Tearing Down Walls, Revisited

Does a top-down approach fail to empower cops when they need help?

 


 

Bullethead | From the September 2012 Issue Thursday, August 16, 2012

Bullethead,
I’m responding to your article “Tearing Down Walls”, in which you advocate for mandatory psychological testing and treatment after traumatic incidents. But the greatest source of stress and anxiety for officers is the hierarchical, bureaucratic processes of police organizations. The paramilitary structure is designed and works well for emergency and crisis response, but not much else.

The word mandatory means top-down direction with coercive means. As an
existential-humanistic psychologist with years of professional emergency services experience, I wince at the “father-knows-best” approach to caring for cops. Top-down approach implies that police aren’t capable of exercising personal choice and that the department’s interest supersedes that of the officer.

The medical model implies illnesses. But these aren’t “medical” in nature. Mental health issues in policing usually result from a person psychologically comporting to an unhealthy environment and lifestyle. The top-down approach fails to empower officers.

e have to change our paradigm about what psychological suffering is and what to do about it. We need strategies that help officers who get lost to find their way. We don’t hire defeated, despairing, burned-out people—we create them with our organizational processes and structures. When an officer commits suicide, it’s an indication of a sick organization—not a sick person. “Problematizing” everything and thinking another mandate will “fix” our people is wrong. We need to educate and empower our people about living balanced, meaningful lives.

When I was the greatest cop, I was the worst husband and father. It took 15 years and a PhD in psychology to find out why.

—Rodger E. Broomé, PhD

 

Dr. Broomé,
Sorry I had to chop your insightful email to what’s left. I only get so many words because Law Officer knows I’d fill the whole magazine if they don’t give me a mandate. My articles are also edited and I get angry about slight changes in meaning. Turns out the magazine is bigger than me, and I can either accept that or move on.

I was a junior sergeant assigned to a tactical unit. One of my guys was going through a really bad divorce. Ol’ Bullethead has seen some lousy divorces but this one was as bloody as a rollover accident involving a motorcycle and a convertible. He’s a friend of mine and I was watching him implode. I’ve never seen anything like what this divorce did to this guy. I was worried that he might kill himself or take his tactical ability and his sniper rifle and do something else. I tried reaching out to him and got snubbed. I suggested he seek professional help and got told to F-off. I worried about him, I worried about his ex and her new guy, and I worried about the team and the department. I spoke with a senior sergeant who told me all we can do is hand him the Employee Assistance Program flyer and hope he doesn’t kill anyone.

I was standing helplessly between the betrayal of a good troop and watching a friend go homicidal with agency-issued gear. I’m all for existential-humanistic-psychological-holistic whatever you said, but right then I wanted, and my troop needed, to be told: “We’re going to speak with someone to give you some coping skills.”

Ultimately, what worked was similar to what you suggest—but from a Bullethead perspective. I made PT so hard he couldn’t keep up, and then told him what to do between training days to get where he needed to be. When he started to exercise, he felt better. As he felt better, he started to think straight. When his body and mind were clear, he was able to move on. This is why we exercise—it’s not just so that we can keep up in a foot pursuit.

Eventually I convinced him to go see a professional, and he’s now a whole man again—body, mind and spirit. He no longer gets worked up over other people’s promotions or jacked-up administrative mandates because the department is no longer the center of his existence. Why he became a cop isn’t important: he does a fantastic job and then he goes home. The processes and structures of the department make him laugh, and sometimes talk a little smack. But it rolls off him as easily as him taking off his uniform.

Bottom line: Forced empowerment training is as top-down as mandated shrinks. Cops need to stop caring about what the head shed does—we can’t change it! We need to do our best at work, and then go home and love our families and enjoy our hobbies. It’s the only non-mandated recipe for complete body, mind and spirit health. Training or shrink visits—either way, a cop needs to learn it.




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