COLONIE — Nearly 60 representatives from 25 law enforcement agencies — including Colonie Police Department and EMS; sheriffs’ offices in Albany and Saratoga; New York State Police; New York State Park Police; and the FBI — took part in a two-day training program at The Crossings last week to learn how to improve and develop systems for helping officers and their families cope with suicide, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and line-of-duty deaths.
Offered by the State Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), the TRAUMA (Trauma Resources and Unified Management Assistance) program was first offered in December 2012 and is part of an effort to help enforcement agencies “better serve their communities.” Agency executives and leadership are offered the opportunity to voluntarily explore the issues that affect their agencies when tragedy strikes within their departments or their communities. According to DCJS, program objectives are twofold: “To assist agency executives in formulating plans to deal with an officer’s death, including creating policies for handling family notifications and funeral arrangements, and providing counseling for department members both immediately and in the long term; and, to help agencies provide support services for officers to deal with stress management and stress following critical incidents.”
“The training talks about job stressors, it talks about police suicide, it talks about line-of-duty deaths,” said DCJS Office of Public Safety Director Johanna Sullivan. “Police are experiencing and exposed to things that your average person isn’t dealing with as part of their job, and they may be very reluctant to talk about that, to talk about the grief or the challenges with their family or friends or colleagues. And so, we try to create these support services to help give them the skills they need to protect themselves and their families. Along with services, we also talk about developing a peer support group so that officers can talk with each other, which is something they learn how to do in this training, as well.”
“Training is very important,” said Colonie Police Chief Teale, who attended the TRAUMA training just a month after his department lost an officer in a shocking murder-suicide. “People may not realize that it’s not all wrestling with people and shooting guns. A lot of it is classroom, learning how to deal with emotionally disturbed persons and looking at legal issues. Periodically, different things come up that we need to react to, or try to get ahead of if we recognize a certain trend. If we want to provide services better and more efficiently, we need to periodically evaluate what we’re doing.”
During the course of the two-day training, classroom topics included: “how to prepare for deadly force encounters, with special emphasis on what those encounters will do to the mind and body;” how to identify PTSD versus acute stress disorder; and how to help suffering co-workers. Officers heard presenters share personal stories and learned about the Western New York Police Helpline. “The law enforcement community is really recognizing this need and asking us more and more to come and provide this training,” said Sullivan, who said that TRAUMA has been attended by more than 1,100 agency representatives at 15 different sessions DCJS has held since 2012. “So, that they can create these systems and structures to try to address these things. The amount of requests and positive feedback we’re getting . . . it’s making a real impact.”