For more information, contact:
Walter McClure, Press Office
New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services
(518) 457-8828 (office) or (518) 461-5013 (cell)
walter.mcclure@dcjs.ny.gov

For immediate release: Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013

State-sponsored training in Olean designed to help law enforcement agencies improve assistance provided to officers, families coping with line-of-duty deaths, PTSD and suicide

More than 60 professionals from Cattaraugus, Chautauqua and Allegany counties in attendance

New York State is offering a unique training program for law enforcement today in Olean, aimed at giving agencies resources and information to better address critical incidents, such as the death of one of their own in the line of duty or as a result of suicide. 

The state Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) developed the TRAUMA (Trauma Resources and Unified Management Assistance) program as part of its mission to offer trainings for law enforcement agencies and officers so they can better serve their communities.

More than 60 law enforcement professionals from local, county and state agencies in Cattaraugus, Chautauqua and Allegany counties, as well as the Seneca Nation of Indians attended the two-day training, which began yesterday and concludes today at St. Bonaventure University. 

DCJS Executive Deputy Commissioner Michael C. Green said: “As a former prosecutor, I have seen first-hand the toll that a line-of-duty death or devastating injury can have on a department. Men and women on the front lines of this state’s fight against crime may be reluctant to share their grief or on-the-job experiences with co-workers, family, and friends, which can lead to extreme stress. The aim of this training is to provide a line of defense for those officers to help themselves, each other and their families.”

Among the instructors at today’s training is Cattaraugus County Sheriff Timothy Whitcomb, who knows first-hand what a suicide can do to a law enforcement agency.  His close friend and predecessor as sheriff, Dennis John, committed suicide in 2009.

Since then, Sheriff Whitcomb has been active in raising awareness of the issue among his colleagues in law enforcement.

"This program is among the best training I have been exposed to in over 24 years in law enforcement," Sheriff Whitcomb said. “As a supervisor or administrator in any first responder field, it should be your duty to protect and serve those people who have chosen to protect and serve the public as their profession. The traumas that present themselves continuously and cumulatively take their toll.  When it comes to PTSD, knowledge is power, and that power comes from educating our officers to be prepared for trauma and how to handle it. A better educated law enforcement family can better take care of each other.”  

The DCJS Office of Public Safety developed the program after the state Office of Mental Health requested that training staff identify how the state could help agencies that employ Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans who may be facing post-traumatic stress disorder as they rejoin the police force.  Incorporating strategies and support to help officers and agencies deal with line of duty deaths and officer suicides made sense, since the topics often are interrelated. 
           
These statistics provide additional perspective:

  • In just the last five years, the names of 79 law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty or due to illnesses related to work at Ground Zero following the Sept. 11 terrorist attack have been inscribed on the New York State Police Officers’ Memorial in Albany.
  • The recently completed National Study of Police Suicides (NSOPS), the third in a series conducted since 2008 by Badge of Life (www.badgeoflife.com), found that 126 police officers died by suicide in 2012, although experts caution that number could be higher because some agencies are not required to classify a suicide death as such, or may classify it as an “accidental discharge.”

Representatives from the following agencies were scheduled to attend the training: police departments in Allegany, Olean and St. Bonaventure; sheriffs’ offices from Allegany, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties; the Cattaraugus County Department of Community Services, Cattaraugus County Youth Court, Olean City Court, as well as representatives from Jamestown Community College, New York State Police, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), New York State Department of Corrections and Community Services (DOCCS), FBI, the Seneca Nation of Indians and United States Probation and Pretrial Services.

The free class is designed for law enforcement executives – chiefs, assistant chiefs and other front-line supervisors – and other law enforcement officers with a minimum of five years on the job. It explores all of the issues that can affect police departments and their members in the wake of any critical incident. The training has two main objectives:

  • To assist agency executives in formulating plans to deal with an officer’s death, including creating policies for handling family notifications and funeral arrangements; helping survivors obtain benefits and other assistance; and providing counseling for other department members both immediately and in the long term.
  • To help agencies provide support services for law enforcement officers to deal with stress management and stress following critical incident situations, including learning how to establish and operate Police Peer Support programs and identifying potential Police Peers.

Officers are also instructed on how to prepare for deadly force encounters, with special concentration on what those encounters will do to the mind and body; identifying symptoms of acute stress disorder versus post-traumatic stress disorder; and how best to help a co-worker in such a situation.

The perspective of survivors is integral to the program’s goals. Two mothers whose sons were killed in the line of duty family members, both members of Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.), discuss their own situations and the departmental response. They also detail resources available for families and co-workers of officers after a death, including federal benefits for police and other first responders. 

“When a traumatic event happens, you’re not aware of what you’re going through, and you need your Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) people or whoever is around you to show you the way,” said Karen Howard, mother of New York State Trooper David Brinkerhoff, who was killed in a friendly fire incident in 2007. “We tell our stories and hope somebody realizes something and says, ‘We can’t have this happen to our family or someone else’s.’”

Added Jeannette Shields, mother of Buffalo Police Officer James Shields, who was killed in a car crash in 2002: “They (law enforcement attendees) seem to be surprised and glad for my input. I think that for the most part, people find the training beneficial because police officers don’t even go there until these kinds of situations, and opportunities to seek help, are brought up.” 

The training also highlights the availability of the Western New York Police Helpline, which offers officers who are dealing with acute stress or PTSD an opportunity to talk directly with fellow members of law enforcement about the psychological and physical and behavioral issues they are facing.  The Helpline, which was created in 2008, is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and has been well received since its inception.  

“Given the rates of PTSD and other stress-related issues that affect officers, it’s important to bring these topics to the forefront,” said Bonita Frazer of the WNY Police Helpline Steering Committee. “The TRAUMA training offers education about how stress affects performance and how stress symptoms can be mitigated.  This is a critical component of the training.  Once they know the warning signs of general, cumulative, acute and post traumatic stress, they are more likely and more empowered to address symptoms early.  Doing so results in greater performance and a better quality of life both on and off the job.”

The free, two-day training also will be offered in Clinton, Broome, Monroe and Suffolk counties through the end of the year. More than 300 officers from more than 110 agencies in Western New York, the Capital Region, Mid-Hudson Valley, Mohawk Valley and Central New York have already taken the course.

DCJS (www.criminaljustice.ny.gov) is a multi-function criminal justice support agency with a variety of responsibilities, including collection and analysis of statewide crime data; maintenance of criminal history information and fingerprint files; administrative oversight of the state’s DNA Databank, in partnership with the New York State Police; administration of federal and state criminal justice grant funds; support of criminal justice-related agencies across the state; and administration of the state’s Sex Offender Registry.

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