Cops Helping Cops After TraumaBy Calibre Press | Jan 15, 2020
In an earlier Calibre Press article we shared tips on ways investigators can help, not further harm, traumatized officers after a force event (see below for a link to that piece).
In light of the popularity of that article, we’re now going to share tips for any officer on how to help support a fellow officer after a traumatic event. Note: Remember that although a shooting ranks among the most traumatizing, there are scores of other experiences that can have a major emotional impact on an officer. These tips apply to any such event.
The following tips were shared by Dr. Alexis Artwohl, author of the excellent new book, Deadly Force Encounters, 2nd Edition, which is now available on Amazon.
1. Do initiate contact in the form of a phone call or a note to let a traumatized officer know that you are concerned and available for support or help. Don’t forget to include their significant others in that offer, who may be just as traumatized by what their officer has been through. In the case of a shooting, remember that the non-shooters who were at the scene are just as likely to be affected by the incident as the shooters.
2. Offer to stay with the traumatized officer/friend for the first day or two after the event if you know they live alone. If you’re not able to do that, find a mutual friend who can. Alternatively, you could offer to have the officer stay at your place for a few days.
3. Let the officer decide how much contact they want from you. They may be overwhelmed with phone calls. Ask them to be extremely candid with you about this. Remind them you’re here to help in any way you can and you’re wanting to make as much contact as will be helpful, but you fully understand and will respect the need for space and downtime.
4. Don’t ask for an account of the event, but let the officer know you’re ready and willing to listen to anything they want to talk about. Officers may get tired of replaying the incident and tire of “curiosity seekers.” If they want to discuss details, you’re fully prepared to listen. If they don’t, you’re still here for them.
5. Ask questions that show unconditional support and acceptance like, “Is there anything I can do to help you and your family?”
6. Accept their reactions to the incident, whatever they may be, as normal for them. Don’t suggest how they “should” feel. Officers have a wide range of reactions to traumatic events.
7. Remember that the key to helping traumatized officers is nonjudgmental listening.
8. Don’t say, “I understand how you feel” unless you’ve actually have been through the same experience. Do feel free to offer a brief sharing of a similar experience you might have had to let them know they’re not alone in how they feel, but remember this is not the time to work through your own trauma issues with this person. If your friend’s event triggers some of your own emotions, please find someone else to talk to who can offer the support you need.
9. Don’t encourage the use of alcohol. Officers should avoid drinking for a few weeks after their event so they can process what has happened to them with a clear head, uncontaminated by alcohol or drugs.
10. Don’t “congratulate” officers after shootings or call them “terminator” or otherwise joke around about the incident. Officers often have mixed feelings about deadly force encounters and may find such comments offensive and painful.
11. Offer simple but powerful positive statements about the officer like, “I’m glad you’re O.K.”
12. If you find yourself second-guessing a shooting, keep your comments to yourself. Critical comments have a way of getting back to the involved officer and it only does more harm to that officer, who is likely already second-guessing him/herself and struggling to recover. Besides, most of the second-guessing is wrong anyway.
13. Encourage the officer to take care of themselves. Show support for such things as taking as much time off as they need to recover. Also, encourage the officer to participate in debriefings and counseling.
14. Gently but firmly confront them about negative behavior or emotional changes you notice that persist. Encourage them to seek professional help and offer to help facilitate that if they would like.
15. Don’t refer to officers who are having emotional problems as “mentals” or other derogatory terms. Stigmatizing each other encourages officers to deny their psychological injuries and not get the help they need.
16. Educate yourself about trauma reactions. There is a lot of information out there. Prepare yourself for understanding and encourage other officers to do the same. Someday, it might be you who needs them.
17. Officers want to return to “normal” as quickly as possible. Don’t pretend like the event didn’t happen but do treat the traumatized officer like you always have. Don’t avoid them or treat them as fragile or otherwise drastically change your behavior with them.
18. Remember, in this case, your mother was right. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all.
More on the subject:
Have additional tips or an experience to share? Please e-mail us at [email protected]
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