Protecting Against Stress & Trauma: Research Lessons for Law Enforcement – Audience Q&A

RACHEL ANDERSON: Rachel Anderson. I am a AAAS fellow at the National Institutes
of Health and former fellow here at NIJ. And I’ve really appreciated listening to your
discussion this morning. One thing that I didn’t hear anyone mention
was substance abuse. And I’m sure most people here have the same
sense that coping with stress and trauma is often cited as a factor that drives alcohol
and other substance use. And in particular, chronic alcohol use disregulates
brain stress systems and exacerbates symptoms of stress-related disorders like PTSD. So I’m hoping that some of you might have
some comments on the need or experiences that you’ve had with preventive efforts or treatment
interventions for substance abuse, for individuals in this high stress profession. CHRISTOPHER SCALLON: That’s my day to day. So here’s the deal with substance abuse. It’s a symptom. And often agencies focus on the symptom. I know you probably never heard of it but
there’s been a cop once or twice get a DUI. We immediately treat that as a, oh my God,
he messed up or she messed up, blah, blah, blah. We’re not asking the right questions. We should be asking, wait a minute, why at
10 o’clock in the morning did this officer crash his car and is drunk? Why? And that’s the trauma informed–not what’s
wrong with him but what’s happened to get us to this point? The big thing with substance abuse is that
there’s such a stigma associated with it and in getting treatment but that’s not even the
worst of it. We don’t have the facilities or we don’t have
the knowledge of where to go when we need to get help. There’s a great example of an individual that–an
officer that came to me. Well, we went to his house at about 3:00 in
the morning because crisis never happens at noon. It’s always like 3:00 in the morning. And we sent him to a facility. A world–a nationally recognized facility. Our insurance covered all but $500 a day. And so 20, you know, 21-, 28-, you know, 45-
or 90-day stay, an officer is looking to come out-of-pocket anywhere between $10,000 to
$50,000. Now here’s the other side of it. We need to have facilities that are first-responder
savvy. Now imagine sitting in a group because when
you go in to inpatient work, you’ll be doing group work and you’ll be doing individual
counseling. So imagine sitting next to somebody and they’re
like, “All right, you know, what’s going on with you?” “Well, you know, I grew up being abused by
my mother. I wound up stabbing my stepfather in the face. I started drinking to cover it up and next
thing you know, by the way, I’m getting ready to serve 18 years if I don’t complete this
program and, you know, my roommate woke me up and I thought it was my mom, so I stabbed
him.” “Okay. Well, thank you. What’s your name?” “Hi, I’m Chris. I’m a cop.” Yeah, it’s not your–that’s going to be the
best most awkward, you know, setting. And in order to get healthy, in order to become
sober to get through the recovery process, you have to be honest and no cop is going
to be honest sitting next to somebody who they find themselves more adversarial. HOWARD SPIVAK: Other comments? JOHN VIOLANTI: That’s funny that, in terms
of research, stress and alcohol abuse are co-morbid. They occur a lot quick. In one of our research projects, we looked
at that and what was–what the effect was on suicide ideation and if you had high levels
of stress and you had high alcohol use, you had a tenfold risk of suicide ideation. So all of those things are kind of a nasty
triad that people involved in alcohol are at higher risk for suicide as well. HOWARD SPIVAK: So from what I’m hearing, it
sounds like we need to deal with the substance abuse in a bigger context and not just focus
on the substance abuse itself? CHRISTOPHER SCALLON: Yeah, the substance abuse
is a result of some underlying trauma or, you know, cumulative trauma or whatever it
is. If all we’re working on is to get to somebody
to stop drinking, we’re missing the boat completely. We need to fix it and the best way I’d describe
it to folks is it’s that we have a cup that starts empty and then we put trauma in it. And it starts getting filled up a little bit,
maybe a big splash. And eventually it starts overflowing. Well, the overflowing is the suicidal ideations. The overflowing is the DUI. You’re trying to self-medicate through whatever
whether it be pharmaceuticals which, you know, I’ve experienced. So if you just pour it out, yeah, sure, your
cup is not overflowing but how long is it going to take for that cup to get filled up
again? So what that involves with the academic side
of it and the mental health side of it is dumping that cup out. And that means addressing the underlying trauma. And it’s unique for where we are in specific
parts of the agency. In other words, there’s no–there’s a pretty
coincidental thing that happens. A lot of like sexual assault investigators
have a history. There’s a good portion that have a history
of being–so they–understanding that maybe they need to address that before they start,
you know, going over the top or falling over. STEVE BISHOPP: So, I have a couple of comments
and suggestions particularly that deal with research. And then a question for John Violanti. My name is Dr. Steve Bishopp. I’m a sergeant with the Dallas Police Department. I’ve been there right at 29 years and I’ve
been involved in quite a bit of research of my own in officer mental health and use of
force so that’s where these questions are coming from. Anyway, so I’ll start with Dan. When you were talking about mindfulness and
some of the programs that are going on, I was also going to just let you know or make
you aware that the University of Texas of Dallas brain centers, brain sciences is also
doing a lot of work in that area and doing programs with the Dallas Police Department
and some other agencies. That might be a resource or somebody to reach
out to see what they’ve done as well. I don’t know if you’re aware of that. You can’t always be aware of everything going
on but I was just going to tell you that. But I wanted to address a little bit about
the resiliency part and I believe that resiliency, and this is for Chris as well, I think resiliency
starts at recruiting. So if we have recruiting measures where we’re
finding people that are already emotionally healthy what–are they married? Are their–are their–are their relationships
going well? What past have they experienced in college,
victims of serious violent crime? I’m not talking about these, mixing them out. But this would start the resiliency issue
and having people resilient coming into the job in the first place. Next, I think, you know, Wendy, we talked
about this before that sergeants are probably the most important people when it comes to
officer resilience. I’ve been a sergeant for 19 years, so I’m
particularly focused in this area. But I believe sergeants have probably the
biggest impact on whether the officers come to work and want to work, feel like they’re
supported by supervision. We find that that variable consistently in
the research–mental health research of stress-related issues with officers that their relationship
with their supervisors is one of the biggest organizational stressors that they’re going
to come across. But anyway, I wanted to make just some points
about resiliency and the mindfulness training which officers who go to it-even if they are
reluctant to go to it-they’re coming out of it saying, “Hey, that was some good stuff. I can use that. I wish I had had that before.” So I’m just repeating your call to that because
I think you’re right. And I think really–I guess back to John. one of the questions–or one of the things
I wanted to ask you to do, if you could talk just a little bit about your study–on the
life expectancy study- the one I emailed back and forth with you about awhile back-because
I think that more than anything else really hammers home the physiological impact of stress
on police officers in the life expectancy of police. I’ll cut it off there. I had a bunch of notes but I’ll leave it go
at that. But I would like to hear about that and see
what you had to say. JOHN VIOLANTI: Well, the news isn’t good. I mean, we have–look at our Buffalo sample. I’ll start with that and then talk more about
what we did with that. We did a police mortality cohort, which is
a study of a group of police officers from 1950 to 2015. And we looked at this, what officers died
from and so forth and so on. The lifespan for that particular cohort was
68.2 years. Now the average lifespan for white males,
by the way, in the United States is probably around 78, 79-somewhere in that area. So they’re dying at a much earlier age and
they’re dying more, as I mentioned before, from heart disease- and cardiovascular disease-related
deaths. The other part of the study compared that
sample with the national sample of life expectancy in the United States. And what we found that at various ages, police
officers were always at greater risk for dying than was the general population. An example between the ages of 15 and 55,
they had a 40% greater chance of dying than did the average citizen in the United States. As they got older, of course, they had a greater
chance of dying. But the really interesting thing about that
is that the younger officers had an increase of dying over people in the general population
and dying of cardiovascular disease. So what causes a young person to have a heart attack or having some sort of a cardiovascular malfunction? Well, again, lifestyle, stress, you know,
police officers putting up with this stuff, what they put up with every day. Now policing–the stress in policing is only
one factor, you know, what does that affect? It affects your diet. It affects your health. It affects your sleep. It affects your life. So all of these things together decrease the
life expectancy of police officers. How do you stop that? Well again, wellness issues are important. Getting people well, getting officers well. Training them to be well. How to sleep, how to eat, how to deal with
stress, use mindfulness, use yoga. Use what you want. But my gosh, take care of it. But yeah, they–it’s unfortunate that they
die at an earlier age than the general population. CAITLIN THOMPSON: Hi. Caitlin Thompson with Cohen Veterans Network
and prior to my work there, I oversaw the suicide prevention program for the Department
of Veterans Affairs. And I’m really interested in hearing Major
Stiver about your experience in terms of being a veteran as well as just what the cross–what
research is being done for our veterans who are also going into law enforcement. I know that there are so many–there are so
many similarities, the sleep deprivation, the family difficulties, the substance abuse,
et cetera, et cetera. So what is been doing right–what is being
done right now to better understand that and just overall what are your thoughts in terms
of those–the overlaps? Thank you. WENDY STIVER: I–so I was in the Army in the–in
the ’90s before a lot of the changes happened after 9/11 that led to increases in deployments
and things like that in the military. And a lot of my friends who were still in
the military have been deployed five, six, seven times or just even being deployed once
when I was in the military was rare. And in some of my exploration here, what I
found is that the military–and when we talked about family support, the military already
had kind of some of those concepts built in in terms of taking care of soldiers and their
families or airmen and their families. And I–as a–as a kid growing up in the Air
Force, we were very well-cared for. And my dad deployed, my dad went on unaccompanied
assignments and was gone. And so we had great support networks that
were already there back in the–in the ’70s to give away my age. But so–and then kind of about five years
after the invasion of Iraq, the military really started looking hard at resiliency and how
to build more resilient workforces because suicide numbers were going up and they were
noticing the need to improve on the systems that were already there. And I think that’s what we’re seeing in police
now, and I think it’s–it is–there’s a–some of it is coming over and we’re learning, or
we have the ability to learn from some of the things that the military has done to build. There’s a whole, like, Air Force office of
resiliency. Like, they’ve got a whole group of people
that are working on this. And so the challenge is going to be building
that into the operational structures of police departments at a time when we’re struggling to recruit, we’re struggling to meet our operational commitments. And I can tell you that when it comes to doing
research and bringing that back into our agencies, one of the biggest challenges is that you’ve
got–nobody has the capacity because any kind of project is viewed as a threat to operational
resources. So we take a police officer away from policing
to work on a project that might help us out in the long run, but we’re taking a police
officer away from policing. And I think that’s one of the big challenges. But I have seen where the VA and the military
have been looking very closely at and studying suicide and the impact on both active military
members and veterans. And that’s a huge part of our recruiting pool. We’re bringing in a lot of people from the
military into policing so the better work that they’re–you’re doing in the VA and the
better work they’re doing in the military may have some impacts on what we see in policing
as we–as we move forward. DAN GRUPE: Just on a related note, a quick
follow up. One of the teachers who teaches our mindfulness
class, Chris, does a lot of teaching and coaching inside the VA too and made me aware of this
whole health initiative that the VA has been rolling out, which is really a philosophical
shift that puts the individual and health promotion at the center of healthcare as opposed
to disease management, and is a personalized approach that integrates a lot of things we’ve
been talking about, mindfulness, sleep, hygiene, nutrition, relationships, spirituality. But it’s really person-centered and asks the
veteran what matters most to you and how can we develop an individualized plan of health
to promote those things that matter to them. So, I think it’s something for law enforcement
if they’re not already looking at it, to take a look at this model. HOWARD SPIVAK: Right. JOHN VIOLANTI: It’s like a… HOWARD SPIVAK: Oh, yeah. Please, go ahead. JOHN VIOLANTI: Okay. I just wanted to add that I think one of the
important things to consider is the reintegration of people coming back from war, from Afghanistan,
into police work. If they were officers when they left and they
went to war, and they came back, there’s quite an adjustment coming back to the job of being
a cop again. And, you know, things are different in the streets in Baghdad than they are in the streets of Detroit. Well, it’s close but, [laugher] you know,
it–they’re different. And different modes of dealing with people
and–so there needs to be a reintegration process and I think most departments are doing
that, a re-training, a lot having to do with driving and shooting, and everything. It has to be kind of be learned all over again. Because the military way of doing things in
combat is quite different. DR. LESTER ANDRIST: Great. Thank you for this panel. It’s been really informative and excellent. I’m Dr. Lester Andrist, Director of The Public
Safety Leadership Administration Program, New Masters–Professional Masters Program
at the University of Maryland. And we have this focus on leadership for law
enforcement, and other public safety officials. And I just wanted to ask from any or all of
you if you had one suggestion for changing organizational culture, just one implementation,
something that we can implement. I think that that–I mean, I think that’s
a huge question but I think it’s a really important one. Other than just sort of rounding up people in a classroom and saying, you know, “This is important.” Is there something that, you know, you thought
about that could make that change? CHRISTOPHER SCALLON: I do–I do a lot of speaking
at different universities. And it’s a–it’s always interesting when you
come across, like a criminal justice major or something like that, who knows everything. I think the best thing you could do and what
helps any organization or, you know, people learning about it, is to be honest. Here’s the bad part, being honest about what
we do isn’t always pretty, you know. Every–everybody–There’s a picture. Everybody wants to be a lion until it’s time
to do lion stuff, and then it gets pretty ugly. So, I–and I spoke with a friend of mine,
a doctor who’s over here at Old Dominion University, and we used to repeatedly go there. And I would tell them about the struggles. I would tell him about how hard it was to
deal with certain things that I saw and how that stress affected me in doing investigations. You know, when we deal with–you know, we
talk about how many–how many children can you see physically, sexually molested to the
point where they need hospitalization? I mean, how many times can you see that before
you’re starting to get this distaste for what humanity does to you? And again, it’s just cumulative on top. That’s just one thing on top of 13 others. If we allow ourselves to be real and understand
that, “Hey, we have problems on our end.” Until we start recognizing that, we’re not
going to change anything, you know? I guess–and you go to any agency, I always
ask, you know, I said, “Hey, how many–how many drunks do you have in your agency?” And they’re like, “We have a couple.” No, you don’t. No, you don’t. You know, “How many of your folks have thought
about suicide, you know?” “Well, you know, we–not that many.” “No. It’s a lot. I’m here to tell you.” We have to be okay with saying it, I think
ultimately. WENDY STIVER: Yeah. And I think when you talk about changing the
culture, I mean, that’s a–that’s a really, really huge order. But I put–there are a couple of things there. One is, I had the privilege to go down to
Columbia, South Carolina and meet with some folks at the Richland County Sheriff’s Office. And Sheriff Leon Lott there has done some
pretty impressive things with changing the perception of that agency when it comes to
the stigma of PTSD, and the things that his people have encountered. And he let me sit in a room with these folks
and just listen to their stories all day, and they were very patient and kind, and giving
in that way. But they made it very clear we talk about
this, and we talk about this openly with everybody in the agency when they come in the front
door. And so that’s kind of helped to change the
way they perceive it. I think the other thing and the other big
thing is diversifying our agencies and not just bringing in people of different cultures
and backgrounds and races, and expecting them to conform to the organizational culture,
but allowing them to bring their own culture into the agency. And my agency just graduated from the academy,
one of our first African immigrant officers. It was a big day for us and it was a big day
for him. But he brings a whole different–he’s from
Burundi. He brings a whole different culture and different
ideas to the agency. And I think we don’t just expect him to conform
but celebrate what he brings to the table. In the United States, we’re looking at an average of about 12 1/2 percent women in police agencies, right? And we know that women bring different cultural
perspectives into this job that can help change the way we think about things. So, I think that’s really, really important. We’ve been working on it for a while, just
in broad terms of diversifying our agencies, and it needs a lot more work because there’s
not a whole lot of research on how to do it better and what works and what doesn’t. HOWARD SPIVAK: Thanks. We’re running out of time and I want to give
the last few people a chance to ask questions, so… ELIZABETH MUMFORD: Hi. My name is Elizabeth Mumford. I’m with NORC at the University of Chicago
based here in Maryland. And I want to just take this opportunity to
thank NIJ and some people in the room who supported a national-level study of agencies
and officers in terms of safety and wellness. So we have collected the agency level data. We’ve closed the cross sectional first wave
of the officer data, and we got additional NIJ funding to follow up. We’re really hoping to expand the sample. It’s a challenge to get. We have the right statisticians so we have
really good weights and stuff like that, but it’s a challenge to get agencies and officers
to participate in these studies, where we’re asking a lot of sensitive questions at the
national level. But we’re specifically doing this to bring
this data to the table to raise awareness in administrative meetings and municipal funding
conversations about what the extent of PTSD is, what the extent of resilience is in the
officer population, how many of them are coming from the military and what are they dealing
with in their personal lives. So, I wanted to put that out there and to
ask if anybody is interested to please reach out to me because we certainly would welcome
inputs. On my own, I’ve also studied a lot of trauma-informed
care in the last five years. I will stand up like I’m at an AA meeting. I come from a history of suicidality so I’m
really sensitive to these topics and making sure that we all feel comfortable talking
about it. I was on a panel with CNA about three months
ago, and what was raised was the issue of the stigma if you have something like this
on your record, you can’t retire with your weapon. And I wondered if anybody wanted to comment
on this because this really– I didn’t–hadn’t heard of this before and this really shocks me that we’re facing this insoluble situation of somebody needing–feeling a need to retire
with a weapon but fearing that putting it on their record is going to stop that. CHRISTOPHER SCALLON: Yeah. WENDY STIVER: Yeah, I know. CHRISTOPHER SCALLON: Yeah. Yeah. That’s a big issue, you know. The–as far as retiring with your weapon,
that’s a new one. But reaching out for help will–and this is
where–this is where the problem is from the top down. If I reach out for help and I say I have an
issue. I’m drinking. I can’t control it. I need help. Depending on–most agencies are fairly small. We’re not dealing with large agencies. But I’m not getting transferred to any specialty
assignment because I’m a drunk, right? There is no concept of somebody being in recovery. And when somebody’s in recovery and they slip,
relapse, that’s part of the recovery process, they’re penalized for it. They’re penalized for it. So, you–we don’t get help because our agencies–well
the–no, we would never–listen, we want to help our officers. That guy will never work in traffic.” You’re like–it’s so–they’re talking out
of the side out of their mouths, right? So, that’s why you get a lot of people doing
that. And as far as the gun thing, it’s–if–what
I’ve seen happen is that somebody voluntarily go to get help. And then while they’re receiving help, it
becomes involuntary. And depending on what state you’re in, like,
for example Virginia. If you’re involuntarily held at a–at a facility,
you can’t have a gun anymore. So, it’s not about even having a job anymore. You’re not–it’s done. It’s over. But different states have different things. HOWARD SPIVAK: All right. I’m sorry, but we–I just got a sign that
we’re–we have to wrap up so I think we’re going to have to close off questions. I was asked to do a wrap up on this and I
have to say there’s far too much that’s been talked about for me to do that. But what I will do in closing is reference
for all of you the fact that NIJ has on its website a strategic research plan for safety
and wellness in this area. I think a fair amount of what we talked about
today is covered in that. I think there are some holes that were pointed
out today which are interesting that we’ll have to think about. But I encourage you to look at that and we’re
certainly open to feedback from any of you if you review it and have any thoughts about
it. So on that note, I want to thank our panelists. They’re totally wonderful. Thank you.

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