INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC SAFETY ASSOCIATIONTogether we are stronger
Corporate Sponsorship Donate Newsletters Store Nominations & Elections
IPSA's 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.
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. The outbreak first started in China, but cases have been identified in a growing number of other areas, including the United States, per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC has released information on several aspects of COVID-19. Examples include:
These are free resources available to the emergency responder community. We highly encourage you to read and share them with your departments, colleagues and social media.
By Sarah Guenette, IPSA Mental Health Committee Member and Learning & Development Manager, CCS Safety Champion, Calgary Community Standards
A strong support network is critical for first responders to maintain good mental health. Spouses/partners play a key role in this. Spouses are likely to notice early warning signs that their loved one is possibly struggling with a mental health issue, organizational stress, or cumulative stress symptoms such as burnout, compassion fatigue or morale injury. For spouses to be aware of potential warning signs first responder couples should establish effective communication techniques built on trust, honesty and respect.
The nature of first responder work and the culture that goes with it tends to isolate its members. They are often unable or unwilling to share details of their work with their spouse. This is due to the requirement for confidentiality, but also the desire not to inflict vicarious trauma on their loved ones. It can be challenging for the partner at home to know that their spouse has another life when they put on their uniform. Spouses must accept this fact and learn techniques to manage any resentment or mistrust that comes with it.
To cope with this, it’s helpful to get to know the other supportive people in the first responder’s life – spouses should get to know their first responder’s partner and attend functions such as Christmas parties to get to know teammates and supervisors. The first responder should encourage this. Knowing the other members in a spouse’s support network will help to build the trust.
After a busy shift or following a stressful event, first responders often require some time alone to decompress when they get home. Due to the separation between their work life and their home life, it can be challenging for them to quickly move out of the first responder mindset and into the husband/wife/father/mother mindset. Until they have made that shift into their “at home” roles, conversation will be unproductive and potentially lead to conflict.
However, the first responder needs to understand that their spouse and family need them, and they cannot isolate themselves at the expense of that. It is a good strategy to set a time limit for decompression time and let the spouse know how long is needed (ex., “I just need 20 mins and then I’ll be back”). The spouse then knows that they will have an opportunity to reconnect and talk after the first responder has destressed from the events of their shift.
An early warning sign of potential stress problems is too much isolation. If a first responder is distancing themselves from their spouse, family and friends on a regular basis or for long periods, the spouse should talk to them and, if applicable, seek advice on how to handle the situation. Spouses might suggest accessing support services offered by the agency such as peer support, chaplaincy or psychological services. These services are also often available to family so couples should research what their specific agency offers.
First responders are trained to keep their emotions in check and will sometimes resist opening to their spouse for fear of losing control or showing weakness. This can lead to unhealthy coping techniques such as distancing/social isolation, alcohol use or drug use. First and foremost it is important for them to know that showing emotions and opening up to their spouse is safe. The spouse should reassure them that it is a safe place where they will not be judged and that they will support and advocate for them.
Active listening is a skill that should be practiced by both the first responder and the spouse to ensure there is open and respectful communication. Without active listening a person can quickly start to feel undervalued and start keeping things to themselves.
It is important to note that when a first responder is in a decompression phase, they probably won’t be able to actively listen. They need to be fully focused and engaged in the conversation. Trying to get them to actively listen before they are ready will prove frustrating for the spouse.
Active listening is not just hearing what the person is saying but focusing on what they are saying. When a first responder opens to a spouse there are four areas that the spouse should be concentrating on:
Active listening can also entail asking clarifying questions and summarizing back to the speaker what they said to ensure it was heard correctly.
Empathy and appreciation
Empathy and intentional appreciation are critical in any relationship. Making these a priority contributes to strong communication. Each person in the relationship needs to feel that they are valued for what they contribute.
Since first responders work shift work and need time to decompress, spouses may feel resentful that they are “doing nothing” while the spouse has been managing the home and family alone during the shift rotation. As mentioned above, an understanding of the need for decompression time is important as is establishing limits on it. Likewise, the first responder needs to have an appreciation and empathize with their spouse who has stressors in their role too.
If the first responder is never contributing that could be an early warning sign and should be discussed, especially if they are sleeping a lot and appear to be lethargic or have stopped taking an interest in activities they previously enjoyed.
Critical incidents, crisis stress response and occupational stress injuries can all affect a first responder. Spouses should take the time to research the stressors of first responder life and be attuned to early warning signs. First responders too should try to be self-aware and let someone know if they are concerned about themselves.
Critical incident stress is “A state of cognitive, physical, emotional and behavioral arousal that accompanies the crisis reaction…If not managed and resolved appropriately, either by oneself or with assistance, it may lead to several psychological disorders”. First responders may take a while to talk about a critical incident. It’s important for those around them to be patient and be on the lookout for warning signs (increased alcohol use, lethargy, social isolation, hypervigilance).
It is recommended to take a three-step approach to deal with any critical stress symptoms:
There is no relationship more impactful to one’s mental health than that with a spouse. Given the stressors of the job, first responder marriages can be challenging. Having strong and respectful communication strategies is key to ensuring that the first responder and spouse are both willing to be open about stressors they are encountering and be committed to staying mentally healthy together. Spouses need to be aware of first responder culture and the specific stress responses inherent in it. Understanding can prevent resentment and frustration and help them to be proactive in supporting their loved one.
Most importantly, if a first responder is struggling with stress, addiction or another form of mental health concern, they must feel comfortable to talk about it. The spouse is the main source of support in accessing additional resources. Investing time in forging strong communication skills, trust and appreciation is the best investment that can be made to create a lasting and loving first responder relationship.
Sarah Guenette, M.A., is the Learning & Development Manager for Calgary Community Standards. Sarah has a background in 9-1-1 and was a call evaluator, dispatcher and operations manager for over 10 years. She has overseen the Psychological Health and Safety portfolio for Calgary Community Standards since 2013 and is passionate about creating and maintaining a healthy workplace for employees. Sarah is also a proud first responder spouse to a Calgary Police Service Officer.
IPSA Infographic: Support for First Responder Spouses
IPSA Infographic: Staying Healthy Together in First Responder Couples
Webinar: Your Strength Keeps You Safe
Webinar: Heroes are Human Too - Depression, PTSD & Suicide
Webinar: Fighting addiction in EMS/Healthcare
By Brendalyn Val Bilotti, IPSA TEMS Committee Member
Tactical Medicine is a rapidly growing area in law enforcement. This focus on advanced pre-hospital medicine in a tactical or austere environment is the result of the current risks associated with law enforcement activities and the ever-growing war on terrorism. Furthermore, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has released the “2017 Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted” report online. This report states that 60,211 officers assaulted while performing their duties. They also reported that 46 law enforcement officers were feloniously killed in the line of duty, as well as an additional 47 law enforcement officers died as the result of accidents that occurred in the line of duty.
As TEMS (Tactical Emergency Medical Support) has grown in popularity, so have the number of programs offering instruction for this specialty. The challenge has been in the varied ways these programs are conducted. With a lack of a nationwide standardized competency-based program, such as is used with Pre-Hospital Trauma Life Support (PHTLS), the programs that do exist are producing a wide range of understanding, capabilities, and expectations of performance.
An individual who has completed a Tactical Medicine training program may or may not be competent to perform any number of medical procedures. Issues such as licensure, state and county laws, and the broad background that TEMS operators come from, beginning at the certified First Responder, including licensed personnel such as EMT's, paramedics and nurses, and ending by encompassing the physician level make the solutions complex. Currently, a certificate is not a validation of competence. It is this gap that should be addressed and with current movements toward standardization. In the article “Tactical Medicine-Competency-Based Guidelines” the framework to develop a standardized program is outlined.
“Licensed vs. non-licensed."
One of the most challenging areas of establishing consistent delivery of TEMS resources is the significant variation that TEMS providers come from. Due to the nature of the physical demands of the tactical environment as well as the increased risk to the provider, TEMS providers are almost always volunteers. They are physicians, physician assistants, nurses, paramedics and EMT's. The problem arises not just in their scope of practice and what they can do, but also the autonomy with which they are able to provide this support. A physician may act independently, but a nurse and physician's assistant need to operate under the auspices of a physician. Paramedics and EMT's can only provide care within the state guidelines, and must also be certified by the local county to provide this care.
Given the variation in what care is provided, the questions that individual departments need to ask include:
1. What competencies are required of each TEMS operator?
The basis for most trauma care is adapted or adopted from The Committee on Tactical Combat Casualty Care, and The Committee on Emergency Casualty Care outlines the best practices for trauma care in a tactical environment. It is not all inclusive of all the needs of a law enforcement operation. In addition, the California Emergency Medical Services Agency (CAEMSA) and Police Officer Standardized Training (POST) have released a collaborative “Guidelines for Tactical Medicine.” It is from this position a course can be developed for all deputies, and from that course, advanced courses can quickly grow.
2. Medical equipment should each operator carry?
As in any job, the tools you take with you dictate how much one can accomplish while completing the job assigned to you. To have impractical tools, impractical tools or the wrong tools not only inhibit but impedes mission completion. Therefore, deciding what tools a TEMS operator carries indicates how independent they are and how effective they are while providing medical care. Equipment including tourniquets, chemical hemorrhagic control agents, pressure dressing and airway support equipment all need to be evaluated.
3. How often should each TEMS operator be required to perform these skills in a training environment?
Professional licenses and certifications have to be renewed every 2-6 years, depending on a provider’s level of training and licensure. No standard currently exists for tactical medicine. It is well documented that skill degradation occurs without practice, and this area needs to be addressed. Insight for this can be garnered from air ambulance programs, which have a broad scope of practice and regimented training schedules. This would include a focus on the non-medically trained patrol officer who is on the front line of any law enforcement activity, from a traffic stop to those whose job puts them at greatest threat, such as Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) or Special Response Unit (SRU).
Licensed professionals have a scope of practice defined and often limited by the licensing body. Example are the American Medical Association (AMA), California Board of Registered Nursing (BRN), and the CAEMSA as defined by Title 22 of the State of California, as well as the First Responder course which is a non-licensed certification whose scope of practice is defined by the United States Department of Transportation (DOT).
These licensing and certification bodies have standards of practice, assessments, procedures and tests that each level of licensure is required to prove competence in through written and skills testing — providing certification at each level: Tactical Emergency Medical Support (TEMS; for a contracted and trained EMT/paramedic/nurse, providing care under fire in the hot zone) and the Tactical Medical Doctor (TMD; for the physician serving as the tactical team's medical director and medical team leader). With these different and well-defined levels of care, both the tactical team leader, the medical team leader and all tactical team members have clear expectations of services provided at each level, thereby furthering legitimization of the TEMS and TMD providers and their integration into the tactical program and environment.
When inquires have been made of law enforcement officers regarding the tactical medicine courses they have taken, one similar concern was voiced: programs seemed to be often geared toward medical personnel with no law enforcement or military background, and not toward experienced law enforcement officers. This subtle yet profound difference means that many program's curricula included topics such as weapons, tactics and range time. Officers stated they did not need nor want these topics because these were covered in their academies, SWAT schools and were governed by their specific agency's policies. Some programs did not delineate between licensed and not licensed students, and students attended classes in skills that they could never use.
Suggestions included the following:
The suggestions listed above provide a useful framework for creating a Tactical Medicine Program for law enforcement.
On a micro-level, this provides the law enforcement community an alternative to the currently available method of having an ambulance on standby unavailable to provide immediate casualty care, thereby delaying care to wounded officers, civilians or suspects.
On a global scale, this type of program provides incredibly valuable alternatives to current training programs that are tactical and weapons focused in training, and further providing a medically focused and competency-based program, as opposed to one based only in theory or one that his focused on licensed personnel with an advanced scope of practice. It is essential to convey the importance of offering a quality standard based curriculum that includes a specific performance-based standard that is divided by the performance level of function.
The publication concluded with several additional recommendations. The following is a summary of several of the key recommendations provided for law enforcement:
The information in the publication was comprehensive and covered a breadth of information. This article covers just a few of the specific decisions that each agency must make. Just like corporate culture, each agency defines the roles and responsibilities of its officers, as well as expectations of basic training standards and operational expectation.
The information provided in this article is intended as a starting point for law enforcement and medical leaders to develop a collaborative, proactive and problem-solving approach to combat future knowledge deficits and ensure a well-trained and well equipped first line of defense.
This basic outline provides a solid starting point for developing a tactical medical program. As this program becomes developed and the instructor cadre solidifies a program can be expanded to teach all law enforcement self-aid and buddy aid. These skills reduce the severity and long-term impact of the line of duty injuries.
It is from this launching point that a program can be used to develop a program. With slight modification, it can be offered to other affiliated public safety agencies, such as fire departments, the county contracted ambulance provider. A program is unique in the provision of medical care in the tactical environment geared towards experienced law enforcement officers and experienced medical providers.
Brendalyn "Val" Bilotti directs training operations as the Alameda County POST MASTER Instructor including training needs assessments for 3K public officials, curriculum design, review and consulting, and ensuring regulatory compliance. Some of her key accomplishments include: Served as a Chair for the California Tactical EMS Advisory Subcommittee, Command Staff on search assignment, and the URBAN SHIELD Medical Branch Chief responsible for the oversight, care, treatment & transport of 250 SWAT officers; conducted site risk assessments to project medical needs in a large-scale Homeland Security/Disaster exercise for 280 participants across 792 miles and 7 countries achieving 99.5% success in providing all medical care onsite; and established a competency-based Tactical Medical Program for Law Enforcement officers including tourniquet training to prevent death by extremity hemorrhage achieving 98% successful placement on all extremities within 20 seconds.
California Tactical Casualty Care Training Guidelines (2017)
IPSA InfoBrief: TECC v TCCC
IPSA InfoBrief: Legal Aspects of Tactical Emergency Medical Support
Webinar: K9 Tactical Emergency Medical Support
Webinar: TEMS 101 - What you need to know to get a program started
Webinar: TEMS - Remote Surrogate Medical Care
By Mike O’Shea, Program Manager, Safety and Integration Division, Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office, Federal Aviation Administration and IPSA September Symposium Presenter
Drones are reinventing industries, creating new ones and bringing benefits to public safety agencies who are increasingly using them to support their mission. This technology tool can significantly advance and support search and rescue, fire and crash investigations, and other dangerous situations where airborne situational awareness can decrease hazard risks to public safety personnel and the people they serve.
Drones are not toys. They are, by law, ‘aircraft’ and their use requires that public safety agencies know the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), state and local regulations, laws and statutes governing their use.
The presentation at the IPSA’s Natural and Man-Made Disaster Recovery Symposium this September 18 and 19 in Washington D.C. will provide the International Public Safety Association (IPSA) attendees with key information and FAA resources for public safety agencies that want to operate drones in our nation’s airspace. I will discuss the path to starting a program as well as many important considerations such as community outreach. The presentation will cover the FAA’s safety mission and how that mission impacts our actions and your proposed operations. I’ll cover the pros and cons of operating as a public aircraft operation (PAO Part 91) versus as a civil operator (Part 107) or operating as both.
We will also examine waivers and certificate of authorizations that allow greater uses of drones as long the operator can safely mitigate dangers to manned aircraft and people on the ground.
I’ll also introduce attendees to the FAA’s new Public Safety Small Drone Playbook, a great resource for public safety agencies that deal with possible unlawful drone operations. I’ll provide information that will help connect public agencies with the FAA’s Law Enforcement Assistance Program (LEAP) which is an incredibly useful field resource. Lastly, there will be time for participants to ask their specific questions regarding operating a drone in the national airspace.
Agencies operating a drone, starting a drone program, or are just curious as to if this technology might be a future direction for their agency, should attend this presentation.
Michael O’Shea is a Program Manager for the FAA’s UAS Integration Office’s, Safety & Integration Division where he serves as liaison, facilitator and resource for both public and civil unmanned aircraft integration efforts.
Before joining the UAS Integration Office, Mr. O’Shea was a program manager in the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office of Science and Technology for 17 years where he managed the law enforcement aviation technologies program. As part of his duties at DOJ Mr. O’Shea sat on the Small UAS and Remote Tracking/ID Aviation Rule Making Committees. Prior to working at DOJ, Mr. O’Shea spent almost 15 years as a uniformed law enforcement officer.
Mr. O’Shea is a graduate of Baker University (Kansas) with a degree in Business and Marketing. Mr. O’Shea holds a FAA Light-Sport Pilot Certificate (Fixed Wing, Gyroplanes and Powered Parachutes) and a Remote Pilot Certificate.
Register to Attend
Register to Exhibit
By Lauri Stevens, LAwS Communications and IPSA September Symposium Presenter and IPSA Board Member Chris Butler
International Public Safety Association Board member Chris Butler spoke with Lauri Stevens from LAwS Communications about her upcoming presentation at the IPSA’s Natural and Man-Made Disaster Recovery Symposium this September 18 and 19 in Washington D.C.
Stevens will be leading a panel of experts in a discussion about communications strategies for public safety agencies following a major incident, whether planned or unplanned. Butler asked Stevens a series of questions about the critical communication issues and her responses are presented here as a preview of the exceptional presentation that will take place at the IPSA’s event this September.
Q: Lauri, so you have a lot of experience in critical communications strategies following major incidents. Why do you feel this is such a vital topic for organizations to understand?
First responders seem to train, strategize and plan for handling incidents constantly. However, it seems this doesn’t always include a communications strategy. If they do have a communications strategy, the social media component is not comprehensive in terms of response, engagement and management.
Ideally, organizations should include social media simulations in their events training and have templated messaging formulated. Additionally, they’ve created an operational team includes members of their own organization and members of other sister organizations with whom they need to coordinate communications (especially social media) during an event.
Q: When you think about some of the incidents you have been involved in, what are some of the key concepts of communication strategies that the panel address?
We all want to learn from others and learn from our own experiences. Not all our discussion will be about successes, but also the mistakes that were made.
Our goal for the panel will be for it to be interactive with the audience. I can always lead a discussion, but we want the audience participants to ask their own questions and be part of the discussion.
In addition to strategy, other key concepts will be messaging development and consistency, inter-organizational cooperation, importance of engagement even if you have nothing to say and monitoring for situational awareness.
Q: I'm sure you have witnessed the full range of communication strategies after major incidents - from great to extremely poor. In your experience what are some of the consistent communication errors that agencies make?
Time and time again the mistakes fall into the following buckets: Not using social media until something happens; having no plan; no policy and not engaging.
Q: What are your objectives for the panel discussion? In other words, what 'take aways' are you hoping the attendees leave with that will create positive changes in their own agencies when they go back?
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, organizations all need to take social media more seriously.
I can’t think of any other thing that can destroy you if handled poorly. On the flipside, if handled well, social media can save lives and property and make your organization look stellar.
And yet, hopefully the attendees will also see that even if they do all the above well, we have a long way to go to fully realize the depth of what can be achieved with expert use of social media and open source technologies.
Lauri Stevens is the principal consultant and founder of LAwS Communications. Lauri is also the creator and producer of the SMILE Conference® and the creator of the ConnectedCOPS™ blog and social media awards program; as well as the Global Police Tweet-a-thon. She is an interactive media professional with over 25 years of media experience, including 12 years in higher education as a Department Chair of Interactive Media and 14 years as a radio and television journalist prior to that.
Chris Butler is a member of the International Public Safety Association’s Board of Directors. He is a 34-year law enforcement veteran and recently retired as the Inspector of the Major Event and Emergency Management Section of the Calgary Police Service in Calgary, Alberta, Canada; an agency of over 2,200 sworn officers policing approximately 1.2 million people.
Sepsis is the body’s extreme response to an infection and is a life-threatening medical emergency. With sepsis starting outside the hospital in 80% of cases, first responders like Emergency Medical Service (EMS) personnel are often the first medical providers to see patients with sepsis. Prompt action by EMS personnel is critical and can increase a patient’s chances of survival.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released an EMS card for sepsis to remind first responders of the signs and symptoms of sepsis and to gather critical medical information to communicate to hospital healthcare professionals upon arrival.
Additional sepsis resources for care providers and families can be found here: https://www.cdc.gov/sepsis/index.html
Editor’s Note: Article reprinted from EMS Week 2019 publication. Please find out more about EMS Week at emsstrong.org
“It started as a way for me to cope, process and purge some of the bad calls I attended,” explains artist Daniel Sundahl. Five years ago, firefighter and advanced care paramedic for the City of Leduc (Alberta, Canada), Sundahl turned to art as a way to manage his own on-the-job stress. “Each image is based on an actual call I attended,” explains Sundahl. “I stage the photo, capture the image then digitally draw and paint over that digital photo, recreating more of how I felt during that call rather than what I saw.”
Daniel Sundahl’s art helps to ease the mental health challenges of first responders. (Photo/Daniel Sundahl)
Sundahl never realized how much his blend of photography and graphic art would inspire other first responders. “It was never my intention to share the images initially,” he says. “I thought for sure I would receive negative feedback from my peers for showing our profession in a such a vulnerable condition.”
On the contrary, his thought-provoking and sometimes haunting artwork has been celebrated throughout the EMS community. He has become a popular speaker at EMS events, has been featured in publications throughout the United States and Canada and has published two books of his work. “The positive response I received once I shared those first images was overwhelming; I never imagined others would attach their own experiences to my artwork.”
What started as an outlet to express his own personal experiences with occupational stress injuries and post-traumatic growth has turned into a passion for exposing PTSD and easing the mental health challenges faced by first responders.
Says Sundahl, “It’s been very therapeutic for me because the response I get every day tells me I’m not alone in the way I sometimes feel about my work as a paramedic and firefighter.”
Find out more about Daniel Sundahl at dansunphotos.com.
By Phil Raum, Maryland Emergency Response System and IPSA UAS Committee Member
The goal of creating a drone program is to create a deployable sUAS capability to meet the agency’s mission requirements. Generally, building a capability requires several tasks associated with planning, organizing, equipping, training, and exercising. Just buying equipment does not necessarily give an agency a deployable capability. There are usually policy and training issues that need to be addressed with the purchase of equipment, and sUAS equipment is no exception.
Here are 10 tips to assist an agency in developing a legally deployable drone capability.
1. Define objectives and outcomes. Clearly define the outcomes the agency wants to achieve with the sUAS capability, such as:
3. Comply with all legal requirements. Ensure that the agency complies with all federal, state, and local laws, regulations, and case law.
4. Identify risks and mitigation strategies. Identify risks associated with developing and deploying this this capability and the strategies to mitigate those risks, such as:
5. Develop a realistic budget. Ensure that the agency’s budget addresses all the expenses associated with developing a deployable capability. There is a significant risk that equipment will be damaged or destroyed during training and/or deployments.
6. Consider building the sUAS capability in phases.
7. Ensure all the right people, disciplines and agencies are involved. Ensure that all the appropriate personnel, disciplines, and agencies that should be involved in the development of the sUAS capability are, in fact, involved and can weigh in on that process.
8. Buy the right stuff appropriate for the agency’s mission. Ensure that the agency purchases equipment and software that will accomplish the mission of the sUAS program. Do the research and talk to the people who have already developed a sUAS capability.
9. Operators need the right training. sUAS Operators need to be very familiar with the legal and regulatory requirements, as well as the safe operation of the vehicles.
10. Agencies need to exercise this capability. Agencies should ensure that drone operators maintain and enhance their flight capability through real-world deployments and exercises. Additionally, command staff and others in decision-making roles should participate in exercises to test, develop, and enhance the agency’s sUAS capability.
By Jessica Dockstader, IPSA Mental Health Committee Member
Police officers experience traumatic events throughout their career called critical incidents. A study conducted by Chopko, Palmieri and Adams (2015) found that on average, law enforcement officers experience 188 critical incidents in the course of their career. In response to critical incidents, officers can develop negative coping mechanisms, experience symptoms of and/or develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and develop other co-occurring psychopathological disorders. Additionally, factors such as organizational stress, stigma surrounding mental health within the department, a lack of mental health literacy on the part of the officer, and a lack of leadership surrounding mental health in the department can also lead to an officer developing PTSD and/or using poor coping mechanisms.
Officers suffering from PTSD or PTSD-like symptoms have a higher likelihood of exhibiting violent tendencies towards the community and themselves; this is in part due to patterns such as “death imprint” and “desensitization” commonly displayed by individuals suffering from PTSD (James & Gilliland, 2017). Furthermore, the characteristics of PTSD such as hypervigilance and reliving memories can cause officers to become violent towards themselves and the community. Law enforcement departments must adopt best practices and policies relating to officer mental health to in turn address police violence—thereby reducing officer suicides and preventing traumatized officers from causing harm to the communities they serve.
Trauma and policing
Police violence in the United States may be significantly influenced by unaddressed trauma. Police officers experience trauma on a daily basis during critical incidents which “frequently involve perceptions of death, threat to life, or involve bodily injury” (Digliani, 2012). In addition, studies have found that law enforcement officers under-utilize available psychological services (Spence, 2017). As a result, officers’ ability to distinguish real from perceived threats may be impaired, causing an overreaction in situations involving threat (Lancaster, Cobb, Telch & Lee. 2016). Officers may legitimately “fear for their lives”, as they often assert after a use of force, but their fear response may originate from a history of untreated trauma related to cumulative post-traumatic stress disorder, and lack of coping skills rather than an actual threat (Beshears, 2017).
The trauma that police officers face on a daily basis during critical incidents, coupled with their lack of or under utility of mental and emotional health training leads officers to be less efficient (Spence, 2017) and have high rates of suicide (Heyman, Dill & Douglas, 2018). One historical reason for the under usage of job-related psychological services by law enforcement officers of all ranks is fear of reprisal and creating barriers to promotion (Spence, 2017). Studies have illustrated that individuals struggling with psychological trauma and post-traumatic stress symptoms are more prone to violence (Gillikin, Habib, Evces, Bradley, Ressler & Sanders, 2016; Kivisto, Moore, Elkins & Rhatigan, 2009; Heyman et al. 2018). Therefore, a lack of adequate care and training leads to a more violence-prone police force patrolling our streets.
Ignorance and dismissal
Factors contributing to the ignorance and dismissal of the mental health crisis in law enforcement stems from mental health stigmas held across the United States and within the law enforcement community (Spence, 2017). Other contributing factors are the unwillingness to establish a mental health baseline in currently operating officers based on the fear that some of them are unfit to serve and the polarization between the police and the community which leads each side unwilling to admit any fault.
The challenge lies in establishing that police officers are, like all human beings, in fact affected by trauma without implying they are unable to do their jobs. It is imperative to impress upon the law enforcement community that their officers might be suffering from post-traumatic stress which in turn impacts the way they do their job. This impairment is a public health concern to the officers and the communities they serve.
In the current age of polarization, many officers are apprehensive that community members will point to the proven trauma an officer experiences as a reason they either should not be on the job, or why the community member should receive compensation in a civil suit as a form of justice. Fear is present among both sides of this equation, with the officers and the community, leaving the problem of trauma-impaired law enforcement officers to be relatively unexplored. Researchers must determine if prolonged exposure to traumatic events throughout a law enforcement professional’s career, which is proven to increase aggression and violence, can be offset by mental and emotional health training at the beginning and throughout said law enforcement professional’s career.
Below are key recommendations for law enforcement agencies and researchers.
Law enforcement recommendations
Centralize Mental Health Resources: Develop an area within the department where all resources available for officer mental health and wellness are centralized and can be easily accessed. This will simultaneously accomplish two goals: reducing the stigma of receiving help and ensuring every officer knows where to go if and when they are seeking out help.
Partner with Mental Health Organizations: Partner with mental health organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and/or former law enforcement officers who have experienced and overcome mental health issues to deliver presentations to officers on how to recognize signs of mental illness within themselves.
Collect Data on Officer Suicides: Begin to collect data on the suicide rate of officers from the department, and contribute to the new data platform, a partnership between the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance and the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention.
Prepare Lateral Transfers for Critical Incidents: Lateral transfers coming from a smaller department to a larger one may be more severely impacted by critical incidents (Chopko et al. 2015). Ensure these officers are receiving appropriate training and assistance as they integrate into the department.
Recognize the Impacts of Understaffing on Officers: During the ongoing nationwide staffing shortage, it is important to emphasize mental health awareness and self-care for officers. Copenhaver and Tewksbury (2018) found that officers were 28.4% more likely to seek help for symptoms related to mental illness when they had received an extra hour of sleep; thus, it is imperative to better understand the impact of shift work and sleep deprivation on officers.
Improve the Organizational Culture: Research has shown that organizational stressors have an equal or greater impact on law enforcement officers than critical incidents (Shane, 2010). Bring in an organizational consultant to assess and address issues which could be negatively impacting the department.
Establish Partnerships with Research Organizations: Partner with local and/or national research organizations to integrate evidence-based practices in the department. Without coordinating these partnerships, the department, officers, and communities you serve have the potential to be negatively impacted.
Conduct Research inside Departments: Develop relationships with law enforcement departments, so as to conduct research with their officers to determine their level of mental health literacy, attitudes towards mental health treatment, and to begin to determine how many officers are struggling with PTSD and PTSD related symptoms.
Develop Safety Protocols for Officers: Law enforcement officers have a large fear of being “de-gunned”. At the same time, having their weapon can be a risk to them while suffering from PTSD. Researchers and counselors must work with law enforcement departments to create special safety plans to address an officer’s access to lethal means while placating their fear of not being able to work.
Educate Departments on Evidence-Based Practices: Law enforcement departments have been utilizing Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) despite the fact that it has not been found to accomplish what it claims to (Mitchell, n.d.). Researchers must develop partnerships with law enforcement departments to routinely update them on the latest evidence-based practices, to ensure a robust flow of knowledge surrounding best practices in the field of law enforcement.
About the Author
Jessica Dockstader is an M.A. Candidate at the University of San Diego, and earned her B.A. in Human Development with a concentration in Counseling Services from California State University San Marcos. She is currently completing her Master’s capstone on mental health in law enforcement, and has worked in the field of police-community relations in San Diego for a year and a half. She also serves as a member of the IPSA Mental Health Committee. firstname.lastname@example.org
By Kevin Aries, Leader, Product Management, Product Success
Public and private organizations that operate fleets are facing growing challenges, from regulatory compliance to rising fuel consumption and a burgeoning driver shortage. Vehicle-dependent agencies are trying to identify technologies to address these roadblocks and streamline operations as budget constraints add stress on their resources.
Due to the sheer number of vehicles at their disposal and the number of citizens they serve, public safety fleets, in particular, will see the coming years bring with them a number of challenges that only modern technology can help them overcome. Some of these include:
A scalable and robust fleet management technology can help public safety fleets of any size rise to these challenges and also help them prepare for future issues.
GPS tracking helps keep your fleet journey smooth
Government Fleet’s 2018 benchmarking report shows that advanced technology ranks second among respondents’ top concerns, and about three-quarters have implemented telematics in at least some of their vehicles. Training needs, an aged fleet/replacement budgeting, recruitment, and data management round out the rest of the top five concerns.
A comprehensive GPS fleet management solution with a centralized dashboard can help public safety fleets address these top concerns as well as increase asset visibility for improved utilization and greater overall productivity, such as:
From smart dashboards to driver education tools, GPS tracking can dramatically improve fleet management and ROI. Public safety officials can use smart dashboards and driver education tools available through GPS tracking solutions to address the issues that are most critical to efficient and successful fleet operations.
Preventative maintenance. According to Government Fleet’s report, “vehicle age has increased across every class compared to statistics from last year (which averaged 2014–2016 data).” In addition, maintenance cost per mile has gone up for almost all vehicle types part of their survey. The ability to proactively schedule preventative maintenance will be key in making advances in reducing vehicle downtime (especially unexpected), including vehicle alerts and insight into vehicle diagnostics (odometer mileage, engine miles and diagnostic codes).
Vehicle Utilization. Forty-four percent of respondents to the Government Fleet survey indicated flat or reduced budgets, despite cost increases in fuel, pars and oil, and technology. For these fleets, the ability to do more with the vehicles and assets already owned will be critical. GPS tracking provides data visibility into vehicles status and availability to help managers identify underused vehicles and reallocate them accordingly.
Mitigate liability claims. OSHA’s Guidelines for Employers to Reduce Motor Vehicle Crashes, an on-the-job crash resulting in employee injury costs an average of $74,000 to the employer. In addition to providing historical data for use in the case of litigation, GPS tracking can provide data on driving behavior and vehicle use to help negotiate reduced premiums or discounts with insurance companies. Telematics provides access to data to verify vehicle location and speed and in turn mitigate the potential of costly claims.
Safe driving behavior. Training is the top concern for Government Fleet’s survey respondents, and encouraging safe driving behavior is a part of that challenge. Though GPS tracking cannot automate and ensure safety, the data it provides can equip you to more effectively coach your employees for increased chances of improvement. Administrators and management can use reports and alerts on vehicle speed and harsh driving events to coach drivers on safe driving behaviors.
Idling. Idling is a major source of fuel waste, leading to wasted money. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that 6 billion gallons of diesel fuel and gasoline are wasted by idling vehicles. The few minutes an engine is left running, whether during a lunch break or for a “quick” task is being completed, add up to significant costs for fleets. Fuel is one of the most tangible and fast areas to see the financial benefits of improved habits, and with GPS tracking, managers can take steps toward reducing idle time and understand idling patterns in order to reduce those costs.
Routing. In addition to reducing idling, optimized routes using a GPS tracking solution is a key area where fuel waste can be addressed for a reduction in expenses. Another valuable use for the routing capability is the ability to know vehicle locations and efficiently deploy vehicles in an emergency or time-sensitive circumstance.
Case Study: Snohomish County Improves Officer Safety
Law enforcement comes with inherent risks. Officers face a lot of different dangers while on the job, but statistics show that the majority of officer fatalities (over 35%) are caused by car accidents, and almost half involved unbelted officers.
A major aim of the Snohomish County, WA, Below 100 Program is to address these and other leading causes of officer deaths. The program focuses on five tenets that promote key ways to encourage officer safety, two of which relate particularly to safe driving and can be managed using Verizon Connect telematics software:
The Under 100 Program took on special meaning for Undersheriff Rob Beidler of the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office while undertaking specialized training at the FBI's National Academy in Quantico, VA. A presentation by Kim Schlau, a mother of two daughters killed by a state trooper's reckless driving, really made an impact, underscoring the importance of actively managing office safety behind the wheel.
“I realized that my positional authority as Snohomish County's under- sheriff obligated me to ensure that my people make it home every night. Safety is paramount,” he said.
In addition to cost savings in several obvious areas, including fuel and maintenance, the county was able to see a reduction in expenses resulting from collisions and litigation. Vehicle collisions during 2015 cost the county $151,171 in medical and legal expenses and lost work hours and wages plus $2.3 million in litigation expenses. "We'd like to use those extra funds to hire more deputies," said Undersheriff Beidler.
Watch their story at verizonconnect.com.
Kevin Aries leads Global Product Success for Verizon Connect, helping build software solutions that optimize the way people, vehicles and things move through the world. Working predominantly with field service businesses, Kevin spends his time understanding the problems and solutions of the service industry to improve customer experience.
How tech can empower next-gen police fleets
Copyright 2020. International Public Safety Association, a 501(c)3 non-profit. Contact us.