The Problems with Police PTSD – A Call for Comments
Editors Note: This is a very important topic to law enforcement officers all around the world. Please leave your comments in the box below so we can start a dialogue on this very important issue.
We have a Police PTSD Crisis: “Take care of our own” v.s. “Throwaway Cops”
We have a problem in our profession. It has to do with excessive stress caused by the job of law enforcement and, in it’s extreme form, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. We all know that the stress from this job can be toxic and at times debilitating. What we don’t seem to believe is that it can happen to us, or someone we work with, because when it does, we don’t know what to do about it. We seem to have created a paradox, which is a contradiction or a situation that seems to defy logic or intuition.
The Police PTSD Paradox is created by… the fact that we all know that stress can disable or incapacitate us on the job but when that happens to one of our own we defy logic and begin to shun them. Some agencies even do their best to throw those cops away because they feel like they are tainted or might create a liability. In many cases insurance programs don’t provide for the proper medical or mental health treatments, or enough treatment, and our medical leave programs seem wholly inadequate to respond to these situations. None of these categories seem to fit into a system for disability insurance and affected officers are left in limbo. It may just be an educational issue that we don’t fully understand the effects of stress or the causes of PTSD.
You see the crisis is not that police officers are getting PTSD, the crisis comes when agencies don’t know how to help an officer with PTSD and they treat them poorly or worse, throw them away.
I can’t count the number of calls and emails we have received at CopsAlive.com in the last six months from officers, or their family members, describing the way that officer stress is being handled by their agencies. Some stories are sad, some are tragic and some are down right despicable.
As a profession we need to develop an understanding that this job has toxic side effects and we need to first, armor ourselves against those effects and secondly, prepare ourselves and our agencies for dealing with them when they occur.
The U.S. Military is combating this same issue, perhaps in greater numbers, right now with many of the veterans that are returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
If you dig deeper the issue is not just with PTSD, which has a clear set of diagnostic criteria, but with the effects of other, less acute or, cumulative stress disorders. The point is that we don’t know what to do with officers who are suffering from the effects of stress brought on by their experiences on the job.
This blog has many times reported on the “hidden dangers” of law enforcement to include alcoholism, prescription drug abuse, divorce, police officer suicide, heart disease, cancer, officer domestic violence, financial mismanagement by officers and other symptoms of people suffering from excessive stresses, burnout or even major depression. We now need to address how we will deal with the root causes of these symptoms: excessive stress.
We as a profession need to start talking about this issue and we need to come up with some solutions quickly as many, many of our comrades are falling by the wayside with these symptoms each and every day.
Please add your comments to the box below to join in this discussion online and CLICK HERE if you would like to download a roll call discussion guide on the issue of what to do with a peer who is suffering from excessive stress caused by the job.
CLICK HERE to download our CopsAlive.com “Prescription for Stress Management” roll call discussion guide.
The Veterans Administration National Center for PTSD website is an excellent resource. Check the area labeled “Search PILOTS to find published articles: PILOTS (Published International Literature on Traumatic Stress) is the largest database of publications on PTSD.” There is also a box labelled “Where to get help for PTSD”.
The VA site is here: http://www.ptsd.va.gov/
We always encourage anyone experiencing severe or crisis symptoms to call the “Safe Call Now” Hotline for first responders at (206) 459-3020. You can also learn more about Safe Call Now by visiting their website at: http://www.safecallnow.org/
We will help your agency create the kind of place that supports and protects officers so that they can do their jobs better, safer, longer and survive to tell their grand kids all about it.
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I’m so sorry to hear about what you experienced but thank you for sharing with the rest of us. Stay safe!
I’m a throw away cop. Involved in a justified shooting on December 2,1989, I struggled and was subsequently diagnosed with ptsd. The department and the city never helped and were so thankful to see me leave. I eventually got out of law enforcement but I’ve struggled to stay employed, this article was so too the point and so true.
Hi, The very least I can do for you is let you vent!
Thank you, and your whole family, for your service to your community. You deserve better.
I so sorry for what you have had to go through.
First and foremost, my heart breaks for the horror, sadness, and trauma that all of you have seen over the years. My question would be why, oh why, do we not have the support available??? But yet we can spend millions of dollars on “soccer fields” and “improvements”. FORBID we take care of the people who put themselves in harm’s way, every day! Does it matter who you are protecting? Nope, you just do it. Huhhh… always wondered as a cop’s wife, how does a person go home and sleep after a fatal on Christmas Eve??? Sorry I know I sound like… but you know what??? Our life has been impacted, by PTSD. Our 3 children, supposed to celebrate 30 years of marriage, angry? yep just a tad. And I can identify with the fellow who wrote, I never thought my body would disappoint me, thought “it happened to someone else” Never in this lifetime did I think this would affect my husband. Well it has, and I am sad,angry,confused. Thank you for allowing me to vent.
Hi Mark, Thank you for your comments and thank you for your many years of service. I’m very sorry about all the troubles you have had and I completely agree that all across this country we need to come to grips with what the jobs (both law enforcement and fire service) can do to us. We need appropriate training to avoid some of these difficulties, we need services to support our resilience and services to support us when we are injured either physically or emotionally. Finally, we need support when we have done our best but can no longer perform the work of protecting our communities. Hopefully your story and those of so many more will impact some change for those who come after us.
Stay safe and be well!
I know this is mostly law enforcement but I was a firefighter over 31years unfortunately I left the job once with 18 years and syarted over.I had to resign about 20 years ago after my capt committed suicide.I and my capt had substance abuse problems.I got clean and was hired back Put 13years back in and had a dui and had to resign.I had bought 4 years back so I had 17 in the pension system you need 20.The EAP diagnosed me with complex ptsd,So did workmans comp,and the pension system also said I was permanently disabled from service with the fire dept.Workmans comp paid me a little with notagreeing to being responsible for injury.My local pension board agreed I was disabled by the job but denied my accidental disability pension because they said I left job from dui not disability.I did and am recieving long term disability thru the city.The city started my disability date prior to the Dui and medicare started my disability date the day I resigned.Had I had the right lawyer I would have received a pension,The reason for leaving job does not solely have to be the disability.Unfortunately the fire pension board does support ptsd as a disability compared to the support the police pension board does in Phoenix Az.Im not sure why but the chairman of our public safety pension is also chairman of our local pension board and the pension system funds are not doing well.Never the less fiirefighters and police battling with this disability should not be left on there own with no union support to fight for a pension they deserve.I realise drinking and driving was wrong but I was suffering for many years and continue to suffer with ptsd after now over 4 years of medication and counseling.Im greatful to the city but very disappointed in our pension board
Thank you for your comments and thank you for your service!
I’m so sorry to read about all the challenges you are facing. I hope that others will post their support of your situation after they read what you have gone through.
I wish I had more to offer in support from across the oceans but I think the best I can do here is offer you encouragement and support by posting the best materials we have to offer on CopsAlive.com.
Keep up the good fight and as you said The only way out, is through..
Hi brothers/sisters in arms,
I thought I would add my 2c from down under. I am an Aussie cop and things are not much different here. From my experience we are throwaway cops. I am in a bad place at the moment and I usually just read and never post but thought I would briefly share my predicament from another part of the world. I read with some interest the comments of Greg L as I followed almost an exact same path, for same reasons working in a state force for 16 years, always at the “sharp end” before moving into federal. Upon joining, I was recognised for my practical ability and providing valuable guidance and survival skills/tactics to young members. As time went on, I moved to our capital and ended up working with a different mentality of people. Although a few here recognised my skill, the majority were laid back, complacent and I began to be highly criticized for being too full on all the time and told to “relax” when we were out on jobs. I can’t say much but the threat was of current international issues. Keeping it short, I have been in just over 10 years and was involved in a minor work place issue (administrative) whereby I admit, I could have done better, but we learn and move on, so I thought. Normally a matter of this type would have been dealt with “in-team” but it was easier for bosses to make it a formal complaint and use our internal investigations (internal affairs) who are like vultures, looking for a scalp. Once in this system, the treatment is poor. I have less rights than a common criminal. I went from being relied on by most to a leper in isolation. I felt betrayed by the agency and profession I have dedicated my life to and this bought on health issues. I have just been diagnosed with PTSD and depression . Although my agency is big on putting up colour brochures about mental health issues and how they support the issue, in my case, without consultation, was to make me answer as to why I should remain in the agency. This is the formal process before being sacked. I suspect this action has come from the agency being over budget and cut backs are required. I have been told no one wins the process. I have little hope and the result of this action by my agency will prevent me from ever working again in law enforcement or gavernment. I always believed the colour brochures, that help would be available.
I also believed mental health issues would never happen to me and I am still stunned it is happening to me, it’s like my own body is betraying me. I sometimes think I am in a dream.
I get comfort knowing knowing I am not alone, but I feel terrible that so many other good officers out there are also in a bad way and the only understanding is on a forum after it is too late.
I started this email by greeting my brothers/sisters in arms and that’s how it should be and used to be. In Aus, especially federal enforcement, it is not a family but a dog eat dog push for individual promotion. Sad fact.
Good luck to everyone doing it tough.
The only way out, is through..
Hello Greg. I am one of those throw away Cops. I went from TOP COP to not caring about anything at the end, which was really out of character for me all who know me say it.
During my career I was involved in two (2) Officer shootings, countless of hand to hand comfrontations and got ran over by a 1 1/2 ton vehicle doing 45 mph while working a vehicle crash near I75. I was awarded the Combat Cross and the life Saving Medals among others.
Having said that, I recieved a total of one hour of councelling and evaluation.
I didn’t notice (like most) that my stress level and reactions to everyday life situations, where I blow up, or overreact to them, became a problem. This led to arguments, drinking and later self medicating to ease the pain and divorce. Because you are in pain. Re-living deadly accounts and near death experiences and drinking more to try and forget.
In the end no one cared and like in every other Departments, you just went bad. You were no good from the start and I was dismissed.
Ten yrs later while at the VA, I was referred to the Mental Health Dept where I learned that I have a severe case of PTSD.
I want to set up something or be part of an organization that illustrate, and help train Agencies on the treatment and councelling of Officers that have gone thru similar experiences.
So that the “brass” have tools to identify, treat and save the carreer and life of so many good COPs out there.
If we can save one officer from the horrors we went thru because of the lack of knowledge or attention to this problem, then I’m in.
Very beneficial reads….I’ve been struggling to convince the man I love (30+ years as a Police Officer) to seek help for his PTSD; however, it has been to no avail. He’s exhibiting many of the symptoms mentioned here. I just don’t know what to say or do to convince/persuade him to seek professions help. My heart breaks to see him suffer and know that he is self medicating with alcohol. The murders, fatal car accidents, suicides, domestic violence and most recently, one of the first responders to his dear friend/retired police officer’s suicide is consuming him.
Reading these posts offer some sort of odd comfort to know that he is not alone.
I’m thankful that I found this page.
Thank you for your kind words for a fellow officer. I appreciate your honesty and candor.
Best wishes and stay safe!
From one Greg to another… First of all, God bless you in coping with seeing everything you saw in those 16 years. From 2000-2005, I was a uniform patrol officer in a medium-sized city, just outside of a major city. All those ten years ago (time flies), I left the street work I loved for federal law enforcement. The better pay and hours were just too good for my young family to ignore, so I sacrificed the work I loved to work a level of law enforcement that would reduce the stress on my family. What I did not realize, much like your situation, was how much stress I was in until I left street work.
I believe what you and I both experienced was an adrenaline dump from the process of no longer maintaining a state of constant alertness.
Taking nothing away from my federal brothers and sisters, but what we do is nothing compared to street work from the standpoint of elevated stress and adrenaline. I spend most of my workday typing in a well-secured office building, and on the occasions I need to go serve an arrest warrant, I go on my terms, with the element of surprise, with 14 of my closest (well-armed) friends. We have a plan, usually a medic, and the bad guy is usually in cuffs before he wipes the sleep from his eyes.
There’s no more checking over my shoulder for an ambush while I wolf down a Subway sandwich between domestic dispute calls. There’s no more rolling up on darkly-tinted SUV’s in dimly-lit alleys by myself. There’s no more zero-to-sixty force escalation when your conducting a field interview and the guy you’re talking to decides you’re about to find out about his parole warrant.
The symptoms you described began with me while I was away from home at the basic training for my new federal job. I was one of four former street cops in my class of new agents, and three of us went through similar things. About a month after I left the streets, I began to have what I described to my wife as “the really bad nightmares.” Oddly enough, the nightmares almost always involved me getting shot or stabbed on-duty immediately after a service weapon malfunction left me defenseless. For the first 12-18 months, when these dreams hit (maybe once or twice a month), I would wake up so soaked in sweat I had to move to the couch for the rest of my sleep because the bed was so drenched and uncomfortable. The vividness and realism of these dreams began to taper off after 18-24 months and I stopped noticing them about 4 years after I left the streets.
Being a self-analytical person of sorts, I kinda began to notice the nightmares tapered off at roughly the same pace my officer safety skills began to slip and go soft. 3 months into my new federal job, if I walked into a Wal-Mart on a Saturday, I looked everyone in the eye and watched every set of hands of everyone within 50 feet of me. I knew the dirt bags by eye contact, and their knowing looks back told me they knew I was a cop. In my mind, I was still in the game.
Now 10 years later, I’m pretty much all civilian when it comes to my daily level of situational awareness. My street training was great for my new federal life, because I still don’t stand right in front of a door when I knock. I still thoroughly search everyone I put in handcuffs. I still watch the hands of someone I know is my suspect. What’s gone is the constant mental state of being “on.” When I go to my kid’s soccer game, Wednesday night or Saturday morning, I still have a weapon on me, but you could easily walk up behind me and knock my head off with a baseball bat. I’m watching my kids play. In 2005, 3 months after I left the streets, I would have seen you coming from the parking lot and been standing up out of my chair to see what you were going to do with that bat. I was constantly alert, and I think the nightmares and the occasional anxiety in large crowds, was my body coming back off the very unnatural adrenaline high that keeps the real police safe on the streets. I do good work now, but I’m not the real police anymore. My combat mental state is long gone, and I almost don’t remember what that 24-year old street cop was like. Though I’m not out there doing the truly courageous work my uniformed brothers and sisters are doing, I can’t escape the realization that I’m probably a lot healthier at 37 walking around with the mindset of street-wise civilian who isn’t ready for hand-to-hand combat at a moment’s notice.
So my best advice might be the toughest to heed. Whenever you leave the streets, at age 27 (like me), or age 58 when you finally decide to pull the plug on having a badge altogether, I have to reluctantly suggest you re-learn to walk through life the way you did the day before you started the academy. Decompress and take the physiological complications with your eyes wide open. It’s not natural to be alert 24/7 and now your body is in the process of healing.
Next time you eat at a restaurant, let your wife face the door while you keep your back to it. Stop looking everyone in the eye and sizing them up in case they lunch at you, because 99.999% chances are they aren’t there to attack you, or even rob you. That was a tough road for me to walk after only 5 years on the streets. My prayers are truly with you guys who are “switched on” for 25-30 years and then try to assimilate into some sort of normal retirement. No matter what the media says, street cops are truly doing Christ’s work: sacrificing body and spirit for a crowd of people who largely don’t appreciate or understand any of it.
As you sort through the stress and the anxieties of leaving the streets, I think it helps to keep the nobility of your vocation in mind as well. You forfeited a portion of your good health for the sake of your community. Now, try to get well again.
My story and where to turn? I worked 16 years as a police officer never had a problem. We’ll at least I didn’t think so. I was a crime scene investigator for many years and have seen a lot of bad things. No problem never had nightmares or anything of the sort. I have been out of police work for 7 years. A month after leaving police work I had my first panic attack. I drove myself to the local first aid crew and beat on the doors begging for help. My chest hurt my arms and hands were numb. I thought I was having a heart attack. Went to the doctor who told me my body was use to dealing with a high level of stress and now it doesn’t have too it is trying to adjust. He said it could take awhile. This is year seven and I’m still having them. Driving and just going out is very taxing. I tried to talk with my family but nobody gets it. I know something is wrong just don’t know where to turn. Everybody listens but I have no solutions.
You might investigate these sites for more information:
From the National Center for PTSD
From Swords to Plowshares
Police PTSD website
I don’t have any personal knowledge nor connection to any of these three sites.
Good luck and please share with us your findings.
I am looking for a law enforcement course for dealing with PTSD subjects. I have learned certain things here and there from different types of calls involving returning soldiers but I want to attend a course or seminar regarding this matter. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
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I’m very sorry to hear what’s happened to you, but I thank you for having the courage to share it with the readers of CopsAlive.com. Let me know if there is anything we can do to assist you, and please stay in touch!
Well written. I actually have lived and currently feel most of the bad that you are pointing out about the “after”. On the very night/day of that this article was posted (11/28/2011, minutes before midnight), I was shot in the face/throat with an AK47 during a traffic stop. The “after” (last 2 + years) is what has nearly killed me…not that night. I am one of those “thrown away cops”…
Thanks for your comments and thanks for all you are doing. I sorry that you are having to suffer so much from your experiences.
Great site that really helps explain the problem. I feel for all those brothers going through PTSD and pray for you. Please check out a website I have created about the problem and what the Colorafo FOP is trying to do about. Thanks. Ptsdcop.com
I know what you are going through and there are a lot of other readers of CopsAlive.com who know also. You are not alone, that’s just the first step in knowing that you are going to be all right. You need to get some professional help to work through some of the things that are haunting you. There are lots of great treatments other there now that I know would help you. Don’t give up hope. Keep moving forward and work to ease your memories from the past. If you ever feel alone again please consider calling our good friends at Safe Call Now. It’s a crisis hotline started by cops for cops and other first responders. You can reach them at 1-206-459-3020. Hang in there and keep in touch so that we all will know you are doing okay.
I am a retired LEO with 44 yrs of unbroken service with 3 agencies with ranks from Patrolman to Chief of Police. The majority of my service was either investigating or supervising homicides or death investigations, which number well over 1500. I am now in my 3rd marriage (25 yrs) and have consumed my share of alcohol, which I have now have severely curtailed. I still have nightmares about some of the murder scenes, although they are less frequent. However, certain things still trigger flashbacks, and although I can deal with them, it is hard to relate to my wife what I am going through. Case in point, tonight, her family planned a family outing at a local restaurant and when we arrived, we were told they could not accommodate our large crowd. The person who organized the outing then suggested that we go to another restaurant, which was the scene of a brutal murder that I worked quite a few years ago. I then told my wife and sister-in-law that I could not go there because it would give me flashbacks. My wife responded by saying you need to “get over it”. My reaction was to leave my wife with my in-laws and go home and drink some alcohol. Nobody seems to understand what I feel and I feel that no one really understands what I am going through.
I am very sorry to hear about what happened to you but thank you very much for having the courage to write about it here on CopsAlive.com. Your words may be what’s necessary for agencies to change and may spark one other officer to seek help when they FIRST need it. Thanks for making a difference for someone else!
Sixteen years as a police officer had taken its toll on me. Two duivorces, several girl friends, etc etc, After going for help My dept. was more than good to me but unfortunately the department had no where to put me so retirement it was, the only problem was that I fell into some bad habits that come along with being a damaged cop. I was gang stalked thanks to a coworker who hated cops and eventually shunned by some of my brethren. I could not fit in anywhere, I didn’t realize that a cop was all I was and unfortunately I picked a small dept, and in turn I still struggle day to day. I have a run of good days and than PTSD reminds me of the past. Now days when you get into a shooting, they send you to the Doc, unfortunately for me the Doc said if they had sent me than, I would of been Okay. Good Luck to you all and God Bless. Its a great profession.
Thanks for your comment and thanks for your service!
I’m sorry you had to go through what you did, but I’m glad it turned out all right.
Good luck with Ten16.org. I checked it out and it looks awesome. There can never be too many of us out hear working to help our brothers and sisters in law enforcement.
Keep up the good work and let us know if we can do anything to help you.
I’m so glad I found this page. A little about myself. I’m a retired 20 year veteran from Baltimore. During my carrier I saw 100’s of murders as most of us have. I have buried two dear friends that were killed in the line of duty. I have been to over 20 police funerals. The daily stresses alone are enormous for police in what we all deal with. On Ash Wednesday of 2005, I was a Detective Sergeant in charge of a non fatal shooting squad. While myself and my Detectives were out on the street backing up another officer we heard gun shots and a fellow officer asking for back within a few blocks of us. We drove up to the scene. As we pulled up the suspect was shooting at a Lt and was chased around the houses in the block. As we exited the car we heard several more gunshots and the suspect came around the houses on the other side and confronted us. One of my Detectives was able to take cover behind a multi-family mailbox in the block the other was behind me. I was in the middle of the street when the suspect stopped about 30 yards from me. He looked in my direction and said “I’m going to kill you”. The suspect then pointed his gun at me and shot several times. I returned fire, the suspect ran around the corner, fell and died. I watched as this young 22 year old boy took his last breath looking at me. A few things I did not know at the time of the incident. One the gun the suspect was using was a stolen Taurus Raging Bull .454 Casull. Two he was completely out of bullets when I killed him. I know hind site is 20/20 but as any officer can tell you after a shooting you analyze what you did over and over in your head. After the shooting was the investigation that lasted a few hours. I was back to work the next night without talking to anyone. I was awarded a silver star, given high 5’s, and called a hero. When I talked to the fire arms unit they said I was very lucky. I was told that “if I had been wearing my vest” and was struck with a round from that gun it would have pulled my vest through my body and killed me. They said if one of the rounds had hit my shoulder it could have ripped my arm from my body. Having two young boys this drove it home for me. I kept thinking about my boys being without a father. I kept dwelling on the fact he ran out of bullets and what if I had not taken the last shot he would still be alive and I would not have taken a life. For a long time I kept things bottled up in me and went on with work like nothing was bothering me. My life started to spin out of control and it was unlike me. I was getting angry for no reason. I was only sleeping 2 to 3 hours a night. I would think about the shooting, his face, and my kids. I would think about the smell of hot apple pie baking in a house on a double homicide I handled on Christmas Eve in 1993. I would see the face of a young mentally ill naked girl holding a knife and gun after she had just killed her mother and 100’s of other homicide and serious incidents I had been involved in. I would see my partner Kevon Gavin as he was crushed under a car of a shooting suspect. I would think about Sergeant Bruce Prothero’s killers as I listened to the murders talk about murdering him during a robbery on a phone of a drug dealer we were on a wiretap on. All these things flooded my mind night after night. Within a year of the shooting I was getting separated. Within 2 years my finances were in shambles. I sat in a bathtub with a gun in my mouth and the only thing that stopped me was the thought of my kids. After 3 years and so much damage I finally looked at myself in the mirror and realized something was really screwed up. I took myself to see a counselor. I can happily say that after I went through 3 years of counseling I am in a much better place in my life. That does not change the damage that was caused to everyone in my path and my family. I’m just happy that I was able to retire from the department in 2012 with 20 years of service. In 2012 CBS New did a story on me and I felt I had to do more. I felt I had to do more to help other officers with problems. I got together with other officers both active and retired to see if we could help. After lots of thought and planning I built a web page and started our group and just launched Ten16.org. In the Baltimore Police Department a Ten16 is your back up. It’s a new venture but we are happy to take any guidance or help from our brothers and sisters. We don’t want to replace anything out there and appreciate copsalive and safecallnow for all they do. We want to be more support for our family. Our goal is to educate young officers of the dangers of PTSD. To provide Peer to Peer support for officers anonymously when they feel stress. We also want to Advocate to Congress for standard rules of practice in dealing with traumatic incidents and officers to take the astigmatism out of it for the officers. Thank you for all you all do here.
Thanks for your comments here, and thanks for your service! I’m sorry to hear what happened to you. It is an all too familiar story. Thank you for having the courage to share your thoughts here, I hope they will help others, and maybe you too for having shared them. We as a profession need to get over ourselves and realize that our mental health is as important on our last day of work as it was on our first, but if we don’t do anything to care for it, we will suffer. As organizations law enforcement agencies need to realize that we are not human commodities to be used and thrown away. Excellence in policing comes from officers who are self-aware enough to take care of themselves physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually and from agencies who create support systems and a culture to maintain those officers and their civilian support staffs. We say that “No one gets left behind” but we don’t do a good job at making that statement true. Your story is too common today but maybe when enough suffering officers speak out, the story of those who follow us will not be so tragic. Thanks for your service and thanks for sharing your story.