Train­ing to ad­dress PTSD, sui­cide is­sues among cops

Lans­ing Po­lice Depart­ment will host a work­shop Nov. 8-9

Daily Southtown - - FRONT PAGE - By Donna Vick­roy

Robert Fox still has night­mares.

The re­tired Stick­ney and Ber­wyn po­lice de­tec­tive said cases in­volv­ing in­fant mur­ders, child sex as­saults and the ac­ci­dent in which he watched a child burn in a car cre­ated so much Post Trau­matic Stress Dis­or­der that he still has panic at­tacks and anx­i­ety is­sues.

“There were nights I’d wake up sweat­ing so pro­fusely I thought I uri­nated my own bed,” he said.

Though the Ber­wyn Po­lice Depart­ment was sup­port­ive and help­ful, he said, the cu­mu­la­tive PTSD fi­nally caused him to take duty re­lated dis­abil­ity. He now works in the pri­vate sec­tor, where he doesn’t carry a firearm and doesn’t wear a uni­form.

He also has founded Op­er­a­tion Shat­tered Stars, a non­profit aimed at ed­u­cat­ing and sup­port­ing mem­bers of law en­force­ment about the im­por­tance of be­ing proac­tive with their men­tal health. It has held work­shops on men­tal health aware­ness for cops across the state.

The Lans­ing Po­lice Depart­ment will host

a train­ing ses­sion Thurs­day and Fri­day.

So far, of­fi­cers from Mat­te­son, Home­wood, Portage, Ind., and Metra have signed on, Lans­ing Lt. Tim Biron said.

Men­tal health is a grow­ing con­cern among po­lice of­fi­cers to­day, Biron said.

“It’s not a re­cent prob­lem, we’re just now start­ing to re­al­ize we need to deal with it,” he said.

Biron said though sta­tis­tics are not al­ways ac­cu­rate due to un­der­re­port­ing, there were about 140 po­lice of­fi­cer sui­cides in 2017.

So far this year, there have been four in Chicago alone and one in Joliet in Septem­ber, he said.

“We’re learn­ing more about PTSD. Some stud­ies say 19 per­cent of all of­fi­cers have it; oth­ers stud­ies say it’s as high as 34 per­cent,” Biron said.

Peo­ple wit­ness trau­matic events and deal with ad­verse sit­u­a­tions some­times re­peat­edly over the course of a ca­reer, he said.

“There have been crit­i­cal in­ci­dents right here in Lans­ing,” he added.

The work­shop, he said, will train of­fi­cers in how to be a peer sup­port. Those who com­plete the train­ing will be able to of­fer as­sis­tance to oth­ers on a con­fi­den­tial ba­sis.

Of­fi­cers deal­ing with PTSD can seek help lo­cally, he added, or if they don’t want their peers to know what they’re go­ing through, can get help across the state.

Shat­tered Stars has held sim­i­lar train­ing pro­grams in Elgin, Pa­los Heights, Spring­field and Rock­ford, Fox said.

“Sta­tis­ti­cally what pro­fes­sion­als are find­ing now is that more po­lice of­fi­cers are killed by their own hands — by sui­cide — each year than they are by some­one else,” Fox said.

“We at Shat­tered Stars try to let of­fi­cers know that it’s OK to not be OK, that what we see and deal with on a daily ba­sis is not nor­mal,” he said. “Sure, it’s part of the job but you’re a hu­man be­ing be­fore you put on that uni­form ev­ery­day.”

Policing has not got­ten worse with re­gard to what’s wit­nessed on a daily ba­sis, he said.

“I think what has hap­pened is that peo­ple like me have spo­ken out about the stigma that’s out there,” Fox said.

Some po­lice acad­e­mies to­day are rec­og­niz­ing the need for psy­cho­log­i­cal train­ing in ad­di­tion to the phys­i­cal work, he said. “They weren’t teach­ing that when I went through.”

The job-re­lated stress, he said, can lead to al­co­holism or di­vorce.

“It changes you. It re­ally changes you. And it takes you awhile to get back to how you used to be,” he said.

Shat­tered Stars also pro­vides re­sources, such as ac­cess to pro­fes­sional coun­selors, and a lim­ited amount of fi­nan­cial aid to of­fi­cers and fam­i­lies in need, he said.

“Peer sup­port is noth­ing new. It’s been around for a long time. It’s not about le­gal ad­vice or try­ing to be a coun­selor,” he said. “It’s about be­ing a friend and a lis­ten­ing ear.”

For more in­for­ma­tion, go to www.op­er­a­tionshat­tered­


Coun­selor Kristy McKi­ness leads a class on men­tal health and peer sup­port for Op­er­a­tion Shat­tered Stars at the Elgin Po­lice Depart­ment. Lans­ing po­lice plan to host a work­shop.

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