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INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC SAFETY ASSOCIATION
Together we are stronger


Public Safety Column

The IPSA's Public Safety Column is an opportunity for our members and corporate sponsors to provide thought leadership articles about all topics facing public safety. 

The articles we publish are not necessarily the views of the IPSA, rather they are opinions shared by each contributor.


Become an IPSA Public Safety Column Author

Are you interested in writing for our Public Safety Column? Complete our online application today. 

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  • 20 Jul 2018 10:56 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Lori Pina, Lead Telecommunicator, Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department, Communications and IPSA 911 Telecommunications Committee Member

    Have you ever tried to find a watch? If not, it is very time consuming. Dispatching these calls isn’t what delays customer service, it is the process of calling back every smart watch-wearing citizen. Although policy varies between 911 call centers, it has the same impact overall, which is a call taker is temporarily unable to take an inbound emergency call due to calling a 911 hang-up back from a watch.

    Apple

    iWatch and its technology is becoming quite the experience for 911 call centers across the country. If you hold down the side button on the iWatch, it will call 911 with a Wireless Phase 2 location (approximate location of the watch-wearer). For this feature to work, the watch-wearer must be within a Bluetooth connection range to their cell phone or connected to a stronger Wi-Fi.

    As the call comes into the 911 call center, it sounds something like this: several voices can be heard in the background, and the call taker is unable to advise if there was a disturbance. However, they have an approximate location (Phase 2).

    The call taker will then call back the number associated with the iWatch, and, if lucky, the subscriber will answer and advise their watch called 911 accidentally. If there is no answer, then the call will be forwarded to voicemail. If voicemail is reached, the next step a call taker will implement varies based on call center policy.

    Samsung

    Samsung technology is entirely different. The smart watch has an SOS feature that will contact up to four people. If the watch-wearer intentionally or unintentionally pushes the side button three times in a row, it will notify up to four people of their approximate location via text message and also provide audio coming from the smart watch. However, no audio will return to the watch (in case the watch-wearer is in an emergency situation). It will continue to update your SOS contacts for up to one hour after with location.

    While this is a great function in theory, the functionality has limitations in practice. In theory, the SOS contact would notify law enforcement, fire or medical of the victim’s location and advise what is occurring.

    However, the 911 call center will receive up to four 911 calls for the same incident, with minimal information. Often, the caller can only advise that their friend pushed an SOS button and give an approximate location.

    If the 911 call taker is fortunate enough to find the watch-wearer, they usually discover one of the following:

    1. The individual accidentally sent an SOS call.
    2. The individual was trying to reach a family member that wasn’t answering their phone.
    3. A child was playing with the watch.

    Unfortunately, most of the time, 911 call takers are unable to find the watch-wearer due to them being in a large crowd, or because the individual just moved on and continued whatever it was they were doing.

    Other smart watches

    In a 911 call center, we often deal with the Apple or Samsung smart watches but there are other watches that impact the 911 world.

    Watches designed for children: The other smart watches use a service such as an alarm company or GPS technology that gets relayed through a parent or guardian. These smart watches tend to be targeted for children and usually have a geofencing technology, which is simply a geographic boundary set up specifically for the watch by the guardian. These smart watches are usually set up around a school, home or park where the child is known to frequent. In a situation involving a missing child or a person with special needs, although a 911 call taker would have to go through a parent or guardian on the account, they could get a decently accurate location for the subject.

    Watches designed for the elderly: Smart watches designed primarily for the elderly are usually monitored by an alarm company. When this is the design, the alarm company usually has minimal information, such as the subscriber’s address, known medical information and key location. While the alarm company may not be able to give a 911 call taker an accurate phase 2 (approximate location), they may be able to provide medical information that can be relayed to first responders.

    Although there are other brands and different types of smart watches on the market, the best practice out there is to be knowledgeable of what your smart watch can do and who you’re reaching when utilizing a SOS feature. If it is a third party monitoring the smart watch, such as an alarm company, make sure they know what information you are willing to have released to authorities ahead of time in case of an emergency. In an emergency, seconds make all the difference.

    To all smart watch-wearers, figure out what your smart watch can do, so when the seconds matter, 911 call takers aren’t wasting minutes to help.

    About the Author

    Lori Pina is a Lead Telecommunicator with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department and a member of the IPSA’s 911 Telecommunications Committee. She has been an Emergency Telecommunicator for the last decade. She began her career with a smaller consolidated agency that dispatched for police, fire and medical and completed all DCI functions. She relocated to Charlotte, NC in 2014 and subsequently got hired to join CMPD. Pina has been a Communications Training Officer for six years and has I recently become a Lead Telecommunicator. She loves her job in the communications center and enjoys the challenges that are thrown her way.




  • 18 Jul 2018 9:37 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Ahrar “Sid” Siddiqui, Supervisor, Arlington County (VA) Emergency Communications Center, IPSA Fitness/Wellness Committee Member

    Wellness is defined as the state of being in good health, and strength training is a critical component of getting in good health. Whether you work in law enforcement, the fire service, 911 telecommunications or other public safety related discipline, there is a clear need to be in good health. There are obvious physical benefits to reap from a balanced program, such as increased strength and flexibility, but also many overlooked advantages that can make a bigger difference in your overall health.

    Getting started and sticking to a plan can be difficult but setting attainable goals and pre-planning workouts can help you achieve your goals. Like many other things in life, your level of commitment to a strength training routine will determine what kind of results you get and how close you are to your wellness objective.

    Benefits

    Everyone who works in public safety, wants to be stronger or leaner, maybe weigh a little less; strength training can get you there. Beyond that there are many other ways strength training can impact your health in a positive way. It is an invaluable tool in relaxation, blow off some steam after a long day at work with a lifting session and you’ll be surprised how good you feel when you leave the gym. An added benefit, muscle burns more calories than fat even at rest, so if you are trying to lose weight you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much easier that becomes even if you keep your caloric intake the same.

    Your bones will thank you, as resistance training is one of the best ways to improve bone density and stave off or mitigate the effects of conditions like osteoporosis. It can help fight and slow down several major metabolic diseases like diabetes, by teaching your body how to use insulin more efficiently and lower your risk for heart disease by better regulating your blood pressure and boosting your good cholesterol. All of these are little pieces in the overall wellness picture, with the result being a healthier you.

    Getting started

    Beginning a strength training regimen can be quite difficult, especially if you have never really been into exercising before. Searching for plans on from authoritative sources (e.g. the American Council on Exercise), will give you literally thousands of options. But before you begin searching for a workout plan, set some goals. Simply ask yourself these three simple questions:

    1. What kind of physique do I want, do I want to be a mass monster like a bodybuilder or do I want a trimmer more athletic body?
    2. What’s my timetable to achieve these goals, do I just want to get in shape for the summer beach season, or am I trying to create life time habits?
    3. How much time and money do I have to invest in this process, depending on my work and personal schedules?

    If this sounds kind of daunting, it is. The answers to the above questions will help determine what kind of plan you should develop and where to begin. Here are two invaluable tips, keep it simple and just start doing it. 

    You can join a gym or work out at home but pick a few exercises that you feel comfortable with and focus on those in the beginning, there will be plenty of time later to add variation and complexity. And start, as you gain experience over time you will be able to better understand where you want to be and how to get there.

    Strength training is an important component in any plan to improve your health. Its benefits can vary from the immediate to subtler and long-lasting improvements in the form and function of your body and mind. Starting can be hard, with lots of choices to confuse you, but if you never begin you will never see the results that you want, so, keep it simple and just start doing.

     At the end of the day you want to look and feel good to be well, and this along with a few other pieces like a good diet and rest, will get you there.


    About the Author

    Ahrar ‘Sid’ Siddiqui serves as a Supervisor in an emergency communication center, with 11 years of experience in Emergency Management and dispatching Police, Fire and EMS resources. During his career he has served on Arlington County’s Diversity Workgroup, EOC, Vesta/Nextgen 911 committee and is currently a member of the IPSA Fitness and Wellness Committee.

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  • 25 May 2018 9:28 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Robert Mitchell, Retired Chief and Member of the IPSA's Memorial Committee

    “Rescue 22 respond to 2615 Kingfisher Dr. for a two-year old having seizures. Timeout 0345, Unit responding select Tac 6.”

    It’s 0345 in the morning. You’re on duty having just laid down for the first time this shift about 30 minutes ago. You’ve decided not to eat anything to try and get some sleep. You’re on the back side of a 48-hour shift which wasn’t much slower. As you stagger to the truck, you try to remember where Kingfisher Drive is. When you do arrive at the address, a mom comes running out the front door carrying her two-year old daughter in her arms. As you take the toddler you notice she’s kind of stiff and her colors a bit greyish. 

    In the back of the truck you assess the little one and determine that she is indeed having a seizure and she is posturing. Mom tells you she has no known history, no allergies, doesn’t take any medicine and she’s been like this for at least 10 minutes. As you have done a thousand times, you continue her assessment, treatment and transport. 

    The hospital is 10 minutes away and your partner makes it in five. There’s been no significant change in your tiny patient’s status the entire time she’s been in your care. You turn her over to the Emergency Room staff and get your unit back in service and write your report. You’ve done everything possible for this little one and you’ve done it right. You return to the station. Your shift finally ends. You go home.

    After the shift ends

    As you stagger into the house, your greeted by your two-year old who wants to do nothing more than play with you. Tears well up in your eyes and you can hardly keep it together. This is an all too often sequence of events for most of us in EMS, and sometimes it’s hard to let go.

    • Does this happen to you regularly?
    • What else is causing you stress? 
    • Do you have a healthy way to deal with stress?

    These are just a few questions you need to ask yourself to self-assess. Everyone knows the importance of diet, exercise, sleeping and staying hydrated. But is there more? The answer is yes.

    Recognition of PTSD in public safety is at the forefront of the media and in many states, their legislatures. The International Public Safety Association has done several webinars on the topic and even created a series of posters for agencies and individuals to download and post in their departments. This is fantastic news, but how is this going to help the EMS responder in the field?

    Collectively we have seen an increase in Critical Incident Stress Teams, Peer Support Teams, Chaplains and family training classes for spouses, significant others, and children that help to prepare them for what their responder maybe facing. Most responders don’t want to open to someone who has no operational experience in EMS or at the very least public safety. Having leaders who at least know how to recognize the signs of stress is a critical first step in getting help. As individuals we need to learn and understand that we may need help as well.

    • Talk with your family about your feelings.
    • Talk with a trusted professional.
    • Remember your spiritual needs.
    • Talk to your peers. 
    • Seek positive ways to release your stress like exercising, reading a book and even playing video games.

    Do yourself and your loved ones a favor, if you’re stressed, look for healthy ways to de-stress. Don’t be afraid to reach out, you are not alone.

    About the Author

    Chief Mitchell retired after 38 years of public safety service in fire, EMS, law enforcement and Emergency Management. He currently holds his Chief Fire Officer, Chief Emergency Medical Service Officer and Professional Emergency Manager designations.  He hold a degree in Professional Management from Nova Southeastern University and currently consults for a variety of different organizations.  Chief Mitchell is a member of the IPSA Memorial Committee.

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  • 22 May 2018 11:49 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    The IPSA created this new K9 Officer Safety Infographic for free download, printing and sharing.


  • 21 May 2018 5:21 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Jerry Steckmeister, Police Lieutenant, Westchester County Department of Public Safety, IPSA Fitness and Wellness Committee Member

    Anywhere that you find public safety professionals, you are sure to find hand sanitizer. It’s in their buildings, personal bags and vehicles. It’s always nearby as if it were a magical potion that can cure all ills. Sinks are often bypassed to get to the hand sanitizer dispenser.

    The main benefit to hand sanitizer is speed. It is quicker than washing hands and it is portable. When used properly, hand sanitizer can be an effective tool in protecting public safety personnel. But is public safety’s reliance on hand sanitizer sound? According to science, the answer is no.

    Most hand sanitizers contain alcohol, generally 60 percent or more. This is sufficient to kill most, but not all, germs. For instance, it is not effective at eliminating norovirus or Clostridium difficile spores. It is an essential tool in healthcare settings, where the primary threat comes from germs.

    What the CDC says

    Problems arise when individuals overestimate the power of hand sanitizer. As noted above, it is ineffective at killing certain germs. It also may not have an effect on chemicals, and does not remove dirt or grease. In fact, it may cause your skin to be more absorbent to certain chemicals, such as fentanyl.

    For this reason, the Center for Disease Control recommends hand washing over hand sanitizer in a non-healthcare setting. When soap and water isn’t immediately available, hand sanitizer is generally a good substitute, but the CDC still recommends that you wash your hands as soon as you are able.

    None of this means that you should throw out all of your hand sanitizer. Used correctly, it can be a valuable tool for hand hygiene. In a health care setting, when your hands aren’t excessively dirty, hand sanitizer can provide a quick reduction in bacteria. Outside of a health care setting, if you have access to soap and water, you should wash your hands instead of using hand sanitizer. If you might be exposed to germs, but do not have access to a sink, hand sanitizer might help reduce bacteria, but you should still wash your hands as soon as possible.

    Do not use hand sanitizer if you have been exposed to chemicals such as pesticides or fentanyl. Wipe excess chemicals off with a clean cloth and wash your hands. If you have a large exposure or do not have access to a sink, follow your agency’s protocol for decontamination.

    Public safety professionals have a wide range of tools at our disposal. Each tool is effective when used properly, but can be dangerous when used improperly. Hand sanitizer is no exception. When it is used appropriately, it can help us to stay healthy and prevent us from bringing unwanted germs back to our family. However, it is important to understand its strengths and limitations.

    About the Author

    Jerry Steckmeister is a Police Lieutenant with 19 years of law enforcement experience. He is also a Major in the NY Army National Guard. In addition, he is a Director on the board of the Westchester B.L.U.E. Foundation and serves as member of the IPSA Fitness and Wellness Committee.


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  • 06 Apr 2018 10:43 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Anne Camaro, IPSA 911 Telecommunications Committee Member, Assistant Director of Administration and Training Cambridge Emergency Communications

    As we gear up to celebrate another National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, it is important to pave the way for new telecommunicators as they make their way from the classroom to the communications center. Whether working eight or 12-hour shifts, dispatchers know that no shift is ever like the last one. The uncertainty of the next call, the excitement of the next chase and the relief of the resolution are the only constants. The situations, the names and the people are ever changing in a web of stories that become the reason we choose to stay.

    Ability to adapt

    Having grown up in the boom of technology of the 1990s, I still remember the first time I sat down in front of a DOS based CAD. Having to adapt from mouse clicks to keyboard tabs was no easy task, however, that was the first of many different things I had to adapt to throughout the years. However, not everyone can adapt in the 911 telecommunications profession.

    As communications supervisors recruit new talent and promote from within, one of the most desired qualities in a candidate is adaptability. Most supervisors will not hire or promote someone who demonstrates a resistance or fear to change. Individuals who are hired to work in this profession and then become unwilling or unable to adapt to the ever-changing environment in the communications center, rarely stay. No dispatcher, at least no successful dispatcher, can stay rigid and resist change.

    So how can we become more adaptable? Jennifer Garvey Berger, author of “Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders” describes four steps we can take to become more adaptable. To face change successfully, she states that we must shift our mindset and highlights four tips on how to get started: (1) ask different questions; (2) accept multiple perspectives; (3) consider the bigger picture and (4) experiment and learn.

    Further, Jeff Boss, an adaptability coach, describes an adaptable person as someone who is open to change, who has the will to face uncertainty, and who sees opportunity where others see failure. According to Boss, adaptable people are resourceful and think ahead; they don’t whine, or place blame; and they also don’t claim fame. Adaptable people stay current, are open minded and know what they stand for. A dispatcher who possesses these traits is desirable and will become invaluable to the agency they work for because they are willing and able to go the extra mile.

    Change is scary and complex. It involves coming out of our comfort zone, but if we want to succeed as 911 telecommunicators we must understand that change is part of the job description. It is inevitable. From change, the best 911 telecommunicators learn and thrive. In a field that gets more complex by the minute, a famous quote attributed to Leon C. Megginson’s work regarding Darwin’s “Origin of Species” is valid, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”


  • 06 Apr 2018 7:30 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Ken Wallentine

    In a recent survey, I asked for reader thoughts on meeting the challenge of the active shooter in schools. Thanks to the officers who sent thoughtful responses. Not surprisingly, several respondents suggested placing more officers in schools.

    Here is a snapshot of some other responses:

    • Creating an easier path for retired cops with degrees to become certified teachers.
    • Hiring retired officers as part-time school workers in a variety of positions and co-locating neighborhood policing offices in schools.
    • An adopt an officer program. This officer suggested pairing street cops and detectives with schools that would “adopt” the officer. The officer would be invited as a special guest to assemblies and other events and to eat lunch at the school on a regular basis.
    • Better designs for physical security.
    • Taking advantage of existing locks to provide a single point of entry.
    • Additional training and emphasis on challenging unidentified or suspicious school visitors.

    Virtual reality, active shooter scenario

    I recently participated with dozens of school district executives, school resource officers, principals, vice-principals and counselors in a series of school shooting scenarios. The virtual reality system allowed us to experience an active school shooter scenario in penetrating virtual reality, using actual weapons and feeling the impact of gunfire. At the end of each virtual reality session, we gathered cops and educators to debrief. Ideas and questions flowed freely. Conversations that began in virtual reality will continue as partnerships strengthen.

    Safety apps

    I learned about programs that help students report concerns and/or reach out for help. The best of these is a smartphone app called SafeUT. It is a resource for students, parents and educators. Students and parents can submit tips, chat with a qualified mental health professional, make an immediate one-button call for help and monitor existing tips and helpful hints for safety and well-being. Other states are creating similar apps.

    Just last week, a middle school student in my community threatened to shoot up his school. Classmates who heard the threat said something and used the SafeUT app. A cop went to the home and spoke with parents and the student. He and his partner searched the kid’s bedroom and found an AR-15 and a handgun. The app, powered by students willing to say something, worked. Mass shooting prevented? Probably.

    Broadening the discussion

    The conversations about safer schools and safer kids are happening across the country. These discussions need to include local public safety officers, teachers and parents. Those conversations need to be far broader than just hardening the targets. Let’s join the community in talking about prevention. Let’s be sure that our departments and schools are social media smart. Are we watching out for and reaching the kids who signal trouble? Are our schools fostering an emotionally healthy environment? Are there safe places and trusted people for kids who are bullied, abused or emotionally struggling?

    Preparedness

    As public safety servants, we prepare tirelessly for many events that will never happen in our community. With the violence at Parkland and Great Mills, the focus right now is on school shootings.

    We must prepare the best we can. In our sheriffs’ offices and police departments, let’s talk about something that we know about: threat assessment. When we get a tip, do we have a system in place to quickly bring a school official, mental health professional, school resource officer, and—as appropriate—parent or guardian together for a risk analysis and intervention plan?

    Our preparations will necessarily lead to deeper connections with educators, parents, kids and our entire community. Our preventive efforts will pay off, too. As we stretch our reach to kids on the fringe, we may or may not prevent a school killer, but we may just make life better for a lonely kid.

    There is a genuine compassion and commitment among public safety officials to keeping our communities safe. Your communities need your critical conversation contributions.

    About the Author

    Chief Ken Wallentine is a Special Agent who directs the Utah Attorney General Training Center, overseeing use of force training and investigation and cold case homicide investigations. He is also a consultant and Senior Legal Advisor for Lexipol. Ken formerly served as Chief of Law Enforcement for the Utah Attorney General, serving over three decades in public safety before a brief retirement. He also serves as the Chairman of the Peace Officer Merit Commission of Greater Salt Lake County.


  • 28 Mar 2018 3:30 PM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By James Dundas, IPSA Memorial Committee Chair

    Duty. Honor. Courage. Noble words to live and serve by. The epitome of those words was sadly reinforced recently as the public safety community of practice lost seven brave souls in the line of duty. In the one week from March 21 to March 28, 2018, the United States has averaged the loss one first responder per day.

    Wednesday, March 21, 2018: Police Officer Andres Laza-Caraballo (age 31) of the Juncos Municipal Police Department in Puerto Rico was shot while off duty when attempting to intercede in a violent incident. Officer Laza-Caraballo confronted armed men when they entered a barber shop and began firing. Officer Laza-Caraballo was fatally wounded. He was a 10-year veteran of the department. He leaves behind two children.

    Thursday, March 22, 2018: FDNY Firefighter Michael Davidson (age 37), a 15-year veteran, husband and father of four girls, died in a fire on a movie set in the Hamilton Heights neighborhood of Harlem. Part of an interior attack crew, FF Davidson became separated from the others when an evacuation was called. Search teams were quickly assembled and re-entered the building in a desperate attempt to locate FF Davidson. When found, FF Davidson was unconscious. He was transported to Harlem Hospital where he died.

    Also on Thursday, March 22, 2018, in York City, Pennsylvania, FF Ivan Flanscha (age 50) and FF Zachary Anthony (age 29) perished in a huge multiple alarm fire in the former Weaver Organ and Piano Warehouse. FF’s Flanscha and Anthony were part of an interior crew dousing hot spots when a part of the structure collapsed, entrapping them and other members. The York City Technical Rescue team was brought in to lead the search, but unfortunately, both Flanscha and Anthony did not survive.  Two others, Assistant Chief Greg Altland and FF Erik Swanson received serious, but not expected to be life threatening injuries.

    In what is becoming a more frequent and tragic consequence of exposure to hazardous substances, Special Agent Melissa Morrow (age 48) of the FBI succumbed to brain cancer on March 22, 2018, because of her search and recovery work at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. She worked 10 weeks on site, and like many first responders, fell from continuous, long-term exposure to toxins. She is survived by her parents and one sister.

    Friday, March 23, 2018: The Caldwell County Office of Emergency Management reported that FF Larry Marusik of the Ellinger Volunteer Fire Department succumbed to critical burn injuries sustained on March 10 while fighting a large wildland fire. He had been under treatment at the Brook Army Medical Center.  

    Saturday, March 24, 2018: We saw the deaths of two Pratt, West Virginia, volunteer firefighters who died in a crash of their apparatus when responding to a severe multi-fatality traffic accident. Preliminary reports show that their rig left the roadway and crashed into a rock wall. Three other firefighters were injured, one critically.  

    While it is premature to speculate on causal factors of these tragedies this past week, there are some practices that the public safety community may acknowledge that may help prevent a future tragedy from occurring. These recommendations were pulled from the IPSA’s 2017 LODD Report:

    1.  Improve situational awareness. The key is situational awareness and the responder wearing the proper protective gear for the environment where he or she is responding. Situational awareness is enhanced when 9-1-1 dispatchers inquire about the circumstances and environment and report their findings to responding units.

    2. Implement practices to reduce contamination. All agencies should assess their risks based upon their unique response profile and adopt policies that reduce the risk of contamination. This would include the adoption of operational practices such as mandatory post-fire decontamination, cleansing of PPE, carrying contaminated PPE in sealed bags and assessing personnel for exposure.

    3.  Always wear a seatbelt. Empirical research shows that wearing a seatbelt will save lives. First responders need to buckle up, despite any temporary discomfort duty gear may impose.

    4.  Enhance body armor by decreasing its weight and increasing flexibility, provide for more coverage, and enhance it ballistics, shielding capabilities. Body armor should protect vital areas against any form of penetration, whether a projectile from a firearm or a penetrating object intended to stab the officer. A proposed revision of NIJ Standard 0101.06, Ballistic Resistance of Body Armor is open for comment through May 23, 2018.

    5.  Increase firearms training. Law enforcement officers are required to undergo a certain number of hours of firearms training. Unfortunately, the time allotted for training is generally very limited and does not correlate to the volume of gun violence in the U.S. Departments need to review their training hours and add training hours to keep their officers safe.

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  • 14 Mar 2018 12:50 PM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    First responders experience extreme physical demands, often in hazardous environments. Many tragedies occur suddenly and without warning. Gunshot wounds, building collapses, vehicular accidents, assaults and other causal factors contribute to untimely deaths in our emergency response community. Further, first responders face several threats to occupational related diseases such as cancer and cardiorespiratory related maladies. Law enforcement, firefighting and rescue activities are inherently dangerous occupations. Since the year 2000, the data reviewed accounts for the loss of 2,841 law enforcement officers, 1,937 fire and EMS personnel and 233 K9s.

    Download the IPSA's Report about 2017 Line of Duty Deaths

    The International Public Safety Association Memorial Committee was established to monitor line of duty deaths to honor the supreme sacrifice of our brave and heroic first responders and to review LODD data for trends, patterns and anomalies so the IPSA can develop recommended policies and changes that improve safety. If you are interested in getting involved with the IPSA's Memorial Committee, then apply to serve today.



  • 07 Mar 2018 2:12 PM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Dan Fish, Lexipol is an Official IPSA Supporter

    How do law enforcement officers end up chronically stressed, burned out and suffering from compassion fatigue? Why do so many officers fail to take care of themselves mentally and physically? And how can we help them achieve better health and balance?

    Questions like these are dominating public safety lately. Look at any law enforcement publication, website or conference line-up, and you’ll see topics related to physical and mental wellbeing, post-traumatic stress, peer support and other behavioral health issues.  (Full disclosure: The inspiration for this article was a presentation called “Keeping the Super Heroes Super,” presented by licensed psychologist and organizational consultant Kimberly A. Miller, Ph.D., at the FBINAA California Re-Trainer in August 2017.)

    In part, this shift is driven by sheer economics—recruiting is getting more and more difficult for law enforcement agencies, so we need to find ways to retain good officers. But scientific developments are also driving the change. We’re learning more about the essential connection between mental and emotional health and performance. And that changes job-related stress from something we should just “deal with” to something that presents significant risks for law enforcement agencies.

    What’s stressing out officers?

    There’s no shortage of stressors in law enforcement. Depending on where you live and work, you may face media scrutiny or community distrust. Then there’s the grind of responding to call after call where people are exhibiting their worst behavior or are victims of someone else’s bad behavior. But let’s focus for a minute on two even bigger factors that underlie these specific stressors.

    First, law enforcement officers are hard-wired to focus on the negative. We are always in threat assessment mode. All the way back in the academy, we were taught to focus on the bad things that can happen—because doing so could save our lives one day. This hard-wired approach to focus on the negative can take its toll and make it difficult to differentiate situations where we should be looking for the positive.

    Second, law enforcement today is an all-encompassing, 24/7 career. There is a high level of responsibility that comes with being a protector of the public. Coupled with that, law enforcement culture expects officers to be stoic and strong in the face of adversity. We are taught to resist normal physiological responses to tragedies or critical incidents. This combination creates a perfect storm: The profession becomes all-encompassing, but at the same time we don’t provide officers with tools to deal with the effects of the profession.

    How do officers know when they’re stressed?

    The consequences of police officer stress pose a serious threat. Before we go further, let’s consider a few definitions:

    • Stress is mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.
    • Burnout is the cumulative process marked by emotional exhaustion or withdrawal associated with increased workload or institutional stress.
    • Compassion fatigue is the emotional residue/strain of exposure to working with those suffering traumatic events. It can encompass physical symptoms, such as difficulty sleeping, and emotional symptoms, such as loss of self-worth or anger.  

    How does police officer stress manifest itself?

    For many officers, law enforcement is their identity. They don’t leave much energy for their family, their friends or themselves. In turn, they can quickly feel isolated when dealing with the normal challenges of law enforcement. Once isolated, it’s a short step to despair and depression. Consider these possible signs and symptoms:

    • Isolation and withdrawal
    • Being disengaged or unmotivated
    • Physical exhaustion
    • Nightmares and flashbacks
    • Poor hygiene or apathy about one’s physical appearance
    • Loss of empathy or compassion
    • Relationship issues, including divorce
    • Substance misuse and abuse
    • Recurrent sadness or depression
    • Resistance to feedback
    • Resistance to change
    • Reduction in meaningful work product
    • Reduced job satisfaction
    • Increase in citizen complaints

    Most of these signs and symptoms can be traced back to depleted energy.

    How does self-care help?

    The answer to the devastating consequences of police officer stress is self-care for mental health.

    You may have heard this term tossed around, but what does it really mean? Self-care is not an exercise regimen or seeing a psychologist (although it could encompass those things). Rather, it’s a conscious process of considering our needs and seeking out activities and habits that replenish our energy—so that we can do our jobs better. This last part is often difficult to understand. Type A personalities often lead individuals to believe that they do their best when they commit all their resources to something, working harder and harder. But that’s simply not true.

    We only have a finite amount of energy each day to expend. Just as taking a day off from the gym can help us train harder the next day, participating in activities outside law enforcement helps us refuel emotionally, which makes us more effective when we go back on duty. Combating the negative mindset also comes into play here. When you consider that negative emotion burns twice as much energy as positive emotion, the challenge and skill to remain positive makes its own case. We need to train officers to regularly assess their energy levels and focus on the positive.

    One way to do this is by applying the “For vs. To” test to reframe an experience. Saying that something happened “to me” makes the experience negative and victimizing. Saying that something happened “for me” immediately turns the experience into a positive event and creates a challenge for officers to better themselves by developing their leadership and coping skills. Everything is a lesson and at minimum, in every tragedy/critical incident, there is a test of humanity. That test can develop good character if administered correctly, and should allow officers to feel relief instead of regret. The lesson is to not allow a temporary event to become a permanent state of mind.

    Another important factor to understand about self-care: It’s a perishable skill, just like driving, shooting or arrest and control techniques. To be successful in maintaining good mental health, officers must practice. So let’s look at a few ways to do just that.

    3 self-care tools

    As mentioned above, Dr. Kimberly Miller presents frequently on the topic of self-care. She uses the analogy of “filling one’s bucket” with coping mechanisms that help officers stay positive, develop identity and self-worth outside of law enforcement, and be more in touch with their feelings and emotions. Here are three self-care tools she teaches.

    1. Cultivate a life outside law enforcement. Good bucket-fillers create time for relationships and activities outside of the work environment. Don’t short-shrift your spouse, children or friends for work. Because it can be hard to let go of the job even when you’re off duty, you may at first need to schedule planned activities with family and friends. Otherwise, you may find that you spent yet another evening stewing over the day’s events while your kids played games on their tablets in the other room. Remember, too, that “alone time” is beneficial. Find activities—hiking, swimming, reading, bird watching, listening to music—that you enjoy and make time for them, too. Other tips: Disengage from technology whenever possible or at prescribed times of the day or week, and avoid energy “vampires” (people who demand too much of your energy).
    2. Develop good physical health habits. Dr. Miller also suggests committing to an exercise regimen—one you can maintain. Consider whether you need to improve your diet, too. Law enforcement officers often find it difficult to eat healthy on shift, but preparing meals in advance can help. Cooking can also be a great way to spend quality time with your spouse and/or children. Finally, do everything you can to get enough sleep. Most people need between 6 and 9 hours. Lack of sleep is linked to many adverse health effects, even cancer, and can worsen the effects of post-traumatic stress. I know it’s not always possible, but when you can, plan for appropriate sleep time to avoid starting the day already low on valuable energy.
    3. Practice meditation and mindfulness. Dr. Miller and I agree that visualization, meditation and mindfulness also have promise as a focused method of improving the mental health of officers. Visualization is a type of meditation about a specific activity or outcome and is widely used by professional athletes to focus on performance. Police officers are very much like professional athletes and this method should be considered as a part of any self-care program. Meditation is focused on trying to empty one’s mind of everything so that it can re-charge or clear the memory of negative thoughts. Mindfulness is a technique I’ve written about before; it involves paying attention to thoughts and feelings and how they are affecting you, then altering the thought process to deal more effectively and efficiently with the feelings.

    Thinking long-term

    Our society praises selflessness. That’s understandable; our natural inclination is to put ourselves first, and learning to push back against that impulse makes us better citizens and human beings. But like any habit, selflessness can become an addiction. What we often see in law enforcement officers is dedication to the job taken to an extreme. And like any addiction, over time, it begins to cause problems—physically, mentally, emotionally.

    Law enforcement agencies have typically done a poor job of understanding police officer stress and helping officers cope. That needs to change. We need leadership role models who will demonstrate the important of actively choosing a balanced lifestyle. We need peer support and supervisors who show officers that it’s OK to feel pain and emotional distress—that doing so builds resilience over time.

    We cannot give away what we don’t have; unfortunately, too many officers don’t understand this concept. Today’s officers require a new kind of bravery: The courage to change hard-wired habits and commit to self-care. This is not something we can put off to deal with in retirement—or we might never get there. When it comes to positive mental health, we simply can’t afford to trade the now for later.


    About the Author

    Dan Fish is Professional Services Representative for Lexipol. He retired from law enforcement in May 2017 after a 30-year career where he served in all ranks of the Petaluma (CA) Police Department including Chief of Police. Fish earned his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Sacramento State University and he holds a graduate certificate in law enforcement leadership from the University of Virginia. He holds several California certificates including the POST Management Certificate and the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society Leadership Development Program. Fish is a graduate of the POST Executive Development Course and Command College, the LAPD West Point Leadership Program and the FBI National Academy session #263.


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