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The Aurora Police Department is receiving wide-spread and well-deserved praise for their response to the Aurora Theatre Shooting tragedy.

On July 20, 2012, they responded as professionals first. But underneath that professional, peace officer exterior is a human being. A human being who cannot help but be impacted by the gruesome scene that morning.

 Aurora Police Division Chief Kevin Flynn at an Aurora Memorial (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)

Survivor Harmony Johnson said it best: “True heroes do come with badges, not with capes.”

To get a Police Officer perspective on responding to and healing from the Aurora tragedy, I turned to John Marx, the amazing Founder of Cops Alive. Cops Alive is an incredible resource for LEOs, with invaluable resources for ‘surviving the job.’ John Marx was gracious enough to share the following with us:

Critical Incident Support for Law Enforcement Officers
by John Marx of CopsAlive.com 

Recent events remind us that there are many unexpected situations that will take a toll on the officers and other law enforcement professionals working within your agency.

If you haven’t created a Peer Support System, now is the time to do so. If you already have a Peer Support Program, now is a good time to examine how well you would have been able to support your staff if you have a mass causality incident like the one in Aurora Colorado on July 20, 2012.

At The Law Enforcement Survival Institute and CopsAlive.com, we highly recommend that agencies assess their capabilities to support their staff, both during critical incidents as well as, for the every day caustic rigors of working in law enforcement.

As part of our Armor Your Self™ and Armor Your Agency™ training programs we recommend having numerous systems of support in place, one of the most important of which is a Peer Support Team.

We are very impressed with the work of police psychologist Jack Digliani, Ph.D., Ed.D..  We highly recommend his book as well as his training and the implementation of his Police & Sheriff Peer Support Team concept.

Dr. Digliani is a psychologist and a former deputy sheriff, police officer, and detective. He served as staff psychologist and peer support team clinical supervisor of the Fort Collins, Colorado Police Services for the last 11 years of his police career.  He is the author of Reflections of a Police Psychologist and provides training on creating peer support teams for police and sheriff’s agencies. You can learn more about him, his book and his training program, as well as download a free copy of Jack’s “Police & Sheriff Peer Support Team Manual” at: http://www.copsalive.com/digliani/

Here are some of Dr. Digliani’s thoughts about the peer support concept, how it supports officers involved in shootings, and how it can assist in the recovery following a traumatic incident.

Overview

The peer support team is part of each agency’s comprehensive response to an officer- involved incident and is comprised of the agency psychologist and officers trained as peer counselors. The team strives to minimize trauma to the officer and his/her family by assisting them throughout the investigative and return to duty process. Effective intervention will result in the officer returning to duty as soon as possible and continuing to be a productive member of the agency.

Mission

The peer support mission is to provide the officer and family members with emotional support, stress management, and education. In addition, help with trauma recovery, coping strategies to deal with the investigative process as it unfolds, issues surrounding the officer’s response to colleagues and the media and the facilitation of the officer’s return to duty. All interactions with the peer support psychologist are confidential and protected by the privileged communication statute.

Responsibilities

Peer Support serves a supportive rather than investigative or advocacy functions and does not interfere with the investigative process or elicit any details of the incident.

How to Recover from Traumatic Stress

1. Accept your emotions as normal and part of the recovery/survival process.
2. Talk about the event and your feelings.
3. Accept that you may have experienced fear and confronted your vulnerability.
4. Use your fear or anxiousness as a cue to utilize your officer safety skills.
5. Realize that your survival instinct was an asset at the time of the incident and that it remains intact to assist you again if needed.
6. Accept that you cannot always control events, but you can control your response.
7. If you are troubled by a perceived lack of control, focus on the fact that you had some control during the event. You used your strength to respond in a certain way.
8. Do not second-guess your actions. Evaluate your actions based on your perceptions at the time of the event, not afterwards.
9. Understand that your actions were based on the need to make a critical decision for action. The decision likely had to be made within seconds.
10. Accept that your behavior was appropriate to your perceptions and feelings at the time of the incident. Accept that no one is perfect. You may like/dislike some actions.
11. Focus on the things you did that you feel good about. Positive outcomes are often produced by less than perfect actions.
12. Do not take personally the response of the system. Keep the needs of the various systems (DA’s office, administrative investigation, the press, etc) in perspective.

Remember, the event most likely happened because you are a police officer and not because of who you are as a person.

Positive Recovery – keep in mind that you are naturally resilient

1. You will accept what happened. You will accept any experience of fear and any feelings of vulnerability as part of being human. Vulnerability is not helplessness.
2. You will accept that no one can control everything. You will focus on your behaviors and the appropriate application of authority. You will keep a positive perspective.
3. You will learn and grow from the experience. You will be able to assess all future circumstances on their own merits. You will become stronger and smarter.
4. You will include survivorship into your life perspective. You may re-evaluate life’s goals, priorities, and meaning. You will gain wisdom that can come from survivorship.
5. You will be aware of changes in yourself that may contribute to problems at home, work, and other environments. You will work to overcome these problems.
6. You will increase the intimacy of your actions and communications to those you love. You will remain open to the feedback of those who love you.

Getting Help

No one can work through the aftermath of a traumatic incident for you, but you do not have to go it alone. Keep an open mind. Allow your family, friends, and peers to help. Seek professional assistance if you get stuck, if you do not “feel like yourself” or if your friends or family notice dysfunctional emotional responses or behavior. Do not ignore those who care about you. Stay connected to your loved ones.

This article adapts and includes information from the Colorado Law Enforcement Academy Handbook and Reflections of a Police Psychologist (Digliani, J.A., 2010) reprinted with permission.

Please remember that by the nature of our work in law enforcement we will always be called upon to respond to some of the worst and most horrific situations on the planet and that we have volunteered to do so based upon our character, our strengths, our training and our resolve.  We cannot ever prepare ourselves fully for what we must face so we must constantly work to increase or resiliency and when we are faced with the worst of the world we must be prepared to accept assistance to ensure that we are able to fully recover and return to our positions of service.

CopsAlive.com and The Law Enforcement Survival Institute offer the Armor Your Self™ training programs to help officer’s survive the toxicity of their careers as well as Armor Your Agency™ programs to help agencies create systems to support their officers and staff.

The Eight Modules of The Armor Your Self™ Program:

1. The “Hidden Dangers” of Law Enforcement and Threat Assessment
2. Armor Your Self™ A New Strategy
3. Armor Your Self™ Physically
4. Armor Your Self™ Mentally
5. Armor Your Self™ Emotionally
6. Armor Your Self™ Spiritually
7. Armor Your Agency™
8. Action Planning for Career Survival

Critical Strategies Discussed in the Armor Your Agency™ Program

1. Mentoring Programs
2. Peer Support
3. Chaplain’s Program
4. Family Support Network
5. Psychological Services
6. Resilience Training & Education
7. Critical Incident Support System
8. Agency Orientation
9. Survivor Support
10. Medical and Wellness Services & Education

CLICK HERE to learn more about Armor Your Self™ Program

CLICK HERE to learn more about Armor Your Agency™ Program

CLICK HERE to read more about or contact The Law Enforcement Survival Institute

CopsAlive.com was founded to provide information and strategies to help police officers successfully survive their careers.  We help law enforcement officers and their agencies prepare for the risks that threaten their existence.  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.  We think the best strategy is for every officer to create a tactical plan for his or her life and career.  We call this Tactical Wellness planning.

The Law Enforcement Survival Institute (LESI) works with individuals and organizations to help them create and sustain success in their lives and careers as law enforcement professionals.  It is the primary goal of The Law Enforcement Survival Institute to become the preeminent source for training, resources and information about how to create and sustain a happy, healthy and successful life and career while providing superior law enforcement service to your community.

John Marx, Founder of The Law Enforcement Survival Institute and the Editor of CopsAlive.com.  Connect with him on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Our sincere Thanks to John Marx for sharing his immense insight and resources with us for this post. 

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