Saturday, December 24, 2011

Interview with former cop about PTSD

Haven't read the book but I'm guessing it's pretty good. Couple things to note about this brief interview. First, it highlights one of the ways people become traumatized. Namely, when you feel you're life is in immediate danger. You don't have to kill someone or be seriously wounded to get PTSD. If you experience an event in which you BELIEVE you are about to die or be seriously injured, that could be enough to trigger a trauma response. 

Secondly, notice the role of family in Jimmy Bremner's healing process. Research shows that police FAMILIES can either be an exacerbating or a healing force when confronted with PTSD. This is another reason working on our family relationships is so important throughout our police career. 

Finally, he's not talking about the shit bird that's a waist of oxygen and should have died except of course he didn't die because shit birds never die, because only the good people do... He says, "The gentleman" when referring, the guy. He clearly hasn't let his experience as a police officer steal his compassion, as it does for so many of us. We could all learn something from Mr. Bremner. 

Happy Holidays!

Here's the link:

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Bureaucracy v.s. The Guy who First Starting Playing this Game

When I was in the academy they used to say, “10% of cops do the work for the other 90. Do you want to be part of the 10 or part of the 90?”  Back then, this 10 and 90 thing was just a curious abstraction. Now, after working the street for a few years, I realize what they meant. 
The typical trajectory for cops is that we start off our careers being proactive, but over time we become less so. In fact, most cops eventually become firefighters, answering calls on their beat but doing little else. Some of us spend more energy trying to get out of “taking paper” than it would take to just take a report. 
During my first few years of patrol I felt indignant at the 90% Sometimes still do. What I’ve come to realize though is that there are good reasons cops reinvent themselves as firefighters. One of those reasons is that the bureaucracy in policing discourages proactivity. The more contact an officer has with the public, be it a consensual encounter or a detention, the more opportunity he gives bureaucrats to nitpick, micromanage, correct or even punish him. One of the old vets who trained me put it this way, “They want you to spin your wheels, so spin your wheels.” 
Like you, I didn’t become a cop to spin my wheels. I became a cop to have an exciting, challenging career and to MAKE A DIFFERENCE. How does an officer who has lost this desire to make a difference get it back? In the film Jerry Maquire, Tom Cruise tries reconnect Rod Tidwell (played by Cuba Gooding Jr.) to the enthusiastic ballplayer he once was,
...back to the guy who first started playing this game. Remember, way back when you were a kid? It wasn’t just about the money, was it?
At some point in their careers the 90% come to realize that it really has become about the money. Part of what got them to that point is the bureaucracy. 
Bureaucracy as Stress
We’re used to thinking of “stress” as feeling “stressed out.” Not so. The things that activate our fight, flight or freeze response are called “stressors.” For law enforcement personnel, part of what makes us sicker than others is the manifold nature of our stressors, including (but not limited to), 
Critical incidents.
Public scrutiny.
The administration.
Shift work.
It’s the bureaucracy part we’re looking at today. It’s made worse by another stressor: lack of leadership. If your boss partners with you in acknowledging the good work you do as part of the 10%, looks for real reasons to compliment you on your work ethic, and then - and ONLY then - tells you that you forgot to fill out the green form (Form G7.2 to be precise) it reduces the officer’s felt stress.  But we know leaders are elusive, which is why the “leadership industry” is booming. If all we get is a curt e-mail “reminder” sent by a bureaucrat and cc’d to our boss, it can really dampen our desire to do anything more than a firefighter. 
Becoming a firefighter is bad for our health. It signifies a learned helplessness response. That’s when shit goes bad and you just stop trying. The concept of learned helplessness was developed in the 1960’s. Here’s my interpretation of the groundbreaking research in this area by Seligman and Maire: 
Put a dog over two metal grates with a small fence separating them. Give the dog a small electric shock and what does he do? Right, he bounces over the fence to the other grate. Shock him there and he jumps back over. If you keep shocking ol’ Buddy he’ll keep jumping over the fence to the side that’s not pissing him off. Eventually, guess what happens? Buddy just lies there and gets shocked. That’s learned helplessness and it should sound familiar. 
Now that you’re good and depressed, let me tell you what to do about combating learned helplessness and the bureaucracy. Here are four ways to keep your love of the game alive. 
1. Have at least two support people on your “team.” These are workmates who really get it and who will allow you to scream, “This place is sooooo fucked up!!” Use your teammates liberally. This moves toxic stress out of from under your sternum where it will make you sick, and into the air. Whew, that felt good. Don’t forget to thank your teammate for listening to your agitated tirade. It’s also good for your health to be on the support team of a few workmates. What goes around comes around type thing. 
The next three are key components of the what behavioral scientists have dubbed the “stress hardy personality.” They are, challenge, control and commitment. 
2. Challenge. This is where you make it a game. You want to win the game, right? Okay, so, given that by remaining or becoming proactive you expose yourself to the bureaucracy, how can you not give them a chance to get you? 
That’s a question.

While they probably didn’t teach you this in the academy, make it your job to know more about the bureaucracy than the bureaucrats. Keep the forms in your beat bag or your desktop and complete all of them. Then, go 10-8 and do more work. Ha ha, I won. 
3. Control. Related to challenge, control is when you don’t give the bureaucracy a chance to ding you because you already filled out the green form. You took CONTROL of the things you could. It’s far less stressful to control those friggin forms by taking the initiative on them, than it is to let a bureaucrat send you a “reminder” e-mail. When you control your destiny you can just send two words back to the bureaucrat: “Already done.” 
4. Commitment. Keep your eye on the ball, son. The ball isn’t just your retirement package, it’s “the guy who first started playing this game.” It’s arresting criminals, returning missing juveniles, making positive citizen contacts and looking good in your patrol car. Remind yourself about the reasons you got into police work. Commitment also relates to your religious views, your community, your family and friends. These are what you’re committed to...not form G7.2. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A story about depression from a cop.

I came across this article and got permission from the author to post it here. it's pretty damn good. 



Published Date: 
Saturday, October 01, 2011
By Ed Anzore
Retired SFPD
My name is Ed Anzore and I am a recently retired sergeant out of Central Station. I retired 5 months ago and am now able to discuss my departure.  Ten years ago, I lost my brother, Charlie, to kidney cancer.  Charlie worked at Richmond Station at the time he was diagnosed with this disease.  To say my brother and I were close is an understatement. I never knew how much his loss affected me until this year.  I could write a whole article just based on our relationship, but that’s for another day.
About five years ago, I started to keep people at a distance.  This was everybody, wife, kids, friends, and co workers.  I never wanted to be close to anyone so I would never feel the pain I felt with the loss of my brother. I was doing this sometimes subconsciously. It was my defense mechanism which I thought was keeping me safe, but it was not.  In the last two years, I began to feel myself isolating from people and places.  I started losing the desire to go to events. Irritability started to set in and I did not understand why.  During the last five years, I was involved to two critical incidents, one on duty and one off, where three people lost their lives. Things started to go downhill and there was inner turmoil including anger in which I could not understand nor let go of.  My mind started to really go sideways.  When my brother passed, at the age of 52, all I could think about was I hope I make it to 52.  I was also the last male member of my family not to have a form of cancer. 
Fast forward to Sept of 2010.  I was assigned to the 1800-0400 at Central. I really started to lose interest in the job.  I rarely read reports completely unless it was very serious as my concentration was going.  I stopped wearing my vest and didn’t care if something happened.  I just didn’t care period!  I figured I had led a very good life.  I did not care about playing golf anymore and would tell my golfing buddies the very same.  I would even joke how much I hated people.  I would drive home at 4 am after work and on occasion go well over 100mph.  This is risky behavior, a symptom I later learned which occurs in people who are depressed.  It’s an action that makes you feel good for a brief moment, but cures nothing.   Thanksgiving 2010, my wife told me she thinks it’s time to put our Husky Rascal down.  He was with us for 16 years and a big part of our family.  So now I take him to be put down and watch the vet administer the injection to calm him down.  This was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, losing another member of my family.
The following week, I’m in CPT for my dreaded week of updates.  Sgt. Mary Dunnigan was teaching a class from the Behavioral Science Unit.  Mary was talking about depression, and how we just sit on the couch and flip through the channels in our little safety zone, detaching from any emotion.   While she was lecturing, I realized I was doing this every day. I would get up around noon and sit on the couch until 4pm.  I would ignore everyone and just wanted to be left alone.  Of course, I did nothing about it because, “I could handle it on my own.”  Boy was I ever wrong.   So I continued going to work with my miserable, irritable and grouchy self. Everyone else must be the “pain in the butt because it certainly couldn’t have been me.”
December 2011, and I am at a Sharks game when I get a text from my good friend Norm Rice. My wife and I are scheduled to go on a cruise with Norm and his wife on January 8th.   On this day, Norm tells me he has been diagnosed with kidney cancer.  I know Norm because of my brother Charlie, and I say to myself, here we go again.   The one person whom I emotionally got close to is now diagnosed with the disease that took my brother; and the downward spiral began.  We went on the cruise and needless to say it was not the good time I hoped for.  There were nights on the ship when I would stand on the balcony thinking I could just throw myself overboard and nobody would know.  I have no idea why this thought popped into my brain. Later I would learn about Suicidal Ideation, (these are described as fleeting thoughts of suicide but no plan or follow through).     We came back from the cruise and things were the same,  more couch sitting and channel surfing, not really paying attention to or caring about what I am watching.  The desire to be at work is lessening daily. 
Now it is a month away from my 52nd birthday, again I’m sitting on the couch, and everything seemed to be crashing down around me.  I just broke down for no reason and started shaking.  I told my wife I couldn’t do this anymore.  My first melt down of my life.  Thoughts of suicide came back very intense.  I was so scared but I did not know why.  I had so much to live for, why were these thoughts coming up?  I was able to get a hold of Mary Dunnigan, who calmed me down and talked me through my crisis.  She was able to get me into see a psychologist first thing in the morning and I was able to sleep that night.
Even after seeing the clinician I continued to have a series of panic and anxiety attacks.   My blood pressure began to rise and my back and shoulders were always tight.   I ended up in the ER one night and my wife told me that I should consider retirement.  Well, here comes the dreaded 52nd birthday, and I have an appointment with my therapist and I tell her I’m ready to retire.  She concurs.   I walked outside of her office and another melt down of anxiety and panic occurred on the sidewalk.   I immediately get on the phone with the shrink who prescribes me an anti-depressant.  I barely made it home still not feeling well.  I then drive to work and went about ten miles when the third melt down occurred.   I somehow managed to make it to work and got through line up.  I went outside and got on the phone to call for help.  I made it through the work-day and as I’m driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, I started shaking again.  My panic and anxiety was at its highest.   I got home and called Kaiser Emergency and the on-call therapist calmed me down and then said, “Ed, you need to retire.”  Now three people have told me to retire, two of whom I really don’t know.  So I tell my wife, “I am done with work.”  The next day I walked into the Lieutenants office and told him this was my last day and retired two days later.  I received a lot of calls telling me how cool people thought it was that I just walked in and pulled the plug.  I laugh now because nobody really knew what was going on, but I didn’t have the heart or courage to tell them why.I am now retired and go to my last therapist appointment.  At the end, I ask the therapist what she thinks.  She tells me she believes I am suffering from PTSD, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.   She tells me there is a PTSD retreat for first responders out in Inverness.   I again talk to Mary Dunnigan who gets me in touch with The West Coast Post Trauma Retreat.   I went through an hour intake with a clinician, who told me that I have suffered cumulative stress with some PTSD. I am accepted into the retreat and off I go in May 2011.My wife drives me out there and here I am with 6 other first responders suffering just like me.   The retreat is full of volunteer first responders and clinicians.  Every one of them has had their own critical incidents.  They have all walked in the same shoes.   From the minute I walked in to the time I left, I was treated better than any resort I have ever been to.   I went through six days of intense therapy and discussion.    I learned tools to cope with my issues if and when they come back.   I can only explain this place as the 8th Wonder of the World.  You are surrounded by professionals who really do care.  I walked out on Friday feeling a whole lot better and filled with a new sense of life.   I learned there are so many first responders that are in the same situation, yet there are only two places like this retreat in the United States.  I learned that it is okay to be prescribed anti-depressants for anxiety and depression as they are no different than any other medication for any other illness or injury.   I learned that the brain has a filter and after you absorb so many traumatic events in your life, the filter breaks.  My filter has now been repaired.   I also learned that I know if I take care of myself, I will be okay.
It’s been four months now since I have left the retreat.   I am in a much better place in my life.  My relationship with my wife is so much better.  My family life is so much better.  Life is so much better. I have been asked by many why I retired so young and what will I do with my free time.  I now volunteer at the WCPR retreat as a Peer.   I was asked by the peer coordinator if I would like to volunteer and I was honored and humbled.   To assist others in need who are first responders is priceless.  This retreat is truly magical.
If this story helps one person, or gets people to look at themselves, then I will be happy.   What you don’t realize when you are going through depression, is how it affects your family and loved ones. They in essences become victims too.  If you wish to talk to me or ask questions, please feel free to email me at  I would also like to thank Sgt. Mary Dunnigan and Vince Catanzaro.  They took the time to listen and help.  For that, I am ever grateful.  For those in the SFPD, you are truly blessed to have the BSU and people who care.  Do not hesitate to use them

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Helping future police retirees.

Smith College in Mass. is doing some research aimed at helping future retirees. Specifically, they want to find out about risk factors for posttraumatic stress. One retired police officer says, ‘PTSD, is a lot of crap consisting of bloody horrors, sounds, sights and smells you never wanted to see in the first place and now you can't forget.’1  Yeah, that. 

If you're a retiree - especially FEMALES - they could use your help. The lead researcher, Dr. Pole, said many participants in the survey felt a bit of healing just by reflecting back on their police career in this way. That makes sense to me. Anyway, they'll put some money in your pocket for participating, but the reward really comes from knowing you may be helping future retirees enjoy their lives more. 

Please post where appropriate and pass on the following link to any retiree willing to help, 


1. Dupay. D. (2009). This is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. From the Salem News online.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Not Today

Not today, not on this shift, not on this call, not on this stop — I will not be caught unaware!
Dave Smith 

There’s a picture of my 10-yr old daughter on the inside of my locker door. I had one of my son wearing a goofy hat, and another of our family vacationing in Mexico, but they fell off. My girl’s giving me one of those half feigned 4th grade picture day smiles. Every  day after I flop my vest over my head, I will look at her and say, “Not today.” 
Today won’t be the day I let my guard down. I won’t assume this so and so call will be like the others. I won’t assume the parolee I’ve always gotten along with will again agree to go lie down for three months on another violation. I’ll watch my six and that of my partners. I’ll be ready, willing and able to be more violent than the most violent person I’ll meet that day. You wanna kill me? Not today. 
I don’t like violence. Never have. I never fought as a kid. The first time I was hit in the face it was as a cop. Violence is a necessary evil to maintain social order. Police officers, if we’re doing our job right, maintain order.   
The philosopher Thomas Hobbes describes life without a “social contract” in his classic book Leviathan. He calls it the “state of nature.” Life in a state of nature, he says, is characterized by... 
continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
Sounds a lot like the failed state of Somalia, where for decades various tribes, religious zealots and megalomaniacs have climbed over one another for power, or Mexico where narcoterrorists skin people alive and hang them in public places.  
Most people don’t think this could ever happen here. Most cops know it could. We see people who have no sense of future and who place very little value on human life. We see them in the parts of our cities and towns most people don’t know exist. These children who live in violence, squalor and psychological deprivation grow up. They become asocial “focused aggressors.” They keep fighting after being pepper sprayed and keep shooting after being shot. 
Focused aggressors have a few advantages over cops. First, they don’t give a fuck about life - yours, theirs or that of anyone else. It would be quite difficult for me to articulate in words to my wife or a non-police friend, exactly what it’s like to meet someone who just doesn’t give a fuck. It’s disturbing. 
Another advantage asocial focused aggressors have is that they get to pick the time. The parolee who I’ve always gotten along with swimmingly gets to pick the very moment he’s going to try to get my gun and attempt to execute me. 
Not today though. Today, I’m going to assume he’s going to try to kill me. This means I have to perform schizophrenic mental gymnastics, outwardly friendly and disarming but physically and emotionally ready to become more violent than he. 
I’m going back to the gym again tomorrow. I’m going to look like something in my uniform because I know there exist a growing number of asocial, predatory human beings in my city who look for the weak. The victim who gets beaten and robbed never knows it, but he was likely picked. Most people don’t know that criminals often drive or walk around looking for prey. 
But not today. Not me. I don’t get a kick out of beating someone’s ass but I’ll do it. Not if, but when I have to. As that great American poet Dr. Dre says in “The Watcher,” 
if you really want to take it there we can,
Just remember that you fucking with a family man.
I got a lot more to lose than you, remember that,
Don’t tell your wife or your boyfriend or kids, but tell yourself, “Not today.” They don’t need to know the gory details of mans inhumanity to man, that’s what you signed up to know. But be very clear with yourself when you walk out of the locker room that today will not be the day. 
We work in a cesspool of shit. It requires real dedication, commitment determination and help from others to wash the residue of the cesspool from our bodies, minds and hearts. It’s good work and we owe it to ourselves and our families. However, we cannot unsully ourselves if we don’t get out. Getting out starts with the simple and resolute oath whispered to ourselves and made to those who love us: Not today, not on this shift... 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I Need a Book Name

If you had written a book on police mental health issues what would you call it? The book is based largely in research findings, personal anecdotes from my work as a street cop and mental health professional treating cops. The 'usual suspects" of divorce, alcoholism, suicide, health problems & traumatic stress each have their own chapter. The literature for each affliction is reviewed and specific suggestions are made which will allow the officer to live a more full, complete life. So what's this book called. The best known similar book is Kevin Gilmartin's Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement, so I can't steal that. Looking for that super sexy title. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Lexipol, Gordon Graham and Critical Incident Stress: A Critique

Anybody subscribe to Lexipol’s “Tip of the Day?” I’m not sure exactly what Lexipol’s raison d’ etre is, but it’s pretty cool to see Gordon Graham pop out from the side of the screen and give us the straight talk on various police-related topics. 
Now, I saw Mr. Graham speak at a conference once. The topic was “risk management in law enforcement,” and he’s quite plainly an expert in that area. Unfortunately, he’s not quite as informed about critical incident stress and I worry that his mini lecture on the topic may make people with cumulative critical incident stress worse. 
Mr. Graham tells us there are 8 things we need to know to “cope with, withstand...prevail” over critical incident stress. Here’s my critique:

1. Superior training and skill development. 
This, he tells us, is by far the most important factor in our coping with, withstanding and prevailing over critical incident stress. By “training” the only thing he could be referring to is stress inoculation training, which, though rarely used in LE, has much promise. If this is what he meant, I wish he would have just said it. As it is, it suggests if one struggles with the emotional aftermath of critical incident exposure, it somehow reflects a failure to train well, which simply is not the case. 
    Posttraumatic stress is a normal reaction to an abnormal event, not a sign of inadequate training on the part of the LEO. Unless he refers to stress inoculation, I am baffled by the inclusion here of “skill development.” What “skills” does an officer need to develop so that he doesn’t have insomnia after witnessing the death of a child? 

2. A learning attitude toward the profession...a culture of knowledge
    This makes sense. As Dave Grossman writes in On Combat, “Forewarned is forearmed.” It behooves us a human beings who police, to know how critical incident stress may impact us, so that we can plan accordingly. 

3.  High intelligence and problem solving ability. 
Smart people don’t get posttraumatic stress disorder? Never heard that. What do we say to the young officer who witnesses a child die? If he were smarter he’d be fine? Higher ‘intelligence’ (which we measure through controversial and value-laden tests) has been correlated with lots of good stuff, but not resistance to critical incident stress. If  you’re having difficulty concentrating after exposure to a critical incident, it doesn’t mean you’re a dummy. 

4.  Good verbal and interpersonal skills. 
Really? I’m pretty sure there’s no science behind this claim. If there is, I’d like to check it out. I know it sounds like I’m bagging pretty hard here on Mr. Graham...I just wish he would have told us where he got these from. 

5.  Adequate emotional control. 
Okay, this is where we get into potentially damaging information. This is eerily similar to the long held cultural myth that posttraumatic stress only afflicts “weak” people. It’s cousin is the cultural myth that psychotherapy is for “crazy” people. I find this offensive. Can you imagine sitting in a room filled with cops as they debrief a horrible critical incident, and telling them if they simply control their emotions they’ll be better off? “Get ahold of yourself man!”

6.  A sense of optimism. 
This is related to one of the components (called ‘commitment’) of hardiness, which is a personality trait. This is accurate. 

7.  Seek help and support. 
     This is quite a true and valuable point, and one I make all the time to friends and co-workers. So many of the common maladies which befall our brothers and sisters in blue are treatable. But you can’t get better if you don’t ask for help. 

8.  Critical Incident Stress Debriefings.
  Another rock solid suggestion. 
At the end of his statements, Mr. Graham tells us he got a lot of his information from an article written by someone else. That’s fine, but when you say it, you own it. Some of Gordan Grahams’ information on critical incident stress is confusing. Some of it may be damaging. 
The law enforcement industry has begun a paradigm shift regarding the psychological toll a police career can have on the officer, and how to manage it. We cannot afford to go backward. . .we’ve come too far.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Getting it Twisted: 4 Mental Mistakes Cops Make

When I see a new police officer client in my practice, I listen for the content of the officer’s problems. 
This department is FUBAR
My supervisor is a jackhole 
I can’t sleep 
you get the point. 
Yet, more important than the content of our problems is how we think about our problems. More often than not, our thinking is the problem, or at least makes it much worse.  
You’re feelings are never wrong, but your thoughts can be. A few years of unchecked, incorrect thinking can get us pretty sick. That’s because our thoughts lead to feelings, and prolonged feelings (i.e. anxiety, depression) screws up our body by releasing potentially toxic levels of cortisol and the suppressing feel-good chemicals like serotonin.  So, ground zero for your gastritis, insomnia, anxiety or depression is HOW YOU THINK about stuff. 
Depression and anxiety meds fly off shelves faster than the busy bees at your HMO can stock ‘em. Pharmeceutical industry executives have huge houses and take expensive vacations because they sell us medicine that helps fix the results of our twisted thinking. 
Cops aren’t especially prone to twisted thinking, we just gravitate toward certain types of what are technically called ‘cognitive distortions.’ These are the distortions I see the most in police officers,
[the names of these bad boys come from The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns]
1. All or nothing thinking. This happens when, instead of thinking of your police agency as running well in some areas and poorly in others, we conclude, “This place is totally fucked up!” TOTALLY. Nothing good here. Really? Very few things in life are all bad (or all good for that matter).  When we consistently see things as all this or all that we are making a mental mistake. 
2. Labeling. This happens when you label the totality of who you are based on one event. For example, I recently allowed a guy to look for his ID in a duffle bag he had at his feet, an officer safety mistake. A concerned fellow officer pointed this out to me. If I were to say to myself, “I’m a fuckin’ IDIOT!” that would be an example of labeling. Allowing the bad guy to access his duffle bag was a tactical error, not an indictment of my worth as a human being. 
Cops tend to be perfectionists. Employers love perfectionists and we usually have successful professional lives. That is, until the pressure we put on ourselves blows up our body and we get panic attacks or ulcers. 
3. “Should statements”: Related to perfectionism. Not sure why, but it seems like police officers ‘musterbate’ more than your average bear. 
I need to be more careful.
I need to stop making this mistake.
I need to tell my Sgt. to find another punching bag. 
I need to have a tougher skin. 
No, you don’t. Believing that you must is bad for your health. How ‘bout, 
I’d feel safer at work if I took my time more and called for cover more often. 
I’d like to really focus up on my report writing.
I think I’d feel better about myself if I set limits with Sgt. Douche Bag. 
I’m a sensitive person, a quality almost universally seen as desirable. I’m going to practice toughening up a bit for this cop job so I can feel less vulnerable at work. 
4. Emotional Reasoning. Those who use emotional reasoning either forget or don’t know that emotions are, by definition, temporary. In this world, I feel angry = I’m being screwed over or feeling guilty means “I’m a bad person.” We cannot draw long term conclusion ― any long term conclusion ― from an emotion. Better is to (a) recognize it as a feeling and (b) know that it will pass. Even desirable feelings (i.e. that of being ‘in love’) won’t last forever. 
In The Feeling Good Handbook, author David Burns offers up some practical advice for how to “untwist” your thinking. For now, if you’re able to identity your own cognitive distortions you’re well on your way. Peer support officers in particular would benefit from trying to identify not only their own twisted thinking, but that of their fellow officers who come to them for help. 
Happy untwisting!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Building psychological resilience: An open letter to Field Training Officers

Your place in the department is established. You’ve demonstrated that you’re a good cop and have been elevated to the position of Field Training Officer (FTO). It doesn’t matter if you’re a crusty old veteran who’s trained more officers than you can count, or a 26 year old right out of FTO school. Either way, you’re a bridge for the new boot, and you’re job is to help the recruit transition from academy life to real life. 
As an FTO, you’re probably great at knowing which form to fill out for this and that situation. You’re officer safety skills and tactics are probably squared away. I’m guessing you’re a perfectionist. You're interested in more than just getting your recruit through FTO. You want to shape a good cop. 
Now, let me ask you this: what are you doing to build your recruits psychological resilience? Psychological what?
Resilience. It’s not on a duty belt or in a beat bag, it’s in your mind and in your body. It’s what ensures that a 20 plus career in law enforcement won’t chew you up and spit you out a bloody mess onto the rocky shore of your retirement. Resilience is something you model. Your recruit isn’t just watching how you clear hard corners, they’re watching how you deal with work stress. Included in work stress is what researchers call “organizational hassles.” As an FTO, you know all about those too, don’t you?
Allow me to speak for your trainee. He or she probably won’t say this to you directly because (a) they’re shaking in their boots already at all the stuff they have to learn, and (b) they’re on probation and don’t want to get shit canned for telling you how to do your job. What your recruit is thinking, but probably won’t say is, “How do I stay scratch that...Ah, you see I want to be a cop, but I also want to be emotionally healthy. I want to be a good romantic partner, parent, friend. I want to be both a good cop and a psychologically well person. How do I do that?” 
Since this probably wasn’t covered in FTO school, here are two behaviors you can model to build psychological resilience in your trainee. These two suggestions come both from my experience as a cop and as the son of a cop, and as a mental health professional. It also comes from recent research conducted by a some nerds in Australia. They wrote a piece for the Australian Psychologist, called, On being mindful, emotionally aware, and more resilient: A longitudinal pilot study of police recruits.
Here are the two behaviors,
Mindfulness. In the study just mentioned, the authors write, “Mindfulness is... an active state of consciousness, which involves being open to and engaging with all aspects of one’s moment to moment experience.” So, it means being aware of your thoughts, feelings and bodily experiences while doing your job. This behavior flies right smack in the face of police culture, which doesn’t much value introspection. Our allergy to introspection is one of the reasons so many cops lead miserable, abbreviated lives. 
To read more on mindfulness, see “Mindfulness on Patrol.” 
Secondly, FTO’s should know how to identify their own emotional experience, and be willing to legitimize the emotional aspect of policing. Frustration, sadness, helplessness and, yes, fear are all inexorably tied to police work. We just don’t usually talk about these feelings. We need to start. Don’t worry, neither you nor your recruit will become blubbering messes or incompetent by merely acknowledging basic human emotions. 
By modeling mindfulness and emotion identification you’ll make your trainee more psychologically resilient. As a result, that trainee will be less likely to engage in “experiential avoidance.” That’s where we don’t handle stress on the front end (i.e. mindfulness) and end up managing the psychic fallout later. And how do cops engaging in experiential avoidance manage stress? Gambling, boozing, sexing, playing first person shooter video games until 2 AM every night. You get the point. 
The Field Training Officer has perhaps the single most important job in a police agency. Building psychological resilience in new officers, along with tactical and administrative proficiencies, makes a rock solid officer. Such officers not only represent the agency in a more professional manner, they take less sick days, get fewer citizen complaints and make better people in the world. 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Prevalence of Intimate Parter Abuse Among Police: A review

Are cops a bunch of wife beaters who are above the law?

Intimate partner violence (IPV), or “domestic violence” is often added to the list of psychological pitfalls associated with a career in law enforcement.  Those in law enforcement, or those considering it as a career, may find themselves troubled by an internet search on this topic. Advocacy organizations such as The Purple Berets and the National Center for Women and Policing claim “research shows” police officers have a 40% rate of domestic violence, compared to 10% in the general population, or domestic violence is “2 to 4 times more common in police families.”(NCWP) Is this true? 
The psychosocial dynamics of intimate partner abuse are complex. We can choose from a smorgasbord of theories when looking for reasons why people (mostly men) batter. Researchers, policy makers and advocacy groups also debate the most effective ways to prevent domestic violence from occurring or stopping it once it has begun.  Leaving these issues aside, I’m going to address just one seemingly simple question: is the rate of domestic violence among police families higher than that of the general population? The key word here is “seemingly.”  I’ll explain why the answer to this question can be found only tentatively, and only after untangling it from two enemies of science: politics and emotion. 

My father, a man not known for profundities, taught me “Opinions are like assholes.” I took that to heart. Therefore, I have been looking at what the science says on this issue. The science on this topic is about as clear as mud. Here’s why. 
The first distorting factor we meet with when looking for the true rate of intimate partner abuse among police families is the passion surrounding this topic.  Julius Caesar wrote, “Men in general are quick to believe that which they wish to be true.” This sure seems to be the case for much of the literature on domestic violence within law enforcement, on both sides of the issue. 
The way around this obstacle is to avoid becoming personally invested in the outcome. If my raison d'ĂȘtre is ending violence against women I may be inclined to scour the internet looking for confirmation of “that which I wish to be true.”  I’m in the fortunate position of not needing to find anything when reviewing the literature on this topic. 
Clear as mud factor #2: Collecting data on a sensitive topic from folks as clannish and guarded as police officers.  A group, by the way, that has a low opinion of “wife beaters.”  When asked in a survey, police officers are unlikely to endorse acts of violence against their family members, especially after passage of the Lautenberg Amendment in 1996. 
This law prohibits anyone convicted of domestic violence - including misdemeanor convictions - of owning a firearm. Moreover, the law was retroactive. This produced a small ripple of panic in the law enforcement industry as administrators frantically scoured their personnel files for officers with prior misdemeanor domestic violence convictions. As it turns out, “Research on the effects of the Lautenberg Amendment consistently shows that the use of the law has been rather limited and police officers have often been able to circumvent the ban and retain their weapons.” (Lonsway, 2006) However, as cops know all too well, perception is reality. 
This brings us to the topic of survey research.  The only viable way of studying the prevalence of domestic violence within police families is through surveys. While they’re a legitimate research method, surveys are vulnerable to a number of attacks, primarily along the lines that they’re unable to establish cause-effect relationships and that they rely on self-reported responses, which can be problematic. Imagine, for example, asking airline pilots in a survey, how often they consume alcohol while at work. “I NEVER drink on the job.” Right.  

Before the Lautenberg Amendment, there were three well known studies in the area of IPV within police families, two of which we’ll look at.
 The first, by Neidig et. al., (1992) surveyed officers and their spouses. They were given a laundry list of types of violence (everything from “pushing” to using a gun and everything in between) and asked if they had experienced any of these. Approximately 40% of the respondents endorsed one or more types of violent incidents. A weakness here is the failure to discriminate between what type of violence couples experienced. We don’t know what percentage of them had a shoving incident versus one in which the husband choked or beat up the wife. Some in the world of domestic violence prevention believe it doesn’t really matter if you call your wife a “whore,” push her or give her two black eyes. It’s all domestic violence, so these distinctions are insignificant. That’s what I was trained to believe, and it’s what my clinical experience has shown. Others, like PoliceOne contributor Richard Davis, claim these distinctions are very important because “family conflict” is different from “battering behavior.” (Davis, 2004a)
The second  (Johnson, 1991) involved 728 officers and 479 spouses. “40 percent of the officers stated that in the last six months prior to the survey they had gotten out of control and behaved violently against their spouse and children.”  (p. 34) Unfortunately, we don’t know exactly what “getting out of control and behaving violently” means. Richard Davis (2004b) slams this study on this front. He writes, “The Johnson study is a survey not a scientific empirical study.” Hmm. Not a compelling argument there. I think we can surmise the behavior Johnson found very likely fit within the realm of domestic violence. But again, it depends on whether or not you adopt the “family conflict” model of domestic violence. 

Gershon (2005), who by all accounts is a five star academic, surveyed 1,103 cops about, among other things, domestic violence. She writes, 
Altogether, 9% of all respondents (76/857) who had a spouse/partner, reported that they had committed physical spouse/partner abuse...that these were completely anonymous questionnaires, and... the responses were validated with a well defined domestic violence attitudes scale, we are confident of the accuracy of these percentages.
So, there’s a bit of a monkey wrench in the numbers with this, at 9%. Gershon notes that the Lautenberg Amendment may have contributed to her finding of comparatively low rates of IPV in this population. The idea here is that, if officers believe (READ: perception is reality) that making an admission of domestic violence will cost them a career, that officer will opt to keep the career.  

I think my dad (RIP) may be okay with the revised dictum, “Uninformed” opinions are like assholes.  I have the following informed opinion: Domestic violence is probably at least as common in police families as in the general population. Further, as has been noted repeatedly in the literature, when it does occur, in police families it poses unique challenges to the victim. 
Clearly, we need more (and better quality) research in this area. I say, “better quality” research but I have no good ideas about how to improve the quality of data outcomes here. That’s a job for the big brains. 
NCWP: From the National Center for Women and  
           Policing web site:   

Davis, R. (2004b). Domestic Violence: On the front lines. 
            This article appears no longer available online. I have 
             a hard copy of it, which I got from 
Davis, R. (2004a). Domestic violence and police officers as abusers and victim. Retrieved January 24, 
            2011 from  the PoliceOne web site: http://

Gershon, R. (1999). Police stress and domestic violence in police families in Baltimore, Maryland.
            National Institute of Justice, Data Resources Program. 
Johnson. LB. (1991). On the front lines: Police stress and 
            family well-being. Hearing before the Select 
            Committee on Children, Youth and Families 

House of Representatives: 102 Congress First Session 
            May 20 (pp. 32-48).

Washington D.C.: US Government Printing Office. 
Lonsway, K.A. (2006). Policies on police officer domestic 
            violence: Prevalence and specific provisions within 
             large police agencies. Police Quarterly

V.9(4) 397-422.

Neidig, P.H., Russell, H.E., & Seng, A.F. (1992). 
 Interspousal aggression in law enforcement families: 
            A preliminary investigation. Police Studies: The 
            International  Review of Police Development, 15(1), 

Nedig, P.H., Seng, A.F. & Russell, H.E. (1992). 
         Interspousal aggression in law enforcement personnel 
         attending the FOP biennial conference. National

FOP Journal Fall/Winter, pp. 25-28