Preparing for the Unimaginable:
How Chiefs Can Safeguard Officer Mental Health
Before and After Mass Casualty Events
Click on above link for 162 page Guidebook
excepts from nami.org/cops
In 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) reached out to NAMI to provide assistance to the Newtown (Conn.) Police Department in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Chief Kehoe asked NAMI to write a guidebook for chiefs on how to safeguard officer mental health in the early days after a mass casualty event. He said that events like Sandy Hook rewrite the rules—for dealing with the media, for coordinating with other agencies, and for officer mental health. His hope was that other chiefs would benefit from the lessons he learned.
With Chief Kehoe’s leadership, NAMI convened an expert advisory group of police chiefs who had experienced mass casualty events in their communities, along with the mental health professionals who advised them, to gather lessons learned and guidance for other chiefs. NAMI also sought guidance from numerous police leaders, mental health professionals, and trauma and media experts. The result is this guide (click link above to view 162 page guidebook), which educates chiefs about officer mental wellness, provides steps to preparing for the mental health impact of a mass casualty incident, and walks chiefs through the crisis and the aftermath.
Officer Mental Wellness Needs New Focus
While the lessons shared in this guide focus on mass casualty events, traumatic experiences are an everyday event for police officers. Responding to car accidents, homicides, child abuse, domestic violence, and other negative events are part of the job. Personal accounts in the guide make clear that these incidents can build up and lead to mental health problems like depression, PTSD, alcohol abuse and even suicide.
The director of the Office of Community Orienting Policing Services, Ronald L. Davis stated, "This unique publication offers expert advice and practical tips for helping officers to heal emotionally, managing public reaction, dealing with the media, building relationships with other first responder agencies, and much more. But what makes this handbook especially helpful are the case studies and stories from the field contributed by chiefs, officers, and mental health professionals who have lived through traumatic incidents.
The COPS Office is dedicated to promoting all aspects of officer wellness and safety, and as the Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing noted, the wellness and safety of law enforcement officers is critical not only to themselves, their colleagues, and their agencies but also to public safety. We applaud NAMI for bringing the critical issue of officer mental health to the forefront with this eye-opening publication."
We are pleased to announce the guidebook was released on May 25, 2016.
Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Program (NAMI site)
A Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) program is a model for community policing that brings together law enforcement, mental health providers, hospital emergency departments and individuals with mental illness and their families to improve responses to people in crisis. CIT programs enhance communication, identify mental health resources for assisting people in crisis and ensure that officers get the training and support that they need.
Contact information regarding CIT program in Orange County:
Lt. Richard Carrion
Hostage Negotiation Team
Crisis Intervention Team
City of Newburgh Police Department
Newburgh, N.Y. 12550
(845) 569-7537 (Office)
(845) 561-3131 (Main)
(845) 561-9052 (Fax)
Officer Mental Wellness: At a Glance
To learn more about officer mental wellness, visit www.nami.org/cit
Strengthening Officer Resiliance
Click above link to NAMI website for suggestions
as to how to assist a fellow officer after a critical incident
Excerpt: Fortunately, whether you are a supervisor or patrol officer who wants to help a fellow officer, or a law enforcement leader interested in learning how to build a more resilient agency, there are things you can do to help. In addition to formal mental health services, agencies are stronger when officers feel that their supervisors and command staff have their back and support their health.
How a police officer in Queens who was trained in Crisis Intervention Training successfully prevented a suicide attempt at a shopping mall
The officer, Christian Campoverde, recently wrote about his experience and the need for more officer training in the Daily News. See Article
Video: Police Mental Health: from self-improvement to community improvement
Police Perspective: The Man in the Mirror
NAMI Blog By Mark DiBona | Jun. 03, 2016
My lifelong dream was to be a cop, and I started on the job at age 21. I’ve been in law enforcement for 30 years and a supervisor for 17.
About eight years ago, I was going through tough times at work. I wasn’t getting along with my immediate supervisor. We were both alpha males, but we had different styles of working and supervision. He was hard-headed and strict, and I tried to be approachable to my team. I felt he was disrespectful. We became argumentative, insulting each other. He told me I wasn’t aggressive enough, that I had to be harder on my team. He gave me an evaluation of “below standards.” I felt worthless, like maybe he was right, maybe this job wasn’t for me anymore. I felt like I couldn’t do anything right.
This went on for a few months. It affected me physically. I gained 40 pounds. I refused to shave. I started coming in wrinkled uniform. I didn’t go to my wife for help. I thought, “If you aren’t a cop, you don’t understand.” The stigma is if you show a weakness, if you say something’s bothering you, they look at you like you are weak.
With all this happening, one night I am at the fire station, when a woman pulls up in her car. She cried, “My baby isn’t breathing!” Just before she pulled up, the firefighters had gone out on a call, so I did CPR on the baby for what seemed like an hour.
The baby died. I went to the funeral and the wake. I started to get nightmares about him, like maybe I could have done better. I can still feel that baby in my arms.
I told my boss, and he said, “You were just doing your job,” as if it wasn’t a big deal.
I started feeling more worthless. I had lots of nightmares, waking up in cold sweats. I started thinking about the baby that died, and all the other stuff I’ve seen came up too: horrible crashes, victims of sexual abuse, victims of robbery, bad guys, friends who died in the line of duty. I thought, “I don’t want to be a cop anymore because this line of work sucks.” One night, it hit me: This job is not for me; I’m failing really fast. I tried to fight the thoughts, but I felt like I was drowning. I attempted suicide twice that night.
I got lucky. A car pulled up, and it was another cop. He talked me down. I went home because I couldn’t go back to work that night. I was afraid of losing my job. I thought they would take away my gun and put me in the hospital.
I called a close friend in Boston. He wanted me to come there to get help. I went to Massachusetts and got therapy and went back to Florida a week and half later. I bounced back and forth between therapists. It wasn’t clicking because the therapist didn’t have any police background. I didn’t go to the employee assistance provider because they are countywide, not specialized to police. I just wasn’t in my comfort zone.
It was a difficult time in my life. I saw a person in me that I’d never seen before. There’s that Michael Jackson song, “The Man in the Mirror.” When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t like the guy I saw. I didn’t like his looks; I didn’t like him. I felt weak. I knew in my heart that something was wrong, but it was hard to accept when I was diagnosed.
I stopped going to therapy, and I started looking online. I found fascinating articles about police mental health, suicide, stigma and an organization called The Badge of Life. I never realized that support was out there. I had a friend, a fellow officer, who died by suicide, but I thought it was just a family problem.
I started to go to a support group in central Florida, just cops talking to cops. I found a therapist who was a retired cop. During all this, I got my marriage back on track. I felt guilty about the way I had treated my wife, and I apologized. She had felt helpless. She was trying to get me help, but I wouldn’t take it.
I was diagnosed with PTSD and depression. I’m on medication, which has helped me to focus. I was concerned about the meds—could I still be a cop? But I can; it’s not a problem. I’m still an active deputy sheriff.
I’ve never had a suicidal thought since. I still have nightmares, but not as much as I used to. I feel a lot better. I lost the weight I gained. I don’t let it ruin my everyday life, ruin my job, ruin my marriage. On the days when I feel down, I’ve learned to control that—the anxiety, depression and PTSD.
The biggest problem I have now is the stigma. When I’m open about it, my colleagues look at me funny. But there are others. When some people hear my story, they come to me and say, “Can I talk to you for a second?” There’s nothing better than helping another cop through the issues that I experienced.
I really enjoy my life now, when for years I didn’t. I still love being a cop.
Mark DiBona is a deputy sheriff in central Florida and is on the board of directors of The Badge of Life, an organization dedicated to preventing police officer suicide.
See Comments to Mark's blog.
(photo and excepts from The Badge of Life website)
For every police suicide, there are a thousand more officers
still working and suffering the symptoms of PTSD.
Saying, "Get help when you need it" isn't enough any more.
We need to say, "Get help BEFORE you need it.”
Badge of Life Police Suicide Prevention FACEBOOK link
BJA Launches Police-Mental Health Collaboration Toolkit
The United States Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) launched an online toolkit that supports law enforcement agencies around the country in planning and implementing effective calls for service involving people with mental illnesses.
The PMHC Toolkit was developed in partnership with The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center and gathers best practices and resources to help law enforcement agencies partner with mental health providers when responding to calls for service involving people with mental illnesses.
The PMHC Toolkit outlines the overall benefits of PMHC programs in five sections: learning about PMHC programs; planning and implementing; training; managing; and measuring.
Building on officers’ real-life experiences, the Toolkit features five stories by officers who are leading or implementing programs where mental health professionals join or advise law enforcement as they respond to calls in Portland, Maine; Madison, Wisconsin; Houston, Texas; and Los Angeles and Pasadena, California. Several of these departments serve as national Law Enforcement Mental Health Learning Sites, which host site visits for officers from other departments nationwide who wish to develop similar techniques in their own departments.
The Toolkit supplements these case studies with steps to drive departments’ planning, written sample policies, and checklists for decision makers who are seeking strategies for specialized training. For communities with existing PMHC programs, the Toolkit offers tools, data, and procedures to manage the program and measure its performance—important steps for setting and meeting goals.
View our page on Criminal/Civil Justice