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Detroit police program launches to help alleviate officers’ job-related stress

MAY 11, 2014 AT 6:31 PM

By George Hunter

The Detroit News

 

Detroit— In a city often described as a war zone, police officials have launched a program to help cops deal with a condition best known for afflicting soldiers fighting overseas: post-traumatic stress disorder.

The first phase of the program kicked off last month, when 20 officers underwent training to recognize the symptoms of PTSD. On May 5, doctors trained Detroit Police Command staff about identifying problems associated with stress.

“This is a unique approach — the officers are driving this,” Assistant Chief James White said. “This isn’t going to be the command staff forcing officers into anything; it’s about keeping good people good.”

The program is in its early stages, and police officials are awaiting doctors’ input before implementing protocols to help officers deal with PTSD, First Assistant Chief Lashinda Houser said.

“One of the components will be peer-to-peer assistance,” Houser said. “Sometimes officers may not feel comfortable talking to commanders, but they’d probably be more likely to open up to each other.”

John Marx, director of the Law Enforcement Survival Institute, a Colorado-based consulting and training organization that focuses on police stress-related problems, said PTSD treatment for cops is “an evolving issue.”

“Officer stress isn’t anything new, but these stress-related issues are becoming more recognizable,” said Marx, who served as a police officer for 23 years.

“In the past, I think we’ve always placed our attention elsewhere, so I’m thrilled to see more emphasis being put on this issue, because lots of officers see some terrible things over the course of their careers.”

Detroit Police Sgt. Javier Chapa said he’s seen his share of horrors during his 21 years on the force — and suffered the emotional fallout.

“Some of the crimes we see … getting shot at — it can cause serious stress,” said Chapa, who works in the Organized Theft Unit and serves as a crisis negotiator, after years of working on the Gang Squad and in various precincts.

“I’ve seen people decapitated, cut in half, babies killed. Some things you just can’t get out of your head.

“I’ve suffered from stress-related symptoms throughout my career,” Chapa said. “My hair has fallen out. I’ve had anxiety attacks. I drank heavily for a few years. I didn’t know what PTSD was then, but I knew something wasn’t right.”

Chapa said he’s had friends on the force commit suicide or turn to alcohol. Many of them, he said, are reluctant to ask for help.

“A lot of officers might have a hard time admitting they have a problem, because they might think they’d be viewed as weak,” he said. “Police officers think they should be in control of their emotions, so it’s hard for them to admit they’ve got a problem.”

Job-related stress for officers leads to domestic violence, alcoholism, divorce and, some believe, higher suicide rates than the general population.

The National Center for Women & Policing reported last year that two studies found at least 40 percent of police officer families experience domestic violence, compared to 10 percent of families in the general population. And some studies suggest suicide rates among police officers are as much as three times the national average, although some have questioned that data.

Chapa said he was able to overcome his emotional issues by first admitting he had a problem.

“There came a time where I stopped being a victim and said I needed to take control of my life,” he said.

“I’ve been sober for nine years. It helps to talk about what you’re going through. If you don’t, all that stress builds up, and there’s no way to release it — and then the wheels fall off.”

ghunter@detroitnews.com 

From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20140511/METRO01/305110007#ixzz31hwfayDN

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