You Are Not Alone
Throughout their careers, peace officers will experience numerous critical incidents which impact each individual significantly. These vary in nature and can be defined by a single event, or the accumulation of multiple, negative career-related experiences.
Law enforcement professionals rarely receive critical incident stress management and support, and available resources are lacking. Coping mechanisms differ and often are negative, resulting in substance abuse, domestic issues, violence and suicide. Studies show that peace officers take their own lives at a rate much higher than the general public. Kentucky has lost at least six officers to suicide during the past two years. Studies also have suggested a correlation between stress and an increase in use of force.
The Department of Criminal Justice Training is working toward filling this void in care by creating a new program, the Kentucky Post-Critical Incident Seminar. This program will offer law enforcement professionals an avenue to properly manage the aftermath of critical incidents, receive peer support, learn coping strategies and more.
What is a Critical Incident
A critical incident is any event that results in an overwhelming sense of vulnerability and/or loss of control. These include line-of-duty death, getting shot or seriously hurt on the job, high speed pursuits that end in tragedy, events that bring prolonged and critical media attention, personal tragedies and the like.
What is PCIS
The Post-Critical Incident Seminar is a three-day seminar modeled after highly successful programs developed by the FBI and South Carolina Law Enforcement. These seminars are led by mental-health professionals trained to work with peace officers, and driven by a team of law enforcement peers who have experienced their own critical incident and received training in Critical Incident Stress Management. The mental-health professionals offer blocks of instruction about grief, relationships, medications and stress management. Additional one-on-one therapy is available for those with an identified need. Peer law enforcement team members instill trust, aid in breaking down stigma and lead to officers, who typically would not seek help, getting the assistance they need and deserve.
Measurement of Success
Research has shown in South Carolina, where this program originated, that the state is experiencing a much healthier law enforcement community as a result of their post-critical incident seminars. South Carolina officers now know what resources are available to them and are encouraged to seek them out and, as a result, the program has grown.
Kentucky officers who have endured critical incidents cannot do the job set before them when their own safety and health is at risk.
What to Expect
The Post-Critical Incident Seminar begins on day one with guided large-group discussions. A mental-health professional guides these discussions, with assistance from Critical Incident Stress Management-trained law enforcement peers. These stories can last five minutes to one hour, and include an opportunity for spouses or significant others attending with their peace officer, to share their post-critical incident experience as well.
This time of conversation is an opportunity for attendees to experience the empathy of their fellow officers and establish a bond from shared experiences.
The mental-health professional will conduct one-on-one sessions with attendees to discuss their individual needs and determine if they are candidates for specific therapies. The training team also will divide the group into small groups with similar experiences. For example, if six peace officer attendees experienced trauma following a fatal vehicle collision, they will be joined together with a peer-team member who also experienced something similar.
In these small groups, peace officers will continue discussing their critical incidents in a safe, more intimate environment where fellow attendees can support each other and address how these critical incidents affected each participant.
Day two continues small-group discussions with additional classroom training on topics such as the body’s response to stress. These open conversations lead to normalization. Officers and their spouses are free to speak without judgment.
Finally, day three allows for a time of follow up. Discussion is focused on how peace officer attendees and spouses have coped with their critical incident in the past and how they plan to cope in the future. By the third day, attendees have built bridges with fellow survivors and established a solid foundation for a healthier future.
Post-traumatic stress is a body’s normal reaction to an abnormal event. Normalization of the attendee’s experience is a critical goal of the PCIS program. Peer-team members and mental-health professionals work to validate officers’ experiences, offer therapies and provide peace.
Attending PCIS provides a unique opportunity for attendees to talk about their story and receive resources to help them move beyond their event or events. Mental-health professionals leading the program are trained to understand law-enforcement culture, allowing for specific and appropriate responses oftentimes not found in general counseling practices.
The goal of PCIS is to send officers and their attending spouses back home re-energized, healthier and with a fervor for sharing their new skills. Program graduates will learn and share that it is OK to talk about their experience and open the door for others to share and heal from their critical incidents.