Mahanoy City police hires doctor to deal with stress
Psychologist joins force
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.”
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.