How do you handle that one guest that just will not leave? I recently heard a definition for what trauma is. Trauma was defined as: when you leave the scene, but the scene does not leave you. That definition resonated with me. How many calls did I leave that did not leave me?
I know we all have scenes and calls that have not left us. Some are years old. Some are obvious. The larger scenes and the obviously tragic calls stay with us. It is expected. In my department, certain calls are expected to cause trauma such as an officer involved shooting or a line of duty death.
When something like that happens, peer support is automatically activated and… in the case of the officer involved shooting, the officer involved has to see the police psychologist before returning back to work on the road.
That happens for the larger or more tragic calls, but what about the smaller day to day ones? Those are the ones that I want to call attention to.
We answer calls every day. Each call is unique and some of those calls stay with you.
I heard a quote, remembering is living again. If that is true, then it is no wonder why you can leave a scene, but the scene does not leave you. When the scene won’t leave, the trauma never leaves. Then you go to the next call and that one does not want to leave either. Then another and another.
Over time, the stress from the traumas continues to build.
If left alone, the pressure builds until something gives. Generally, bad things happen then.
Breakdowns and blowouts are the most common. Worst case scenario, the person may think there is only one way to stop the pain and take matters into their own hands. Police officer suicide is way too big a problem already, so we all need to take a stand and do something about it now!
There is good news though. This will not happen overnight. There are a lot of warning signs before the bad things happen. These warning signs should be our call to action. I am sure you know someone who is always angry or showing signs of “burnout.” Depending on the individual, those might be warning signs that might clue you in to a larger problem.
You might be called upon to have that first courageous talk with that individual.
Before it gets to that point, it is important to have some coping mechanisms in place. Healthy coping mechanisms can help you get rid of some the scenes that do not want to leave. The old timers remember the debriefings at the bar after work. Now I am not saying those are all bad. It does serve a purpose and it does help. Remember though, too much of a good thing can be bad too.
No matter how good or healthy something is, taken to an extreme will cause other problems. Even water, taken in too large of a quantity is bad for you.
Healthy coping mechanisms may include exercise, meditation, going to the beach, walking in the park or any number of activities that allow you to decompress and process the events and scenes that you had experienced.
We all know that there is no such thing as a tool, technique or option that works every single time. What do you do when your chosen coping mechanisms fails? Talking to a trusted person might help. Maybe a chaplain or similar individual. In some cases, a professional might be what is needed.
Before that can happen, a change in our culture is needed. We have to believe that is alright to ask for help. It is not weakness, but strength that allows you to ask for help.
On the road, is it wrong to ask for cover if it is needed? We have all had that incident where we had to call for help or answered the call for more units. It is the right thing to do. I really believe it is my responsibility to go home safely each day. Part of that responsibility is to make sure my partner goes home safely too. I have my partners back and they got mine. Trauma is a very real threat. There is no weakness in asking for help to deal with this threat.
Longevity is the goal. Part of that goal should also include being healthy in mind and body. The goal is to make it to retirement and beyond.
About The Author:
Metropolitan Police Corporal Raymond Craig of the Honolulu Police Department has over 24 years working for the Honolulu Police Department. He is currently assigned to the training academy. He has certifications in defensive tactics, firearms, tactics and use of force. He is certified as a master taser instructor, is a certified instructor with ALERRT and is very active with the department’s active shooter program. He is part of the peer support unit and is active in the suicide prevention program for the department. In addition, he is an active member of ILEETA – The International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association.
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