Police deal with trauma on a daily basis, which is not systematically addressed. In the larger discussions about police reform, attention to the well-being of the officers is not mentioned. This neglect can lead to police officers being stressed and disillusioned, which affects their decision-making and mental health in a vicious cycle. This discussion will look at the current state of affairs and possible solutions. November, 2021.
Speaker 1: Hi, everybody, I'm excited to introduce this panel on trauma-informed policing. I think it's a hugely important topic, obviously, just because it's intrinsically important. We're talking here about the lives and the well-being of hundreds of thousands of public servants in the country, but also 'cause I think it represents a really important and different way of thinking about the problems of policing today, and some of the possibilities of police reform. First of all, when we think about what's broken about our approach to policing in this country, we often focus on the impact that policing has on people in the community who are the objects of policing, and obviously, that's really important, but we also need to focus on the way our system of policing affects police officers themselves. The job of policing is hard. It can take a huge toll on a lot of officers, and when it does that, that in turn can have a big impact on the way that police do their jobs in the community. Police make life or death decisions. They get called to resolve crises and conflicts that have reached a boiling point.
Speaker 1: They see us in our most vulnerable moments when we're victims, when we're scared, when we're in distress. It's never easy to manage those kinds of difficult situations in a graceful and professional way, but if you are sleep-deprived and emotionally spent and struggling with your own mental health challenges, it can be almost impossible. Police work doesn't have to happen under those conditions, and the fact that it does is a failure of public policy and a failure of police management. This is the kind of issue that should be able to unite people. It doesn't pit the community against the police, and this kind of stalemate that we sometimes see in police reform.
S1: It's about meeting the needs of police officers and community members more effectively, recognizing that in some cases, they're both victims of the way we've organized our systems of policing in this country, and that fixing that system can benefit everybody. The second way in which I think this topic represents a different way of thinking about police reform is equally important. In policing and lots of other areas of public policy, we get really fixated... We have been really fixated, for many years, on accountability as the key tool of reform, and that's important, accountability is important. But a one-sided focus on accountability can have a destructive impact on an organization's climate. It makes employees feel defensive and alienated from their organizations. Even when they're not doing anything wrong, they experience the accountability systems as kind of suspicious, and constraining, and hostile, and demoralizing. Successful organizations don't just treat their workers as unruly children who need to be controlled, at least sometimes they also treat them as committed, but imperfect and limited people who need to be supported, who need to be provided with the tools and the skills and the services that they need to do their jobs well.
S1: The mental health support that we're gonna be talking about today is one really important example of that. It illustrates this really useful shift of thinking about in the police reform space, away from the question of just how can we punish cops who aren't doing what they want them to do towards an equally important question, which is how can we give cops the support that they need to succeed, to serve the community better, or make more just decisions in difficult circumstances and show more empathy for the people they interact with. So I'm really excited to hear from the panelists about the details of how we can do that, and so I'm gonna turn things over to Daicia to get that conversation started.
Daicia Price: Thank you, David. And welcome everyone to this talk about trauma-informed policing. I had the privilege of being able to moderate the panel, and we have three amazing people that will be talking a little bit about the work that they do and looking at looking at it from a unique lens. So again, my name is Daicia Price, I use the pronouns, she, her and hers. I am a clinical faculty member at the University of Michigan in the School of Social Work, and have had the pleasure of providing training to law enforcement officers across the state. So if we could welcome in Alyshia Dyer, and Jeff Carek, and Leah Mills-Chapman, our distinguished guests this afternoon, and we're just gonna jump right into it, everyone, because we only have one hour, and we wanna make sure that guests can answer your questions as they come up for them while they're watching, but if you all can start with introducing yourself, if you wanna share your pronouns, you can do that as well, but we wanna know what is your role, so what do you do and tell us why you do it. So Alyshia, can you get us started?
Alyshia Dyer: Yes, thank you Daicia. My name is Alyshia Dyer, I go by she/her. I am a third year student at the University of Michigan studying public policy and social work. My background is in law enforcement. I was a real patrol officer for seven years in the county. And currently, I'm seasonally patrolling the waterways in the county. And why I think that this panel is so important and why I even went back to grad school is when I was working in policing, growing up in Ypsi, I was working in a community that I lived in and that I cared about a lot. And throughout my career, even in the beginning stages, I really thought a lot about mental health and how... I started learning more about trauma and started to then kind of understand how the system is not really set up to value workers inside the system. And if you think about it from the origins of our criminal justice system, this criminal justice system being built in America on slavery and oppression and controlling others, it was not built from a lens of, Let's make sure the people that are working inside it are at their best selves, it was moreso built under a lens of work, work, work. And so instead of being evaluated for passing out stickers or doing foot patrol, you see a lot of managers across the country evaluating officers on arrest and tickets and how productive they are and not necessarily focused on how well they feel.
DP: Thank you, Alyshia. And so Jeff, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Jeff Carek: Hi my name is Jeff Carek. I'm a retired Deputy from Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office, where I served over 25 years in the community as a road patrol deputy, as a narcotics detective, and in various other roles with the agency. I retired six years ago, and just prior to retirement, I was diagnosed with PTSD, depression and anxiety, all which led to the... My big decision to retire when I did. Since retiring, I've worked in several roles in training around the local area at our local police academy, as well as with the international group where we provide systems to help law enforcement train as well as the military. Also, since retiring, I've taken it upon myself to really be the voice of my fellow officers who have a hard time being able to speak out about mental health and about their well-being. The industry, so to speak, I can't think of the word I wanna use currently, but the industry is definitely set up, as Alyshia said, to work, work, work, and it's not set up to take care of the wellness of the officers, and I really believe not being a social worker or clinically, or having an education in that area, that the more mentally healthy our officers are, the better they can actually respond to and do the job, and part of that is being able to step back and evaluate their mental well-being and be able to make the decisions that they need to make in order to get help.
DP: Thank you, Jeff. And thank you for sharing the things you've done post-retirement. And I'm just wondering if you can tell us in a sentence or less like Alyshia shared that she went into law enforcement because she was working in a community that she really cared about. What made you want to be an officer?
JC: That's kind of a trick question for me because it's not something that I had really looked into. While I was at Eastern Michigan University, I was involved in the ROTC program and was a commissioned officer in the United States Army. I didn't serve on active duty, and I really didn't go into my degree area, which is computer-aided design and manufacturing, I kinda slipped and fell into law enforcement, and it seemed to be a good fit, so I stayed with it. I started actually as a seasonal employee, doing what Alyshia is doing now, which is patrolling the waterways of Washtenaw County in the summertime, and I just kind of edged into full-time work there.
DP: Thank you. And I'm sure that that will be probably a part of what our next panelist will be able to align with too, is having lots of different interests, but also being able to find a career that does bring in some of those things that you said, Jeff, about mental health and wellness and being a clinician. So Leah Mills-Chapman can you please introduce yourself?
Leah Mills-Chapman: Yes, thank you so much, Daicia. Good afternoon, everyone. Again, my name is Leah Mills-Chapman. I am a clinical therapist in Washtenaw County, and I have been doing this for over 10 years now, so I'm a little late into the game, but I still feel pretty much well-versed in the area. I would say that a lot of my interest comes from just simply being a woman of color, being an African-American woman and seeing some of the adverse effects of policing on the black community. My earlier time into this career, I had a position, I would say. It was interesting, but a position in a high secure facility with pretty much all black males, and so that began to really, really pique my interest looking at the trauma that they had incurred and a lot of the conversation centered around their engagement or involvement with the carceral system.
LM: So after me kind of leaving that space, I felt a calling, knowing that in social work advocacy is a huge part of what we do, I felt a calling to look at this from both sides, looking at it from the side of the community as well as the side of officer to find out what exactly seems to be the problem. And I think a big piece that was missing as we've been hearing is the mental health aspect of the officers, the lack of diagnosing for the officers, for them to be able to even know what they're dealing with and how their trauma interfaces with the community's trauma, and then we have a huge problem kind of ensuing from there. So that kind of piqued my interest early on with the carceral system and our involvement with mental health and wanting to aid our officers.
DP: Thank you so much. So these are the panelists, everyone, and they have some very unique perspectives that they can offer, but again we want to continue to open it up for people to send in questions as we start our conversation. So for each of you, you all have such a breadth of experience, so I know it might be hard to think about what is the one answer I wanna make sure I can share with people, so I'm gonna try to guide us through starting with what is kind of a typical day in the life of a law enforcement officer, so Alyshia and Jeff, you brought up a little bit about what are some of the impacts and adverse impacts that have impacted you, but can you share a little bit, for everyone, about what is a typical day, when you say work, work, work, what does that look like?
AD: Yeah, I guess I could start. So I would say A, it's not like the movies. I think the media and movies have really kind of led to this public image that we're always running around, lights and sirens, and kicking doors down, and there's really no typical day. Every day is different, every situation is so different, but there's such a varying level of seriousness in the calls that you respond to throughout the day. Summer in Ypsi, getting into shift, you might have a domestic violence come out and then you're going to that. Next thing you know, you're talking to a neighbor that's angry about the other neighbor's dog walking on their lawn, then you could respond to a homicide, and so you're going kind of up and down all day. And I think that was something that I really thought about, and then especially then getting home and trying to sleep, trying to decompress after all of that going on all day, and then even the report writing and a lot of the stress that comes from bureaucracy and administration, trying to deal with that, and then just working a lot of hours. So you might think you're getting off at 8:00 PM, for example, but if a late call comes in, then you might get held over until midnight.
AD: And so just the hardships and how much law enforcement work, and then also you can't really necessarily always plan things outside of law enforcement. If I have plans at 9:00, and I have a late call come in, you have to cancel them. And there are some days that I would work after doing three or four doubles where it's just no sleep, really tired, just feeling... And then you're on different shifts when you get forced to work overtime, so you can't even get a consistent sleep schedule sometimes, and so... Yeah, I'll let Jeff talk too... But that's some of my preliminary thoughts.
JC: So the big thing for me on both ends of the shift was leaving the house and then returning to the house, leaving the house always was the hardest, because you had this drilled into you from the very beginning of your career in the Academy, that this could be the last time that you walk out of the house, and it very well could be. And then when you return to the house, as Alyshia said, you're going up and down all day, so most people go through their lives and they get adrenaline dumps when things happen that stimulate them. A typical police officer's day, there's five to 20 adrenaline dumps in a 8-hour period where you're at a heightened level of sensitivity, and then you come back down to what your baseline normal is, and then you're right back up and then to back down. And so you get home, and it's time to decompress and you try to do the best you can to leave the job... Literally, for me, it was, I left the job in the locker. I took my gun belt off, I took my uniform off, that stuff went in the locker and it stayed there and it didn't travel back and forth to work on me or with me other than to get washed and taken right back to the locker room.
JC: But you're trying to... You've seen things and done things all day, and you try to go home and have a normal day where you pick your child up out of the crib and give them a hug, maybe that happened two hours after you responded to a four-year-old who was run over by an automobile accident, and those types of emotions where you have seen something that is just not normal in anybody's world, and then you have to go back and do normal things. It's very, very hard to turn that off and turn it back on, and that's what you... That's what not only our profession required, but that's what our families required, and that's what I think sometimes society even requires of us, and it's very, very hard to turn that light switch off and on all the time, and you almost... As Alyshia said, you really never leave the job. It's always there.
DP: So I'm gonna actually ask you another question, is that... Leah can [0:17:35.7] ____ that. Is there a policy about taking time to debrief between those difficult calls?
JC: Those generally land on each agency to determine when or whether or not there's going to be some type of crisis mitigation, debriefing. Our agency, for the most part, was really good about it. However, it's generally not mandatory, it's voluntary. One of the problems with the voluntariness of it is, is you'll tell me I have to go there. It doesn't mean I have to become involved in it. And there's really... What determines what is a critical incident or a critical crisis that we're going to debrief and do that on? For one agency, say a small 11-man agency in northern Michigan, that could be a fatal car accident because they see five of them a year. In a Ypsi township, we could see four fatals in a week. We could see two homicides or two shootings or massive child abuse. What determines what is a critical incident? And that's part of what has come forward in policing in recent years, is that we don't see one incident that causes this, we see hundreds of incidents that build up inside of you, and you may forget 99 of them, but one of them can trigger all 99 to come flooding back in tomorrow. I'm sorry, To answer again, there is strictly, there is really not a solid policy that encompasses everybody, but it's kind of left to the devices of the agencies.
DP: I really appreciate that, and as I... I don't know why it's different for everyone but just me. I don't like that echo sound. Okay. I'm gonna try to set forward. I appreciate you adding that, Jeff, because you... Even when I asked about time to debrief between the call of us, you went into the critical incidents and what's occurring for critical incidents. I know even myself, I need time to debrief, I'm gonna debrief after this one hour because I need to breathe and then... So, Leah, when you hear Alyshia and Jeff talk about these things from a clinical perspective, what are some things that come to mind for you that you think people should be able to recognize?
LM: So I would say first, I'm concerned. That's the first thing that comes to mind. And the reason in which I'm concerned is is because each individual enters this particular workspace with their own belief system of self, right? And so if you believe that you're okay, then you will go around and function and operate as though you are okay until, as Jeff indicated, you're triggered, right? And then you have an immediate trauma response in that moment. So, the lack of insight and understanding of whether or not you have incurred a measure of harm to self emotionally or psychologically, is setting up all of our police officers for failure.
LM: And so when we see these incidents taking place... For instance, all of what we see on the media of homicides that's happening within the community, with police and others, we don't understand that these are human beings that are untreated. We put the police in the position to assess whether or not the community is treated or not, whether or not they're having mental health concerns, and whether or not they need to be taken to the hospital, but there is nothing in reverse. So, it again, is leaving our police with responding in and out of trauma, from fight to flight, to potentially freezing, and that could bring about harm for them as well as the community at large. When you were speaking, Daicia, my mind went to self-care and understanding that self-care is in the moment. It's not waiting for vacation time, it's trying to figure out, "How can I actually regulate myself and my emotions in the moment?" and that is something I believe a skill set that needs to be taught and acknowledged within the organization and not for them to have to identify outside on their own, because I don't believe they'll do it. Or many won't.
DP: And when you say you don't believe that they would do it, but you started off by saying it has a lot to do with sense of self and people not, maybe not even recognizing what they need... A lot of times people talk about stigma on mental health and I'm wondering if when you talk about how people view themselves, if they'll do it themselves, what... What are some things that we as a mental health professionals need to be mindful of?
LM: In the sense of the police, I guess, I need a bit more...
DP: I got really excited. So, I'm speaking about when you said, "Well, if they don't think they need to help, then it's really not likely that they'll be... That they'll reach out for the help," and so I think that's something for all of us in different roles to consider. But specifically, as a mental health professional, if we know that officers may not be aware or self-aware of what they needed, what do you recommend for clinicians to do, because that's a very different person than someone who is saying, "Yes, I have a mental health need, and I want to come to you, and I'm recognizing that this is a challenge." That's a very different interaction. So what would you... What recommendations would you have for mental health professionals in meeting the needs of law enforcement officers?
LM: So I would say get to know the various departments in your area. I have reached out to various departments within Washtenaw County to work along with them to assist their officers in a measure of healing. One particular department, and I won't go in to write that department's name, but one particular department actually has bought into this notion that they now understand that the mind controls the body and that... Yes, it's a beautiful day! And that with that, they understand that some of the diseases that they are seeing manifest within their body is actually from them not caring for their mental health. And so, one of the suggestions that we have been doing actually together after showing this documentary called "LOVE is the Answer," it was "Walking While Black: LOVE is the Answer," and it really just started to get some wheels turning around this, "How can we get this community engagement and work side by side by one another without being explosive?" And so, in our conversation, we worked it out where, look, if he identifies that there's someone that is struggling, that is an officer on the force, then we are going to make certain that X amount of sessions are being rendered.
LM: So I do believe that clinicians at large need to get to know the departments in their purview and see how they can extend themselves to best aid, our officers, and when that is done, I believe that the community engagement part can then take place. Absent that, we'll be spinning our wheels.
DP: Okay. So thank you so much for sharing that there, but that after reaching out to some of these agencies that the management there have been open to having mental health be an ongoing conversation and increasing the ability to access it. So, Alyshia and Jeff, what do you all think about from your side, when you think about what Leah's saying about, "Oh yeah, the mind impacts the body" and all of those things, we're all connected in one piece, what do you think, how much do you think the typical officer knows?
JC: Can I go?
DP: You can.
JC: Okay, so I think the typical officers is very mindful of what is going on with them, where the breakdown is in that for me as an officer to seek mental health assistance, I put myself in a much more unique situation than the general public does, in that, if I come in and say, I'm suffering and I will share this. Twice during the course of my career, I walked in and said, I can't do this. One was in roughly 2005, '06 or '07 just in that time frame, and I had been on the force about 15 years at that point, and I took some time to myself. What that entailed was basically putting myself out there where people were gonna look at me like "This person's not quite right," some other things happened, I wasn't allowed to work any longer. So you took my job away from me, although I burned my sick time and I burned my vacation time in order for me to get healthy. But the reason I was unhealthy was because of the amount of trauma that I endured over the course of my career. So you've now taken it, you put it back on me to become healthy for something that the career cost. That's a big hurdle to cross.
JC: First, you have to be able to say, Hey, I have a problem in a super alpha area where you're putting your career and your livelihood in jeopardy. And then the way it's handled, from my view point, from management, is is "This is great, you can go see the department psychologist," and there's a very key term there, department. That psychologist is not my doctor. They are not there for my well-being and hear me and to help me become better and to deal with the traumas of the job. They're there to tell the department what their best interest in my mental health is. I can, A, either go to work, or B, I need to continue to stay off of work. And if I'm staying off of work, that is killing my sick time, it's killing my vacation time, and at some point when the paycheck is not gonna come in any longer, you can bet your bottom dollar that I can walk in any psychologist office in the state of Michigan, and go, you know what, I'm perfectly fine and give them every answer they need for me to go back to work and to make the money that I need to support my family and myself.
JC: Where we don't... What doesn't happen is is we don't get healthy, we just meet the minimum needs to go back to work to be able to take care of ourselves, and that's the biggest issue, right in the forefront, getting to know a doctor, a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a social worker who you could trust is absolutely imperative for police officers. If they don't trust the person that they're speaking to, they're not going to open up to what the problems that they're dealing with are. And therefore, it's just gonna be that vicious cycle again. They'll say everything they need to do to get back to work, and then they still won't be healed. Again, twice in my career. The second time was roughly six months before I retired, and I walked in and said, I can't do this any longer, so... Sorry, Alyshia, you can fire away now.
LM: Daicia [0:30:18.1] ____.
DP: Go ahead, Leah. We're having a conversation, 'cause I was definitely gonna ask you what your thoughts were about that. And I wanna lift up for everyone, like Jeff said, it took 15 years to say, I can't do it, and that's one thing, but I also... I'm wondering if you have thoughts about whatever you were gonna say, but he also mentioned needing to have a mental health professional that you trust, so... Yeah, go ahead.
LM: I just wanted to validate what Jeff was saying. One of the officers that I do now have a standing relationship with indicated that the desire is for the culture to shift, and he had worked in various departments. And it was for the first time, he said, I really feel like they care about me. No one has ever asked me how I am doing really, to the point that they would be willing to connect me to a mental health professional, and not just like Jeff is saying, the psychologist or the psychiatrist, so that they could just kind of like go head and man up again, or whatever it may be, but...
JC: That's exactly...
LM: Yeah, yeah, so I just really wanted to validate what you were saying, Jeff, and honor that space because I'm hearing that from multiple individuals at our offices.
DP: Yeah. And Alyshia started off in her introduction by saying that just the history of the structures and systems of law enforcement, it was never designed to support the actual people who are doing the job. And so Alyshia, what do you have to add to some of this dialogue too?
AD: Yeah, I definitely agree with what's being said, and doing the job, when I left to go back to grad school and I left road patrol, I just remember feeling like a weight lifted off my shoulders in a lot of ways. A, I could actually sleep a lot better. I still have trouble sleeping, but it's much better than it was, and I'm not in such a militaristic environment where I often felt like I was just a body and not a human being, and I feel like that comes from the bureaucracy and the militaristic structure in the systems and...
AD: And thinking about... Something else I just wanted to add about mental health, a lot of the times too your partner in your patrol car becomes sort of like an informal counselor, or a therapist. You talk with them, you can debrief after a call. And something that I thought about a lot with the pandemic is deputies and officers were no longer allowed to double, and to have a partner for a limited time, because of COVID. And so you think about the more isolated you are in the profession. Something I noticed about my own mental health is it seems like the more connected I was with the community I served, and especially being from the community, the better my mental health would get. And so when I was working in a community engagement role, I noticed I started feeling a lot happier, and it was because I was doing things that were very positive.
AD: And I got the opportunity to not just respond to people in crisis 24/7, but to take a break and to really... I mean, there was a lot of... There were still things that happened that were hard for me to deal with, particularly some kids I mentored being killed, and that's what ended up me leaving and going back to grad school. But I think that even having that break is so important, and I wish that more administrations and managers would value that, and as we think about policies. And I would hang out with social workers a lot when I was doing the community engagement role, and they would say, "Oh, after shift, we all debrief, and we all check in, and we talk about our feelings." And we're not doing that in law enforcement. [laughter]
AD: We're out the door, right?
AD: We're not sitting around afterwards like, "Hey, man, are you okay?" It's very much... I don't know if it's the hyper-masculine environment, I don't know what it is, but it's definitely like a tough up, hold in your feelings, don't talk about it kind of mentality.
DP: Alyshia, when you bring that up around social workers, it actually is a part of our code of ethics to do that. That was why the question about the policies, and what... Are there policies in place that kinda create a culture that if you don't do it, it's kind of required on the other end? So what that might be able to look like. Leah, you hear Alyshia and Jeff talking about the stressors again, and then Alyshia brought up this isolation, and community connection, and it made me think about sometimes people do say, "Oh yeah, that's kind of common sense," but there is actually some clinical... We have some clinical understanding of what it does to an individual when they are going through these types of experiences and being isolated. And I'm wondering if you could share a little bit about that for people who are watching?
LM: I would just simply say that we are created as social beings, right? And so for us to be in isolation, we're left sometimes with our thoughts. And we don't necessarily have clarity on what it is that we have that's ruminating, and we're rehearsing over and over again in our minds. And so I think that it is vastly important to build community, for support, whether it be a peer support that you could have to be able to talk with, as Alyshia was stating. You have your peer riding along with you, right? And not necessarily would they have all of the answers for you, but just for you to be able to articulate your thoughts and your feelings in that moment, at least releases some of that emotional vow for you where you're not just holding and retaining all of that at one time. So I would say definitely, as you're saying, Daicia, with social work, we have supervision that is required of us, where we need to come together and we need to talk and bounce certain things off of one another for the sake of clarity as well as for our own healing. So we have therapy for the therapist during those consults. And I just believe that that would be something that would be extremely beneficial for police officers to infuse within their policies in their departments.
DP: So Jeff, and Alyshia, you share that there's not a culture, or a specific policy that is standardized to say, "This is the way we're going to operate." So if you were able to say, "Hey, we have this idea for a policy that needs to be incorporated across all agencies that are doing law enforcement, if you're an accredited agency, there should be a basic policy around behavioral health of the staff, then the personnel," what would you hope that policy would say in just basic?
AD: Well, so something that just comes to mind is the not allowing officers to work when they haven't slept. That's a big one for me, because I know officers that have crashed their cars. I know officers that... We know sleep deprivation is similar to having a BAC of alcohol at 0.8, and so when you're driving around sleep-deprived with a gun, that's a hazard, in my opinion. And I feel like we don't have policies in place to protect officers from not being forced to work when they haven't had sleep. And so there are some policies, like you can't enforce for eight hours in between shifts. But then if an officer drives an hour and a half home, or an officer has to get up for court in two hours and then go back into work, I think it really... There needs to be a way to ask the officers, "Have you gotten enough sleep to work?" And if you haven't, then figuring out a way to make sure that they're not out there driving around, because, in my opinion, that's one of the number one things that I think would be really important to focus on. I don't know if Jeff, if you wanna add to...
DP: So you would say having a policy around sleep specifically, and what their state is then. And Jeff, do you have one basic policy that you think should be implemented?
JC: I'm not so sure it's a policy, but it's... Really take a good hard look at our profession and the way that we view the officers who are in crisis, and allow them to be able to come forward without any potential repercussions and get the help that they need. That sleep deprivation that Alyshia talks about, I've been retired for six years. I was... Last night was a weird night. I was up and down quite a bit, but on a regular night, I'm out of bed three to four times, or awake three to four times a night for over a half hour at a shot. Some of it is stuff's creeping back from the job. Some of it is stress with the current job I have, so there's a little bit of both of those things. But sleep is definitely important, but I think having the ability to get the help that the officer needs would definitely push their ability to get that sleep, do the other things that they need to do. And I'm an honest, I honestly believe that the better the officer's mental health is, the better their interaction with the community is, the better their interaction with the community is, the stronger those relationships become and some of the stuff that's currently being played out in the media would really die down. It's a small spark that we fanned into a brush fire that's building into a forest fire, and a lot of it still has to do with that ability to gain trust, and part of that has to do with the officer being able to be healthy at the end of the day.
DP: That's really helpful, and I think one of our viewer talks about how now with more training around crisis intervention and co-responses, it is creating ripples of people trying to recognize this issue. And in some of those training, trauma-informed policing is described as not only being able to recognize trauma in the community or policing, but also being able to recognize trauma yourself. We're gonna switch to think about the patient crime experience, but before we do that, I wonder, Leah, you mentioned that there are some agencies that have been willing to partner with behavioral health professionals in order to deliver services in a different way that's not like, oh, we're gonna have you evaluated to see if you're fit for duty, but more this is something we want to support you, to offer to support you. I am wondering, we think about policy and mental health policy as well around diagnoses, and Jeff just mentioned that sometimes opening the door, if you have to get a diagnosis to have your insurance cover your treatment, depending on what that diagnosis is, there can be some negative ramifications with that. So have you and that agency or have you all been able to talk about making it so people can have more of a barrier-free experience without needing a qualifying diagnosis to receive mental health services?
LM: Yeah, that's exactly how it's run, so it isn't a go to your healthcare provider sort of scenario. It is having someone that is planted within the department that's just there to assist. So if there's a difficult day, let's say that you just made a run and you've experienced the most traumatic thing ever, you could come back to the office and you would have someone that you could actually talk to, download this traumatic experience, and then be able to collect yourself and go along either with your day or if you need to be tapped out, I like to use that term. At least two taps tap you out and then you're able to go home to get the care that you need, as best as can. And so yeah, there is funding that is being set aside and allocated for those services for the trusted behavioral therapist at the time. So yeah, it's a really progressive look at this because it's not putting the onus on the officer again to go out and seek out the assistance that they need, but the assistance is present for them to go through when they know that they've had a difficult day.
DP: So by being able to do that, that's one way to reduce... What I'm hearing is that that's one way to reduce stigma 'cause it doesn't mean you have to have a diagnosis, it doesn't mean you have to take off an ongoing amount of time at work, but it's normalizing being able to talk about thoughts and feelings.
DP: So Jeff, you said that if we can support officers in being healthy, that helps the interactions with the community, and it's a revolving support, but when people have clients... At this moment, there are still a lot of people in the community that have some very negative interactions with law enforcement officers that can be traumatizing for them. So what do you say, Leah, from a clinical perspective, what can people do to support their patients and clients who have had that very difficult experience with law enforcement to navigate in their treatment?
LM: So I would first say validate the experience of their client, because a lot of times, we lead with our own particular biases for and or against a particular system, and that could impose harm on the fact that you're not validating what they said. We know in trauma, when one is giving a narrative, that narrative does not have to be rooted and grounded in fact. It simply has to be what the person said it was. So in honoring your patient by simply saying, "Yes, I validate your experience. Let's look at joining with them to see how best they could remedy whatever that encounter is, and as advocates, we have the opportunity to reach out to those officers and say, "Hey, can we have a conversation? Can we come together?" We look at restorative justice practices, and we only wanna implement them in school systems. Why can't we implement the same thing within the community with the police and the citizens. Those same sorts of practices can be done there, and I think as clinicians, we can push the envelope a bit further with that. Even if that department doesn't necessarily want to, each officer has the ability to say yay or nay. And I see that this is teaching empathy where empathy is perceived to have been lost with the department.
DP: Thank you so much, Leah, for adding that piece. I'm sorry, Jeff, go ahead.
JC: No, no, just to talk about empathy, I use this as a way to explain it. When I retired, my empathy tank was overdrawn, and it's very easy in our job to empty that tank, and I just empty it, but we went to somebody else's tank and borrowed some of theirs too, and six years, it's taken my empathy tank almost six years to get back to where I feel like, for the most part, when somebody says something to me, I can fully embrace what they're saying, and then at least as, Leah, said validate it, to the point where they understand that I'm hearing them, doesn't mean I have to agree, but there's a point where we don't... There isn't an empathy station where we can just go plug in and fill that tank back up, and when it's constantly pulled away from you, it really... I think that's part of what causes officers' problems, is that they really realize at some point, I'm not the person I was five years ago, 10 years ago, 15 years ago, and you look back, and you're like, "What happened to that person?" and you're like, you're trying to get back to that point, but every time you do it, you feel like you're pulled the opposite direction, so I think exactly what you said, it works both ways for me.
JC: We have to understand, as officers, what's going on in our community and have that empathy. The big thing for me has been over the last year, is to really try to meet the community and let them know that your officers are also human beings, and they have a lot of the same issues in their personal lives that you as a community member do and that if we can understand that both sides have those issues, that we again can meet in the middle. It humanizes everybody at that point where they can say, "I understand where you're coming from, and I get... I don't agree with what you did or how you said it or anything else, but I understand how you got there because I've been there before," so I'm sorry.
DP: No, you don't need to be sorry about that.
JC: I'll stop now. [laughter]
DP: I think that we... A lot of... Oh, I hate it when I'm echoing. I'm trying to figure out why does that... Okay, it's not echoing right here. Alright, so Jeff, when you bring that up, it's like those are some of the things that people might know about policing that... But just don't keep it in the forefront of their mind that, oh, police are humans. Their bodies and minds work very similar to ours, but you brought up something about the fact that people often see themselves differently after they've been on the force for some period of time, and don't know when they lost that, who they were. And so, Alyshia, to add onto that, people are asking what else should the public know about policing beyond the power relationships, because they said that's already very obvious? So you mentioned it's not what we see on TV, so what other things? So Jeff brought up the understanding that law enforcement officers are people too, often coming in with a history of trauma already. Alyshia, what else would you say would be some things that people should know?
AD: I think something to be aware of is a lot of officers when they start, they're very young, and what department they're at makes them who they are. And so I started policing when I was 21, and I grew, I was still a child in a lot of ways. You're 21, the studies have shown even the brain's not fully developed now 'til 25. So you have a lot of younger people coming into policing, and I think that one of the... Going back to the way that police are trained and how problematic, a lot of my beef regarding the system comes from looking back now and thinking about how I was taught to fear people, and it was very much this us first them mindset that I think makes the mental health even worse. And at some point in my career, I said, "To heck with it. This is my community. And for me, it's not... There's no divide 'cause I live here. I shop here. These are my family and friends." And so I think that the more that we can start stomping that out, and I think that you have to really look again at how the system was created and then think about how to build a system that's not gonna center some of these philosophies inside it. I think that's really important, but I also wanna say I think about a quote. I went to a wrongful conviction summit a couple months back, and someone at the summit said, "I would like God to take you back to when you first started your job, 'cause somewhere you got cold."
AD: And that quote has sat with me since then, and it just rings so true. Even the best-intentioned people going into law enforcement, over time the job... You see them change, and it's sad. It really is.
LM: Yeah, if I could add, Daicia, piggybacking on what Jeff and Alyshia said, and integrating something you said as well, back to this notion of empathy and being cold and calloused, I believe that that's a protective mechanism that the human develops unconsciously because they too are fearful. Jeff said, early on, he was taught you might not come home.
JC: Yeah, it's true.
LM: To have that language shared to you very early on is already infusing a measure of fear, and what does the human body do when fear sets in? It immediately with an autonomic response clicks in and it tries to protect and preserve itself. So if you're going and leading into a profession from that vein, then we see why there's a lot of incidents that are taking place, and so that is even a bit more convoluted to the space of history, what in your history individually were you taught to be afraid of? So if there are human bodies that are fearful of one another, let's say based on the racial dynamic or construct, then a white body next to a black body, that is catastrophic in and of itself by one's perceived flaw of that individual that they need to fear them. So that is... We have to kind of work on again what we're teaching from the youth.
LM: And then it looks at the empathy piece. One of the interventions that I used with one of the officers was something simple. And what I had him do was go back and get some of the letters and cards that he had received from some of those citizens that he had assisted over time and just read them, and he sat there and cried like a baby, like a baby because it touched his heart again, and he wasn't just operating as this robot that we kind of see. It brought him back to a space of humanity. And so it is identifying certain interventions that can be crafted and brought into, again, the departmental space that just lets them remember who they are and to touch into the humanity of who they are, so that they can go back out again and interface with the public from a space of honor one to another. Then when that happens, I believe that the community can then kind of bring down their guards when they see a pack of incidences occur, because now it's not a them against us, it is all us.
DP: Leah, when you bring that up, you kind of touch on all different layers of how we all have to start really young to think about how do we perceive things, and the things that you mentioned about fear, I just wanna highlight it. You're saying this is automatic, and it's what our bodies do automatically, and then when you talked about the community and talking about the black body and the white body standing next to each other, it made me think about how often even social work professionals might engage law enforcement to call on a person or just the general citizen because they are in fear, they call law enforcement and a lot of times law enforcement, they're like, "Why did you call me for this? This is not what I'm paid and took this job for."
DP: Jeff and Alyshia, that's why I wanted to ask you all why did you come into the job, because a lot of times people have... Law enforcement officers, from what I understand, often come in because they wanna serve and protect and then they often get in the middle of interpersonal conflict, from, say, it's a person who feels threatened by me for no reason, and then they're calling law enforcement and now me and law enforcement have this interaction. So we have to also... I think it makes me think about how all of us have to be much more intentional about being aware of what we're doing with our fear responses because a lot of people, their immediate reaction when they feel afraid or feel like they want someone to step in is to call law enforcement, and that doesn't work if we want to create healing in our community.
JC: I would agree. Really quickly I'm working on a project with Washington State University right now, where we are looking at implicit bias and how the dispatcher, if they show bias in the middle, if you have bias on the frontend from your caller, then there's some bias that's handled by the dispatcher, and then obviously the officer's gonna be biased to some level themselves. You can stack that bias, and it lands on the police officer's shoulders, and they don't even know that they were forced into a bias type situation where maybe their personal bias would have never even played into it had all the other things been done correctly in front of them. And then again, the same thing happens with the citizen interaction, they've had some biases that they bring to the table and all the stuff. It's not just one layer, it's multiple layers that land immediately, and some of that again, goes back to what we started to talk about is mental health, and part of being healthy mentally is understanding what's going on with you and being able to see it and adjust to it and find the things that help you fine tune those issues so that you can be a productive member of society, no matter what your job at the end of the day is.
DP: Thanks, Jeff. I think that that helps sum things up right when we're coming up to this hour, and I'm hearing everyone... Just to summarize 'cause I wanna make sure we got everything out, and if there's something you wanna add that I'm hearing that the way that we can address these things is to create a culture amongst management at every agency that supports mental health behavior, health awareness, self-care, also having policies in place that would support people being able to access behavioral health services without any negative ramifications towards them that would make them feel like they're going to lose their livelihood and then having opportunities to support individuals at all different parts of our community, thinking about we have brought in the restorative justice practices, as...
DP: And that might be another policy to incorporate instead of punitive, punitive, how can we think about restorative practices, would that also help officers see crime in a different way? We don't know, so it sounds like those are some of the things that I'm taking away, like what can people do to address some of these concerns in having people embed it, and now Jeff had to throw in the dispatch part. So, Leah, make sure that you talk to them about do they have that counselor in there for the dispatchers because their biases are gonna come up really fast if they're not getting mental health services as well. So I just wanna thank everywhere for watching. We had the one hour. One hour goes so fast, we need to have a part two, three, four, something. [chuckle] So thank you all for watching, thank you all panelists for being able to come and bring your experiences and all of your training and knowledge and sharing that with us. Thank you.
JC: Thank you.
LM: You're welcome. Thank you.
AD: Thank you for having me.