killed an assailant and who
was himself slightly injured in a gunfight serves as a dramatic
illustration. This officer’s reactions were so blunted by untreated
post-traumatic depression that he had difficulty even tracking radio calls.
“By the time he tuned in to a dispatch, the message was almost over,” says
a therapist who knew him. “He’d ask the dispatcher to repeat, fully
determined to pay close attention to what was said, but he couldn’t
remember long enough after hearing the words to write them down. You can
imagine how unprepared he was for any tactical challenges.”
“You shouldn’t even be working if you have a seriously depressed frame of
mind,” Lewinski declares. “Yet many officers won’t seek help for
depression, either with medication or through counseling, because they’re
afraid they’ll be stigmatized for getting psychological aid. Instead, they
compromise their safety and effectiveness by trying to tough it out.”
Depression can arise from a number of causes, including your life
experiences, your body chemistry, mental illness and post-traumatic stress
disorder. Lewinski advises that if you have any lasting symptoms from the
following list, it would be wise to seek professional investigation and
–Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
–Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
–Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
–Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once
enjoyed, including sex
–Decreased energy, fatigue, being “slowed down”
–Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
–Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
–Appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain
–Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts
–Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as
headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain.
“Ironically,” Lewinski says, “when a depressed officer knows he is
responding to a high-risk call, the adrenalin surge will tend to counteract
the effect of his depression and his judgment, alertness and reaction time
may well be appropriately sharp for the situation.
“But on seemingly ‘routine’ calls, such as ‘ordinary’ traffic stops, the
depression will dominate his mental state and significantly affect his
sixth sense and tactical awareness, making it more difficult for him to
perceive an evolving threat. He’ll be way behind the reactionary curve and
detect any danger cues too late. And we know that most officers die not on
known high-risk calls but in common patrol situations that appear benign at
Lewinski strongly advocates combining antidepressant medication with
psychological therapy and a self-administered program of positive
self-talk, such as described in the popular police text “The Tactical
Edge”. “The combination of medication, therapy and your own positive belief
system can have a powerful impact on your survival,” he says.
The effects of antidepressant medication vary from individual to
individual, and in a small minority of cases SSRI drugs may not work at
all, Lewinski told Force Science News. It may take some experimentation for
a physician to find the right drug and dosage for you. “Once you find a
helpful medication with minimal personal side effects, the better you’ll
operate on the street and in life,” Lewinski says. “If you feel better,
you’re going to be more attentive…and much safer.”
[Thanks to Force Science News member Wayne Schmidt, executive director of
Americans for Effective Law Enforcement, for bringing this subject to our
II. FSRC RESEARCH AMONG LATEST INFO ON FORCE ENCOUNTERS FEATURED IN NEW AELE WORKSHOP
Three representatives of the Force Science Research Center will be among
the instructors for a new, annual use-of-force training seminar that debuts
next month in Las Vegas, NV.
Sponsored by the nonprofit Americans for Effective Law Enforcement, the
police legal support organization, the “Lethal and Less-Lethal Force”
workshop will feature the latest legal, psychological and physical
developments regarding officer-involved force encounters.
The program will run from Feb. 13-15 and is especially recommended for LE
command staff, city and county attorneys, police legal advisors and risk
Eight nationally known instructors will present up-to-the-minute content on
the legal, political and practical aspects of today’s most urgent force
–Case law analysis of lethal and less-lethal force liability, and the
current legal standards for force application;
–Psychology of combat and the dynamics of violent encounters, drawn from
research of hundreds of officer-involved shootings;
–Important psychological factors, including perceptual and memory
distortions, that need to be accommodated when conducting reliable
investigations of lethal encounters;
–FSRC’s latest ground-breaking findings on the critical human dynamics of
armed confrontations, including “demystification” of controversial shots in
the suspect’s back during a frontal attack;
–Most current Taser policy, procedures and research, and how to “tame the
media frenzy” when Taser and other force applications are questioned;
–Revelations of medical research into sudden and in-custody deaths, plus
“defenses to the legal onslaught;”
–Implications of using less-lethal force in suicide-by-cop and EDP
situations, with relevant case studies dissected;
–Emerging models for use-of-force continuum redesign, including where to
place various tools and tactics on the force scale and how best to use the
continuum in court;
–Policies, procedures, training, successes and abuses of a wide range of
deadly and less-lethal devices, techniques and strategies;
–Aftermath of force applications, including investigative strategies and
legal implications of internal vs. review board vs. criminal investigations.
On the faculty from FSRC will be executive director Dr. Bill Lewinski, one
of the world’s leading researchers into life-threatening officer-suspect
confrontations; Dr. Alexis Artwohl, a foremost police psychologist,
co-author of the book, “Deadly Force Encounters” and a principal in the
Survival Triangle Training organization; and Charles Remsberg, author of 3
popular books on officer safety and a senior correspondent for
PoliceOne.com. Artwohl and Remsberg are members of FSRC’s National Advisory
Other faculty members are: Michael Brave, president of LAAW International
and a former intelligence and investigative operations chief for the
Justice Dept., with extensive experience as a police defense attorney and
litigation consultant; Jeff Chudwin, chief of a Chicago-area PD, former
prosecutor, president of the Illinois Tactical Officers Assn. and a widely
recognized expert in high-level use-of-force incidents; Ken Katsaris,
regional academy instructor, former sheriff, and a popular expert witness
and litigation consultant, with experience in all 50 states; Capt. Greg
Meyer of the Los Angeles Police Academy, a specialist in policy, training,
equipment, tactics and supervision, with a focus on reducing injuries in
force encounters; and Dr. John Peters, president of the Institute for the
Prevention of In-Custody Deaths, former LEO and administrator, and creator
of numerous books, articles and informational videos on force issues.
For more information or for registration, contact the AELE Law Enforcement
Legal Center at 800-763-2802 or visit the AELE website at www.aele.org.
III. MORE FEEDBACK ON IACP’S REPORT ON HOW TO DEAL WITH SUICIDE BOMBERS
We continue to get email responses from Force Science News readers
regarding our 2-part series on the recommendations of an IACP consultant
about how to deal with suspected homicide/suicide bombers.
[You can read Force Science News #26 and #27 in the Force Science News
archives when you click "View All" at this location:
Tactical team commander Patrick Flannelly, with the Lafayette (IN) PD
It is disturbing to see the feedback from so many people who indicate that
“most” of their officers are not prepared to take a well-aimed, directed
[head] shot. My question then becomes, “What will you want your officers to
do if they are presented with a suicidal bomber?” The best shooters in the
world might miss this shot under extreme duress. Does that mean we tell
them not to take the shot because they might miss?
If we train our officers to maximize their skills and prepare them to be
accountable for the oath they swore then in the end that is really all we
can ask. Imagine what might have become of the flight [on 9/11] that
crashed in the middle of a Pennsylvania field if some of the passengers had
not been bold enough to make a decision and then act on it.
Dep. Tom Robbins, Carver County (MN) S.O., with 20 years’ SWAT experience,
As terrorism continues in this country–and it will–law enforcement is
going to have to rethink the way we do business.
With proper training and indoctrination, I think we can show law
enforcement that it is necessary to hit terrorism hard and head-on. The
public is another matter. The public wants us to protect them, but they do
not want to know what we have to do to accomplish that mission. The level
of violence required to deal with violent people is very unsettling to most
The first officer to make the decision to kill a terrorist without warning
before he can kill innocent people will be crucified. Everything about that
incident will be questioned: Where did the officer get the information? How
reliable is it? Why didn’t the officer give the terrorist a chance to
surrender? Why couldn’t he have used some other tactic to disarm him? And
on and on.
What will change public perception? Terrorism. When we are dealing with
terrorist activity on a monthly or weekly basis, when bus stations are
being blown up and children are being murdered in their classrooms, the
public will demand that we deal with terrorists quickly and effectively.
Unfortunately people need to get scared before they will accept a change in
(c) 2006: Force Science Research Center, www.forcescience.org. Reprints
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Written by Force Science Institute
January 3rd, 2006 at 4:21 pm
Force Science News #35:
Should Troubled Officers Take Antidepressant Medication?
© 2017 Force Science Institute Ltd.