True Blue

  • True Blue

    by by Dr. Tina S. Brookes, Ed.D. LCSW

         Shortly after the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center, I supported Law Enforcement posted at the barricades around the perimeter of Ground Zero. I walked around the entire perimeter in the evenings when it was quieter. I stopped at each barricade and just listened to the officers tell their story. They talked of shock at what had happened and the overwhelming pain they felt at the unbelievable number of deceased and wounded. They talked about their anger at the senselessness of it, the families that they missed terribly, and the toll it took on their bodies to perform their duty.

         For hours I walked from barricade to barricade and I listened. I told them thank-you for their dedication and service. I prayed for their families and asked God to give them strength for the duration of the journey that seemed to have no end in sight.  And when I left, I returned home a changed person. 

         I became a ‘Self-Appointed Guardian’ for Law Enforcement. I threw myself into trainings about crisis and the Blue culture. I started talking and more importantly, listening to local Law Enforcement. I formed a Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) team and started providing Critical Incident Stress Debriefings (CISD). I was invited to sit on the Homeland Security Taskforce as the CISM expert. I supported Law Enforcement in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, and in Newtown, CT after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
         In my CISD’s* I heard Officers lament the preventable shooting death of a teenager after her doped up mom had her shoot at the officers. I saw officers weep over a child who was accidently killed by a car driven by children. I listened as officers voiced righteous anger at a fellow officer who used poor judgment and now it reflected poorly on all of them. I heard officers wail at the senseless loss of a brother who was sniped and killed just because he was a cop. I listened as one officer told of standing up from behind cover to draw the fire of a shooter to protect a child. The officer was shot and wounded. The child escaped injury. Three children told me about officers who lead them out a bedroom window so they would not have to walk through the house and see the remains of their parents after a murder/suicide. A teacher told me about CT Troopers who escorted the students and faculty out of Sandy Hook Elementary School and instructed them to close their eyes to protect them from the horrific images they walked by. Time and time again I have witnessed firsthand the heart-felt compassion of Law Enforcement.

         And then, I have also heard officers express a sense of accomplishment at a job well-done when they stopped the threat of a knife-wielding man who was seriously cutting pedestrians as he ran down the street, or the serial killer who walked into random homes and killed occupants. They took pride in taking a pedophile or sex-offender into custody. They work to protect and when they do their job well, there can be a deep sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that all the years of training and dedication finally paid off. They showed up and they made a difference.

         Law Enforcement has the unique and difficult task of being simultaneously protector and enforcer. To be a ‘True Blue’ Crisis Responder the whole culture has to be understood and embraced, especially the potential conflicts Officers face when they are expected to instantaneously meet the demands for protection, preparedness, and prevention. 

         Protection:  Dave Grossman in “On Combat” (2008) refers to law enforcement as Sheepdogs who protect the Sheep (public) from the Wolves (threats). It has been my experience that most law enforcement do indeed go into the profession to protect the innocent. Their desire to protect requires a caring, compassionate heart that can be          wounded by the day-in, day-out exposure to crimes against the innocent. This accumulative exposure can lead to compassion fatigue or a cynical, jaded view of the world.   
         Preparedness: In order to protect the Sheep, officers must be well trained in the law, the use of their weapons, handling deadly force encounters, dealing with the public, and understanding the local political climate. They may be expected to give death notifications, observe autopsies, view pictures and videos of severe abuse cases, or        comfort the family members who were impacted. The weapons and tactical response training is provided officially,  but most of the rest is on-the-job training. 
         Prevention: The job of a Sheepdog is to corral the Sheep, to keep them within the established boundaries of the law. A Sheepdog can protect the sheep better if all the sheep are clearly where they are supposed to be, doing what they are supposed to be doing. But sheep often rebel when the Sheepdog goes after them when they                  wander off. They like exploring away from the Sheepdog, and they don’t like being held accountable for exceeding the speed limit, underage drinking, illicit drug use, probation violations, etc. 

         So, the Sheep can have a love/hate relationship with the Sheepdog. The Sheep love that the Sheepdog is there to protect them from serious harm, remove the drug dealers from their neighborhood, help locate a lost loved one, discover the truth behind a murder, recover stolen goods, or hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes.  But then they may hate the Sheepdog for enforcing boundaries, making them responsible for their actions. 

         The ‘True Blue’ Crisis Responder has to firmly grasp the constant tension this Sheep love/hate relationship puts on Law Enforcement. The very person they are trying to arrest one minute can suddenly become the person they have to protect the next. Or a Sheep they are assisting and protecting can suddenly become a Wolf who is a great threat to their personal safety and the roles change instantly. 

         This constant flux in duties calls for a constant state of hyper-vigilance among Law Enforcement until it becomes a way of life, both on-duty and off-duty. Trust is often eroded making way for cynicism and isolation. Emotions are deeply buried. The compassionate heart gets locked away and protected behind the shield.

         In order to support Law Enforcement in Crisis, ‘True Blue’ Crisis Responders have to first build trust by embracing the culture. They have to establish relationships with Law Enforcement because they need the validation of an Officer to be accepted. They have to provide a safe, honoring place where Officers can be authentic and transparent. The ‘True Blue’ Responder has to be well trained as a crisis responder and equipped to handle the intense stories, emotions, and pain they will hear as well as acknowledge the earned sense of accomplishment at a job well-done. 

         ‘True Blue’ Crisis Response is not for the weak of heart, but it is sacred work and deeply rewarding. If it is your calling and passion, please seek out training in crisis response and read the recommended books listed below.

    *Details have been modified.

    Asken, M., & Grossman, D. (2010). Warrior mindset: Mental toughness skills for a nation's peacekeepers. Millstadt, IL: Human Factor Research Group.

    Gilmartin, K. (2002). Emotional survival for law enforcement: A guide for officers and their families. Tucson, AZ: E-S Press.

    Grossman, D., & Rogish, S. (2013). Sheepdogs-Meet our nation’s warriors. Belleville, IL: Warrior Science Publications.

    Grossman, D. (2008). On combat:The psychology and physiology of deadly conflict in war and peace (3rd ed.). Belleville, IL: Warrior Science Publications.

    Used with written permission from the Dr. Tina S. Brooks.