Ma­hanoy City po­lice hires doc­tor to deal with stress

Psy­chol­o­gist joins force

The Republican Herald - - FRONT PAGE - By JOHN E. USALIS stAff Writer

MA­HANOY CITY — The Ma­hanoy City Po­lice Depart­ment has a new mem­ber to as­sist of­fi­cers when they face stress­ful sit­u­a­tions in pro­tect­ing the pub­lic.

Dr. H. An­thony Se­mone, Ph.D., was ap­pointed as psy­chol­o­gist to the po­lice depart­ment last week by the Ma­hanoy City Bor­ough Coun­cil at the rec­om­men­da­tion of Chief of Po­lice Ken­neth E. Zipovsky.

Se­mone is part of the depart­ment and has his own po­lice badge, but does not have the abil­ity to ar­rest. Out in the field, his jacket has “psy­chol­o­gist” on the back.

A Marine Corps veteran, Se­mone, 79, of Wyn­d­moor, comes to Ma­hanoy City af­ter serv­ing more than a dozen years in the same po­si­tion at the Ha­zle­ton Po­lice Depart­ment.

Zipovsky, who served as first lieu­tenant with the Ha­zle­ton po­lice force be­fore tak­ing over as bor­ough po­lice chief in Jan­uary, be­lieves Se­mone will be an as­set to the po­lice of­fi­cers in the bor­ough, and will also be avail­able to as­sist as psy­chol­o­gist to other lo­cal depart­ments.

Se­mone is pro­vid­ing his ser­vices at no cost.

“I’m glad to be here and es­pe­cially glad to be with Chief Zipovsky. I’ve known and worked with him for many years,” Se­mone said.

In ad­di­tion to Ha­zle­ton, Se­mone has worked with po­lice depart­ments in Su­gar­loaf and But­ler town­ships in Luzerne County, the Read­ing Sher­iff ’s Depart­ment and the SWAT divi­sion in Philadel­phia.

Along with work­ing with po­lice and help­ing them deal with stress, Se­mone has also per­son­ally dealt with crime.

“My pri­mary ex­po­sure to the real side of life was when my wife (Dr. Ellen Ster­ling, Ph.D.) and I were liv­ing in West Philadel­phia with three at­tempted mug­gings, where I out­ran the at­tempted mug­ger be­cause I was quite a run­ner in those days, two home in­va­sions and there was a se­ries of stop-and-robs that were go­ing on when a car would stop and some­one would jump out to rob you,” Se­mone said.

He said the de­ci­sion to move came af­ter the murderer of a lo­cal col­lege stu­dent was found by Philadel­phia po­lice on their back porch.

“We de­cided it was time to get out of dodge here back in 1995, so we moved to bu­colic Wyn­d­moor, Penn­syl­va­nia, which has no crime. It re­ally doesn’t,” Se­mone said.

In 2004, Se­mone went to his bank and while he was there in an of­fice, some­one en­tered to rob the bank.

“I am li­censed to carry and I do, so ev­ery­where I can do so legally,” Se­mone said. “I im­me­di­ately rolled out of the chair and, from what I heard, I had prob­a­ble cause to be­lieve it was an armed rob­bery and not some­one who was there to sell Tup­per­ware. I was at the in­ter­sec­tion of a wall and the floor fac­ing the door­way with my weapon drawn. I was sur­prised how calm I was.”

Se­mone was ready to face the armed rob­ber if he heard some­one was in dan­ger.

“The guy left and I hol­stered my weapon and went back out,” Se­mone said. “This young woman came over and threw her arms around me and I said, ‘Lis­ten, I got you cov­ered. You’re OK. Spring­field Town­ship po­lice will be here shortly.’ ”

Se­mone said his train­ing al­lowed him to stay calm dur­ing a crit­i­cal in­ci­dent sce­nario. He said the stress felt by emer­gency re­spon­ders on the scene of a crit­i­cal in­ci­dent, such as an ac­tive shooter, is also ex­pe­ri­enced in a dif­fer­ent way by those who are at a com­mu­ni­ca­tion cen­ter or some­one op­er­at­ing a drone where they can see or hear what is go­ing on and can do noth­ing. Se­mone said it is im­por­tant for those in­volved to be able to talk with a pro­fes­sional.

“My hope is to be able to bring a lot of what I know about psy­chol­ogy and all of my years of ex­pe­ri­ence,” Se­mone said. “I’ve been in prac­tice since 1968. One of the bless­ings that I had when I was at HPD was the autho­riza­tion that the prior Chief Frank DeAn­drea had cre­ated for me was that I could be ac­tively in­volved in pa­trol. When I work with of­fi­cers, I don’t work in an of­fice. The real place that you work with of­fi­cers to help them man­age the mi­cro-stresses that stack up across the course of the day is sit­ting in the pa­trol car with them,” Se­mone said. “Each time I do that, and they know this in ad­vance, they know I will main­tain their con­fi­dence. That is a crit­i­cal con­tact for which they have the right for me to keep secret what they tell me. So it gives them an op­por­tu­nity to learn what it’s like to talk with some­body where it’s not psy­chother­apy. It’s called crit­i­cal in­ci­dent stress de­brief­ing.”

He said that the de­brief­ing is a vi­tal part of a po­lice of­fi­cer deal­ing with the after­math of a crit­i­cal in­ci­dent.

“Ba­si­cally, what it is is a very so­phis­ti­cated af­ter­ac­tion re­view where you get the op­por­tu­nity to talk about what hap­pened,” Se­mone said. “Who, what, when, where, why and what did you learn from it is a vari­a­tion on the theme.”

He spoke about the value of body cams and how Ma­hanoy City has them, but there needs to be a space in time be­fore a de­brief­ing is done.

“The body cam­era footage needs to be re­viewed be­fore the of­fi­cers make a for­mal state­ment,” Se­mone said. “The crit­i­cal in­ci­dent stress de­brief­ing (rules) says that there should be a 72-hour lapse in time be­fore any state­ment is given to ar­riv­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tors about what took place ex­cept for a brief of­fi­cer com­mu­nity safety re­port about the at­tacker and what he was wear­ing, etc., etc. So that gives the of­fi­cers an­other way to man­age the in­evitable stress.”

“The chief has au­tho­rized me to make con­tact with each of our guys,” Se­mone said.

“Dr. Se­mone is a sworn of­fi­cer with­out ar­rest pow­ers,” Zipovsky said. “He has the abil­ity and the se­cu­rity clear­ances to be able to look at our files so he can pos­si­bly glean from them to help our of­fi­cers about what the in­ci­dent was and what the of­fi­cers are deal­ing with. He has the clear­ance to speak with the of­fi­cers in a con­fi­den­tial na­ture. This is all in the fur­ther­ance of be­ing able to pro­vide the ser­vice to the of­fi­cers and make them the best they can pos­si­bly be in the job they are do­ing. Right now we have the great­est op­por­tu­nity in the world to ben­e­fit from an ex­pert, and not only for us but for of­fi­cers in the area. We’re do­ing ev­ery­thing we can to try and make our of­fi­cers as emo­tion­ally well as we can.”

Zipovsky added, “God for­bid that our of­fi­cers are in­volved in a crit­i­cal in­ci­dent where we need to have a crit­i­cal in­ci­dent stress de­brief­ing. I have the mech­a­nism in place now so our bor­ough and the of­fi­cers and the of­fi­cers in the com­mu­nity have a re­source to use to deal with that sit­u­a­tion. Fire and EMS groups have been way ahead of us in the con­cept of crit­i­cal stress de­brief­ing.”

DAvid McK­e­oWN / stAff PHo­tog­rA­PHer

Dr. H. An­thony Se­mone, Ph.D., right, speaks about pro­vid­ing the Ma­hanoy City Po­lice Depart­ment with psy­chol­ogy ser­vice as Po­lice Chief Ken­neth E. Zipovsky looks on Fri­day at Ma­hanoy City Bor­ough Hall.

Se­mone shows his Ma­hanoy City psy­chol­o­gist badge.

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