Training to address PTSD, suicide issues among cops
Lansing Police Department will host a workshop Nov. 8-9
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.operationshatteredstars.org.
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.