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  • The Dish From Ish - December 2019
    Updated On: Dec 09, 2019
    NIZAM "ISH" ISHMAEL, PBA Treasurer
    In the last thirty years, there have been many positive changes in law enforcement. Years ago, officers were taken off foot posts and placed in patrol cars. Today, officers are being returned to the community in order to get to know the people and to work with them to solve society’s problems. With the advent of kinder and more gentle police agencies, we still need to make improvements in the immediate aftercare and debriefing following critical incidents. For too many years, officers, who have experienced critical incidents, we're expected to accept it as part of the job. They were expected to return to work, and function normally, as if nothing had ever happened. For many law enforcement agencies, this is not necessarily so. Many suffer from various forms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder following their involvement in critical incidents. Agencies should realize they have an obligation to this employee, to their family, to the community, and to their coworkers to help them overcome the stress of the critical incident. An agency must know not only what a critical incident is, but also what is a debriefing. Calibre Press, Inc. of Northbrook, Illinois defines a critical incident as any situation that forces you to face your own vulnerability and mortality or potentially overwhelms your ability to cope. A critical incident is characterized by being sudden and unexpected and disrupts your sense of control, and beliefs in how the world works. The problem with debriefing is that many supervisors do not know what it is and how to conduct a debriefing. A positive debriefing should generate a cathartic experience for the officer. The officer should mentally walk through the incident again with the assistance of a debriefer. The officer should reexamine their actions, and realize that even if a mistake was made, they were working with the best information that was available at the time. If an agency is going to provide immediate aftercare and conduct debriefings, it must have a written policy, with rules and procedures, that clearly define what is a critical incident and what events will be covered as critical incidents. Supervisors must be properly trained to assess and handle the situation for the best possible outcome. The officer should be contacted by the employee assistance unit or similar unit, and an appointment should be set up for the mandatory debriefing. If the debriefing is mandatory, the stigma of having to see a mental health professional is removed. All too often during an investigation, a role reversal takes place. An officer who has been involved in a critical incident can start from an officer being in charge, to being questioned by supervisors and investigators as if they were a suspect. Investigators and supervisors should treat the officer as a victim. All the same respect and courtesies that are extended to any other crime victims should be afforded to the involved officer. According to several experts in this field, these are some of the best practices that should be considered. The officer’s personal needs should be attended to, such as making sure they notify their family that they are alright. Supervisors should be sure that fire-rescue is summoned to ascertain that the officer’s heart and blood pressure are within acceptable limits. If a critical incident happens, that results in the death or serious physical injury of an individual, or is some other horrific event, and it is not the result of actions taken by a police officer, or acted out against the police officer, then, the situation can be handled somewhat differently. The employee assistance unit or a similar unit can be notified during business hours. They can contact the involved officer and schedule the mandatory debriefing. The involved officer can also be put in contact with a counselor who can discuss the event with the officer and help to relieve any anxiety they might be suffering. Keep in mind that no two people react the same way to similar incidents. All agencies know that stress takes its toll on the involved officer and their family. Since this critical incident has possibly affected the officer and their family, they should be afforded the opportunity, as a family, to adjust this life-changing event. The time off should not be considered a reward. It is merely an opportunity to adjust to the stress of the situation. After an officer has survived a critical incident, it is very important that a supervisor visit with the officer, to let them know that the agency is supporting them. All too often, the officer is left to fend for themselves, wondering if they were right or wrong. A personal visit from a supervisor is a sign of solidarity, showing that the agency is standing with the officer. After a critical incident has been investigated, it is beneficial to the agency as well as the involved officer, for the agency to have a method of providing pertinent information to the agency members. By having something, like a press release, but for agency members only, a great deal of gossip could be curtailed. The officer can escape being questioned by fellow officers if they are provided with correct information. It would be in the agency’s best interest to incorporate such a procedure into their guidelines. These simple steps will help instill a sense of community within the agency. This is not something that can be instilled overnight. However, the agency can start by implementing training that shows all officers the benefits of such a program. The training should begin with recruits in the academy. It should also include officers brought back for in-service training, and supervisors who are receiving supervisory instruction. As officers learn how to deal with fellow officers who have been involved in a critical incident, the stress will be reduced, and a positive attitude towards coworkers and the agency should develop. If an officer is involved in a critical incident, they should be able to turn to their coworkers for support in their time of crisis. If the administration and fellow officers are not supportive, then the officer will be further traumatized, and their thought process weakened further. We must all strive to take care of ourselves and each other. Contact me at ish@sflpba.org or at (305) 593-0044.
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