In today’s briefing, Detectives Dave and Dan, and forensic investigator Paul Holes, share personal stories of traumatic events they experienced on the job that left them struggling with post-traumatic stress. Joined by guest host Yeardley Smith, they discuss why there needs to be a renewed focus on mental health treatment for all first responders, and the urgent need to redefine when and how police officers are able to seek help when they inevitably experience tragic events that leave a lasting impact.
This is the tenth and final episode of The Briefing Room Season 1. We hope you enjoyed the series, which ran during what would normally be a hiatus on the Small Town Dicks feed. Keep an eye out for Season 2 later this year. Meanwhile, we’re back with Small Town Dicks on April 21!Read Transcript
Dan: [00:00:01] You know, I’ve always classified my PTSD as an injury. It’s a wound that I’m trying to heal. If I’m not able to care for that wound, it’s not going to get better.
Dave: [00:00:12] I was really good at compartmentalizing everything until the day I wasn’t good at it.
Paul: [00:00:18] I do believe within law enforcement is you have to introduce this as a fact. You will be impacted, psychologically by this job. These are the resources available to you to help you cope and heal from what you’re going to experience.[The Briefing Room intro]
Dan: [00:00:39] In police stations across the country, officers start their shifts in the briefing room.
Dave: [00:00:44] It’s a place where law enforcement can speak openly and candidly about safety, training, policy, crime trends, and more.
Dan: [00:00:52] We think it’s time to invite you in.
Dave: [00:00:54] So, pull up a chair.
Dan and Dave: [00:00:56] Welcome to The Briefing Room.[The Briefing Room theme playing]
Dave: [00:01:11] In today’s briefing, three detectives, three stories of personal trauma. It’s time for law enforcement to address the issue of trauma response. This is one of the main topics I consider when it comes to discussions about police reform. In this episode, we’ll discuss what first responders are experiencing now and avenues to seek help. To do that effectively, I needed some first responders to talk to and I’m pleased to be joined by my cohosts on Small Town Dicks, my brother Dan.
Dan: [00:01:41] Good afternoon.
Dave: [00:01:43] And Mr. Paul Holes.
Paul: [00:01:44] Hey, there.
Dave: [00:01:45] Each has been candid about their experiences and they’ve graciously shared the challenges they face when trying to cope with the nastiness of the job. I also realize I’m not the most emotionally intelligent or emotionally available person on the planet. So, we brought in our secret weapon, the incomparable, Yeardley Smith.
Yeardley: [00:02:05] Good afternoon, sir.
Dave: [00:02:07] Yeardley’s made it a mission since day one to knock down the walls and break down the barriers with our guest detectives and really find out information, and thoughts, and emotions they never thought they would share on a podcast. Yeardley’s got a gift. I’ll also note quickly, this is the final episode of The Briefing Room, Season 1. There will be a Season 2. So, keep an eye out for more information.
[00:02:39] This is like fight club though. You don’t talk about fight club. So, in law enforcement community, you don’t talk about your reaction to traumatic circumstances. There’s a cultural hurdle that police officers, first responders have to get over that– I don’t think people recognize, if an officer comes forward to command staff and says, “Listen, I’m having some issues, and it’s not that I blew out my knee hopping a fence. This is bothering me and I’m having sleepless nights or I’m drinking too much.” The initial reaction is, “Oh, this person’s crazy. We need to take their gun and badge.” Or, at least that’s the fear of a police officer who comes forward and says, “Things are bothering me.” The police culture makes it where we’re not incentivized to come forward with that kind of information about ourselves. It’s supposed to suck it up, move on to the next case, and deal with it when you retire.
Yeardley: [00:03:35] We should just pause for a second for anybody who hasn’t actually listened to Small Town Dicks. So, Dave used to investigate sex crimes and child abuse. And a lot of what you had to do on that job, if you found, for instance, child pornography on somebody’s computer, you had to watch every file. These are things you cannot unsee.
Dave: [00:03:53] It’s not like you just hit play, and let it run, and then you move on to the next one. It’s really a critical review of each video from a 10-second video to a video that’s 29 minutes long that you have to hit, stop, rewind. 30 seconds, let’s rewatch that again. I’m trying to pick up what I can hear in the background, anything that might lend itself to finding who this guy is that’s victimizing this child. I can’t overstate the brutality of what you see in a video of an infant being raped. When you watch hundreds of those for weeks on end, it fucked me up.
Yeardley: [00:04:36] How could it not?
Dave: [00:04:38] There’s this culture of, if I come forward and say, “Hey, I’m a shit show right now. My head’s not in the game.” You open yourself up as an officer to fitness for duty, psychological evaluation, the stigma of all your coworkers going, “There’s crazy Dave going down the street. He can’t get his head right. I don’t want to be on a call with him.” You open yourself up by self-reporting, “Hey, I’m having issues,” to all these negative consequences that don’t aid themselves to you making it to your retirement. Instead, it feels more like shame, because there’s no obvious physical injury that required stitches or an X-ray. It’s really tough to get over that and accept, “I’m a little jacked up.” Honestly, that’s why I’m out of law enforcement.
[00:05:30] I had a few cases that knocked me out of the job and it is what it is. But I truly felt and let my command staff know like, “Hey, my head’s not in the game right now, because I’m sleeping an hour or two a night. I’m having nightmares. I can’t sleep. I wake up covered in sweat. I can’t eat. I’m drinking too much.” All these things that if you come to your command staff and let them know, they’re going to be like, “Whoop, let’s get him to a shrink, real quick.”
Yeardley: [00:06:00] Right, and, “Take him off duty.”
Dave: [00:06:03] Right. The incentive is, “Well, I’m not going to come forward with that. Everyone’s going to think I’m crazy and then I’m going to be on admin leave.” There’s a huge stigma with being on admin leave. So, you don’t report it, but then years later, you have this cumulative stress that finally breaks you, which is what happened to me.
Dan: [00:06:22] To me, I’ve always classified my PTSD as an injury. It’s a wound that I’m trying to heal. So, if I’m not able to care for that wound, it’s not going to get better. So, you’ve got officers that are dealing with things, but they’re supposed to repress and compartmentalize. So, the most important thing is we have to change the culture. We have to destigmatize officers coming forward and being able to communicate that they’re having issues. If we don’t do that, we’re doing a huge disservice to the people who work for these agencies.
Paul: [00:06:58] When I think back over my entire career, I can’t think of ever being involved in a discussion where we’re talking about this type of trauma that everybody is experiencing. It’s not something that has been freely talked about, whether within law enforcement or whether it be within the media even. That’s where now it’s push it out. It’s okay to talk about it. It’s okay to acknowledge that, “Yes, this has an impact on you.”
Yeardley: [00:07:27] One of the reasons we started The Briefing Room was there are conversations to be had within law enforcement that aren’t happening for various reasons, and certainly, in this case with mental health. As you said, Dave, we don’t talk about fight club.
Dave: [00:07:42] Right. So, dealing with that back then was shove it in the box. You just figure out, “How do I get through this?” Well, I had a lapse. In the middle of reviewing this evidence, I had a physical reaction to a video I was watching. I slammed down my headphones, I got up, I dropped a few F bombs and some GDs, and Dan was across the way and saw it, and he’s like– I mean, my heart’s racing right now thinking about me standing up from that computer screen of what I was watching. I was worried like, “Oh, shit, how many people just witnessed me having this reaction to what I’m watching?” I was flipping mad, like, angry. I was really worried about that. So, very quickly, I covered right back up like, “I’m good. I’m good. This video bothered me, but I’m fine.”
[00:08:38] In truth, I didn’t sleep for weeks after that. Get them an hour here, an hour there. You start drinking, so you can pass out, basically. That’s not a healthy way of handling things. If we had an agency structure where I could safely go report that to somebody, that would have been very helpful for me. I don’t know that I would have utilized it at the time, because I would have felt like I was being weak and I can’t handle the job that I signed up for. So, there’s these battling conflicting aspects to what you’re doing. Nobody in our job is incentivized to self-report and say, “Hey, I want to go through the whole psychological eval situation. Please sign me up for that.” You’re like, “No, I don’t want to do that. I’m going to get shamed and I’m going to have to give up my gun and my badge.”
Paul: [00:09:28] There is an expectation that you will be able to manage every situation, no matter how horrific it is, and not be impacted by that behaviorally, emotionally, psychologically.
Yeardley: [00:09:43] It seems like an open secret that everybody knows, of course, this will affect you, because how could it not, because you are human beings. Dan often says, “We’re people too.” What you all do on the job, the bar is set much higher for you because there’s potentially so much at stake every time you encounter someone out on the street or in their home. I know you all accept that and you appreciate it, but it doesn’t mean that that kind of responsibility comes without a price. How could it? Everybody acknowledges, “It’s going to fuck you up,” but nobody wants to actually help you with that.
Dan: [00:10:18] That’s an important point that you make there. Human beings are fallible. We’re not perfect. We all deal with trauma and stress differently. Everybody does. If you don’t provide us with tools or an environment that fosters the ability to communicate, to express that you’re having trouble, then what are you asking for?
Dave: [00:10:43] This job is such that there’s no way to prepare yourself. There’s no way in an interview I can drill down and figure out how this person, this candidate who wants to be hired as a police officer, how they’re going to react the first time they see a dead baby? How they’re going to react the first time they see body parts all over a highway, because a pedestrian got hit by a car and then drugged hundreds of yards? There’s no way to determine that. I wish there was. I would have been able to recognize some of my weaknesses. Truly, I have no way to describe walking up on a dismembered body. I’ve seen people pass out at crime scenes from being overwhelmed. A brand-new officer saw responded to a suicide of a child that used a gun, and that officer left that call. He was brand new, went directly to his supervisor and said, “That I cannot handle and I’m done.”
Yeardley: [00:11:42] I’m done being a police officer?
Dave: [00:11:44] Resigned.
Dan: [00:11:45] And good on that officer.
Dave: [00:11:47] This guy was a marine, and I have great respect for him saying, “I’ve dealt with all this shit, but that, I’ve got a similarly aged daughter, that I cannot deal with.” He said, “This job’s not for me.” I have great respect for that. Great respect. I was really good at compartmentalizing everything until the day I wasn’t good at it.
Paul: [00:12:12] As I think back, I went through the academy back in 1994, and I don’t recall there ever being any type of lesson that was given to the students in the academy, where there is a discussion about these types of things are what you’re going to be dealing with in this profession, and they are going to impact you. Imagine us in our 20s sitting around the table, we are totally different people in our 20s. There’s no way we would be open to talk about the impact of the cases we’re having on us. As we’ve gotten older, more mature, and this trauma has piled up. What I have found is that I’m much more willing to discuss how the career has impacted me. We’ve had conversations and we can sit around and really open up about how it is, but you’re 20 somethings, you’re not.
[00:13:09] So, part of the culture change, I do believe within law enforcement is you have to introduce this as a fact. You will be impacted psychologically by this job. These are the resources available to you to help you cope and heal from what you’re going to experience. I think if it’s introduced early within the training aspect or the hiring process on the civilian side, now you have people who might be a little bit more accepting that, “Oh, yeah, okay. Everybody here is aware that this is a real deal in this career.” It’s not just even the sworn officers that are subjected to this culture.
[00:13:51] I can tell that famous movie The Silence of the Lambs and Jodie Foster passed the Vicks to put underneath her upper lip in order to mask the smell. Well, my mindset was, “Oh, she’s weak,” because here I am doing the job for real. If I were to put Vicks on my upper lip because of the smell, it’s a sign of weakness. That’s my job.
[00:14:15] So, even in the civilian world, it’s not just the officers. It’s the CSIs, it’s the death investigators, it’s the dispatchers, it’s the attorneys that are dealing with these cases. Yeardley, the term you use, “This is not natural for people to have to deal with this day in and day out.”
Yeardley: [00:14:32] Yes.
Dave: [00:14:34] I consider fire, emergency room staff, medical staff. I consider DAs and defense attorneys who have to look at the evidence that we look at. At my desk, eventually, it’s going to land on the DA and the defense attorney. They’re going to have to review this. I consider all of them to be parties that are impacted by this, our evidence technicians. Anybody who reads the report– I mean, the report I wrote on this child sex abuse material, child porn case was 20 pages long. Our records folks go through that and make sure that the data entry is all correct and that I have crossed my Ts and dotted my Is. They’re going to read that too and that’s the job. And I was fine with it until I wasn’t.
Dan: After Chris Kilcullen’s shooting, I was told that I needed to go speak to a therapist. I spoke to that therapist and started talking about the events of that day and how it was affecting me. The look on her face was, “I’m in over my head. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to help this guy.” So, there’s always that. We talk about all the time. A lot of the success of your case being investigated is predicated on who you get as the officer who’s investigating it. I think it’s the same way with a therapist. You have to find the right person. I was mandated to go to this single person and speak to them. It didn’t really help at all. The most help that I got was when I went to a peer counseling group of people who are in law enforcement, dispatchers, SWAT officers, patrol officers, detectives, who have all been part of critical incidents. I gave them my experience, and I didn’t feel alone anymore, and it was really powerful for me.
Dave: [00:16:46] Speaking of my own personal experience, I recognized that I needed help many, many months before I ever sought help. It was probably years. If I’m honest with myself. It was right away, after I started these bad habits, I went, “This is not sustainable. How am I going to continue at this pace for years?”
Yeardley: [00:17:09] That was even before you retired.
Dave: [00:17:12] Well before I retired. I think about my situation, and I missed a year of work because of my brain, my head. I was in my own head. I recognized at that time I should not be working. I was a liability to myself and the officers I was working with. I was making really bad, unsafe decisions. It wasn’t intentional. It was for a lack of focus. It wasn’t complacency. I was making simple mistakes. I had to recognize like, “I’m not in a good space here.” So I just did it. I went, “Consequences be damned. If this is my last day in law enforcement, it is what it is.” But I had to be honest with myself.
[00:17:56] When I finally let my department know like, “Hey, I’m jacked up right now and I’m not asking you for time off. I’m telling you I need time off.” Doing the paperwork, you have to fill out the date of the injury. I went, “Actually, I know this. I know exactly when I started having these problems.”
Yeardley: [00:18:18] That was the day that you stood up from your desk and threw down your headphones?
Dave: [00:18:22] Right. I remembered going, “I know it’s this case, and I know exactly which video out of the 240 something videos that I watched.” I knew exactly which video it was and at which point in time in that video where I literally, when you just feel flushed and you have a physiological reaction. I remember everything about it. The first eval I ever got was not favorable to me and ignored a lot of things that I had said. I remember getting this report going, “I suffer from general anxiety. That’s the diagnosis? Are you kidding me?” So, then I went to a law enforcement specific forensic psychologist, who was like, “Oh, this is textbook law enforcement. Cumulative PTSD. There’s no doubt.” My therapist was awesome, and she had very little experience working with first responders, but we hit it off and I trusted her implicitly. She was great. She got things out of me I thought I’d never reveal to anybody.
[00:19:26] There are cases that I haven’t thought about for years that are now popping up and replacing the cases that have bothered me for years. And so, I just said, “Is this like the disk cleanup on your [Yeardley laughs] computer where you’re like, ‘Let’s run the defragmentation program and clean this all up?’ Oh, remember this?” going through an old box of memories. I said, “Is this my body trying to reconcile all the shit I’m trying to be able to live with this?” And she’s like, “Yeah, first responders deal with that all the time.” And I was like, “Okay. I wish I had gone years earlier. I wouldn’t have ended up where I ended up in this career at year 15. I would have been able to sustain that for another 10 or 15 years.”
Dan: [00:20:11] Dave got very fortunate in finding somebody that he trusted quickly. That’s a big thing with us. Cops, we don’t trust people.
Yeardley: [00:20:20] I know that.
Dan: [00:20:21] Right?
Yeardley: [00:20:21] [laughs]
Dan: [00:20:21] So, you have to talk to somebody that you trust. And for me, it was talking to my peers. That was a lot of help.
Paul: [00:20:30] I mean, that really underscores that the right people have to be the resources that get developed to help law enforcement has to be the right resources, the right type of people. When I went to my therapist– It was after I retired. This is a therapist out in Colorado Springs. She’s dealing with military guys, special forces, of course, both acute and chronic type of trauma. But as I’m talking to her about what I’m experiencing, where I’m cratering emotionally over things that normally would never have bothered me, and I start telling her what I had done during my career, what I had seen and experienced, and of course, compartmentalized all of it, and she told me, “Well, every time you had that type of incident, it was like a little nick. And by itself you could handle it.”
[00:21:20] Now I’ve got so many nicks. After doing it for 30 years, she goes, “You’re bleeding out.” Like what you experience, that’s what I experienced. Now I’m in my 50s and everything from the past adds up. I can’t talk about certain cases without breaking down. 10 years ago, I could. It’s just something that has been shoved inside of me, and now it’s wanting to come out.
Yeardley: [00:21:45] Yes. As a person who’s been in therapy for many years and really believe in it, I can say there’s frustration even on my end of how complex and nuanced the process of teasing apart the things that hold you back or keep you up at night is. And because it’s so individual, I think people often feel overwhelmed and don’t even know where to begin, and that can keep them from taking any action at all.
Dave: [00:22:11] So, cops have to be honest with themselves and do a real self-check in about where they’re at and whether or not they feel like they’re healthy, coping appropriately, those types of things. Command staff, police departments, and human resource departments in cities, and sheriff’s offices across the country can say that they support mental health and treatment for traumatic responses for first responders. It’s easy to say that. Are you doing it in practice? Do you make it easy on the officer who lets his command staff know, “I’m having some issues and I think mental health days are well recognized nowadays?” In law enforcement, they’re not. You’re expected to show up and do the work.
[00:23:04] So, these cities really have to take care of their people. They have to be open to allowing their officers to feel safe coming and saying, “I need a few days to get my shit together.” That is not happening, at least in the departments that I’ve had experiences with. It’s all lip service from the city. They don’t truly support effective trauma response for their officers. In theory, they love it, but it means they’re going to have to pay a bill, and that’s where I’ve been extremely unimpressed with actual follow through. Again, I’ll stress, I have great love for the agency I worked for and the people who work there. I am not impressed with city management.
Yeardley: [00:23:54] When you say, make it easy, it’s not just about provide the resource, pay for the resource, but make sure that you don’t cast a pall of shame over the person who is willing to come to you and say, “I need to get my shit straight.” And that requires a level of trust on the part of command staff to say, “I trust Detective Dave when he says he needs to get his shit straight that he’s going to go and do that might not happen in one fell swoop, but I’m going to support this journey because it’s important to all of us.”
Dave: [00:24:29] Absolutely. My experiences aside, I know, anecdotally, officers don’t feel like it’s safe to come forward and say, “I’m struggling.” I don’t know of a department where officers feel like it’s a safe place for them to go and say, “Hey, I’m having a problem.” I don’t know of any department that’s like that. I can speak from myself personally. Our agency, they’ve been in the press about, “Hey, we’ve got this peer counseling team, we really want to take care of our officers.” I truly believe that. This is an organization that I gave 15 years of my life to. I’m very loyal to this organization, to the agency. That’s all fine and dandy. My old police department is not its own entity. It belongs to the city government.
[00:25:15] You have human resources, and city managers, and those offices who maybe don’t have the same concern for their first responders that work for their city. That’s great that your agency has this trauma response team that can come help out police officers, first responders. But if the city doesn’t back up the agency, it doesn’t mean anything.
Dan: [00:25:40] I think that cities and municipalities, and counties, whatever these agencies are are opening themselves up to liability. So, if I’m out on the street and I’m dealing with stressful calls and everything, and I’m not at a 100%, if I’m not able to perform my job at 100% because of this injury, PTSD is an injury, so if I make a mistake, I think that’s part of the responsibility of the agency that they work for.
Paul: [00:26:08] You do see that what Dan was bringing up about the liability standpoint. This is where now you get the risk management components of the county, city level governments, where they are assessing, “Okay, what is the risk to the government in terms of financial risk, possibly operational risks?” So, they try to mitigate that even with, let’s say, physical ailments. We used to have the list within the sheriff’s office. If you have people showing up on that list that don’t have that objective diagnosis, they’ve got the broken arm. But now it’s this psychologist has said, “This person is struggling and comes up with a psychological diagnosis.” How is law enforcement management going to be handling that, but also, how is the city or county level governments going to perceive what is really going on in that person?
[00:27:06] They’re going to say, “We want our own doctor, our own psychologist to evaluate it.” Then that psychologist now it’s like competing experts in court. You probably get a completely different diagnosis because the psychological aspect, there is a subjectivity to it and it’s so easy to say this or that without anybody being able to point to objective information and saying, “This person is having an issue based on the trauma they’ve experienced on the job.”
Dan: [00:27:34] I find it interesting that you have officers that are human beings and that we humanize the badge and that officers are caring and compassionate and everything, but then you have a city that wants you to be a robot.
Yeardley: [00:27:48] Or, sort of a hero complex too. Like, Superman doesn’t need any mental health counseling.
Dan: [00:27:54] Yeah. You can’t have it both ways.
Yeardley: [00:27:56] No.
Paul: [00:27:57] I was recently made aware of a department that appears to be pretty progressive in terms of having a mechanism for their staff to get the help that they need without all of a sudden being ostracized, both at the command staff level who are aware that employee needs the help, but also making it a confidential process. That’s part of the concern is is that it’s not only how you are perceived with your coworkers, but let’s say the courts find out you’ve got a defense attorney who gets a hold of that information. Is that going to be treated like, “Oh, this might be Brady type of stuff?”
Dave: [00:28:38] Right. Is this officer impeachable now?
Paul: [00:28:40] Yes. That has to be completely containerized in order to allow the law enforcement staff, both the sworn as well as the civilians out there to feel, “I can do this. It’s not going to impact my job. It’s not going to impact my reputation with what I have to do for my job.”
Dave: [00:29:03] Well, and here’s the other thing to consider is, on the prosecution side, Paul mentions a potential Brady issue, like, “Is this person reliable and are they competent?” [laughs]
Yeardley: [00:29:17] That’s the definition of Brady and law enforcement. It’s about lying.
Dave: [00:29:21] It’s about lying, and honesty, and exculpatory information. But if the detective who worked the case, a defense attorney finds out that six months after the case, the detective went on a two-week sick leave and it was due to stress and anxiety, more of a mental health issue, does the defense, if they’re going to go there, do they have to let the prosecutor know in advance? Does the prosecutor have to proactively get out in front of that and say, “By the way, Detective, we got trial coming up. Have you had any mental health evals lately that I need to forward to the defense for discovery?” I wouldn’t feel comfortable with that. I don’t even want my own family to read my psych eval, much less a defense attorney. Is it relevant information? It could be.
Dan: [00:30:10] You talk about HIPAA laws and how HIPAA laws really apply to normal, everyday citizens.
Yeardley: [00:30:17] Just for anybody who doesn’t live in the US, it might not know what HIPAA is.
Dave: [00:30:21] It is privacy laws concerning-
Yeardley: [00:30:24] Medical.
Dave: [00:30:25] -medical, which includes mental health.
Yeardley: [00:30:28] Right.
Dan: [00:30:29] I know that there are lots of cities out there and jurisdictions that have their own wellness programs under their umbrella. If I was an officer knowing that there may be a direct line of communication or some sort of record that I am dealing with something and my city can find out about that, I might not trust that. I might want to build in a couple of layers of security for me and go maybe even to another city and speak to somebody there. I think that’s something that we need to consider. Now, Paul brought up a great point. If a defense attorney gets a hold of some information like that and asks you about that while you’re on the stand, is he violating a HIPAA law?
Yeardley: [00:31:13] Sure. Even if, let’s say, the defense attorney asks you about it on the stand and the judge says, “Hey, you can’t do that. You can’t unsay the information, now the jury has it, even if you instruct them to disregard it.”
Dan: [00:31:31] Absolutely.
Yeardley: [00:31:49] Now that you’re all retired and hopefully feel as though you have an opportunity to process some of these things that you compartmentalize you thought so well, not so well, by the way, nor should you. Is there any relief in being able to work through it?
Dan: [00:32:07] I think we’re able to work through it, because we’re not worried about the stigma anymore.
Yeardley: [00:32:12] Right.
Dan: [00:32:12] And it affecting our job security.
Paul: [00:32:15] Mm-hmm.
Dan: [00:32:16] I think that’s why I feel like I can talk about it, because I don’t have to worry about getting fired for it.
Yeardley: [00:32:21] It’s never too late, but it’s too late. You should have those opportunities on the job. You can’t ask an athlete to play a professional sport and then not do whatever you need to do, eat well, train, get massages, whatever you need to do to rebuild to perform the best you possibly can at the next game.
Dan: [00:32:40] When I played professional baseball, Dave–
Dave: [00:32:45] Fuck you.[laughter]
Dan: [00:32:48] When I played baseball, part of every day for me was going into the trainer’s room and getting treatment for little bumps and bruises, and my arm was sore, and that’s part of it. You have to treat human beings, especially police officers and first responders, you have to treat them the same.
Yeardley: [00:33:06] What do you think is the probability that people on your various police forces will take advantage of those programs? We have this program, sure, make use of the program, but there’s still no guarantee that there won’t be stigma and shame attached to employee, police officers, first responders making use of those programs.
Dave: [00:33:29] Like drug addiction, you can’t force the help on the first responder. They’ve got to be ready to accept the help. Like I said, at the time that I really had this impactful case, I wasn’t prepared to step forward and ask for help. Like Paul said, if it was ingrained into me from day one that, “Hey, just like writing reports,” this is also a part, a component of your job, I would have felt a lot more comfortable. So, I’d have been like, “Oh, we’ve got a department for that,” or “I’ve got a supervisor I can go to for that.”
Yeardley: [00:34:04] So, gentlemen, what would you suggest to a first responder out there who’s struggling with trauma? What advice would you have for them?
Dave: [00:34:14] My advice, any police officer who is going, “All right, I’m listening to this episode. I’m going to make the call.” All I did was went on google and said, “I did a google search on therapists, trauma response, first responders near me.” It was just three phrases, and up popped hundreds of listings of counselors in my area. I went through about 15 profiles. I emailed a couple and just said, “Hey, here’s the type of stuff I’m going to be talking about. I just want to give you a warning in case you’re not comfortable, if in case that’s too much for you.” I found one therapist who said, “Yeah, that’s not really my bag.” I had another therapist who I ended up with who said, “I don’t know what the answer is to that, but I want to find out with you,” how much she could handle, and she’s a pro. And that’s all I did.
[00:35:16] I got on google, and I looked for the right fit, and I had a little discussion. It could be that simple. Lots of police unions have clauses in their contract about mental health and counseling services. If you’re a first responder, look into your collective bargaining agreement. Contact your union rep and ask, go through the scenario, “Hey, I’m having some issues. I’d like to get some confidential help with this, so it doesn’t impact my career or my standing, but here’s what I’m dealing with.” You got to find trusted folks, and departments really have to realize that the landscape has changed, and you’re either on board or you’re just going through the motions.
Yeardley: [00:36:06] Are there any specific organizations? I know we did an episode several years ago with one of the founders and Kevin Pollak as well, on Cover Now, which provides help for first responder families, law enforcement families, I suppose mostly when the breadwinner has been killed in the line of duty.
Paul: [00:36:27] Cover Now’s primary focus is to help families of officers that have committed suicide or have suffered catastrophic injuries and can no longer work. It turns out that if an officer has been killed in the line of duty, there’s plenty of resources for the families on that front. So, Cover Now, they’re saying there’s nothing out there for these situations, suicide and catastrophic injuries.
Dan: [00:36:52] So, obviously the goal is to get involved and there to be some sort of intervention before we get to that point. So, there are resources out there. It’s a nonprofit called Copline, C-O-P-L-I-N-E. It’s for international law enforcement and it’s cops talking to cops. So, you can call them. The hotline is 1-800-COPLINE or 1-800-267-5463. You can call them. Like I said, it’s international law enforcement. It’s not just US law enforcement. We’ve talked to law enforcement in Australia, and Ireland, and Scotland. Call somebody. That’s the hardest thing to do is that first step is to call someone.
Yeardley: [00:37:37] 100%.
Dan: [00:37:37] I think this is an easy way for you to maybe start navigating that road.
Yeardley: [00:37:46] I just can’t say enough about how meaningful it is that you’re willing to be honest with. We have hundreds of thousands of listeners, and that you are willing to bear your souls in this way in hopes that it will help somebody else. It just speaks to all of your character. And thank you.
Dave: [00:38:12] I appreciate that.
Paul: [00:38:13] Yeah.
Dan: [00:38:14] Absolutely. I hope this can help one officer.
Yeardley: [00:38:17] Exactly.
Dan: [00:38:18] And it’s worth it to me.
Dave: [00:38:20] This will be an ongoing discussion on The Briefing Room.
Yeardley: [00:38:22] I think it should be. I think it’s that important. I think to your point, Dan, if it can help one person, one first responder, whatever department they’re in, that is an extraordinary win on top of all of you being so honest and sharing with our listeners what it’s really like behind the scenes in your hearts and minds.[music]
Dave: [00:38:49] So, this wraps up Season 1 of The Briefing Room. For me, it’s been rewarding to give our listeners kind of a behind the scenes look at law enforcement. I hope this show gives listeners answers to questions they maybe never had or questions they had and never got the answer to. That’s what we want the show to be.
Dave: [00:39:11] These are the conversations that we feel still need to be had. So, thank you and we can’t wait for you to join us back on Season 2 of The Briefing Room.
Yeardley: [00:39:28] The Briefing Room is produced by Gary Scott and me, Yeardley Smith and coproduced by Detectives Dan and Dave. This episode was edited by Logan Heftel, Soren Begin, Christina Bracamontes, Chris Ray, Gary Scott, and me. Our associate producers are Erin Gaynor and the Real Nick Smitty. Our social media is run by the one and only Monika Scott. Our researcher is Delaney Britt Brewer. Our music is composed by Logan Heftel, and our books are cooked and cats wrangled by Ben Cornwell. If you like what you hear and want to stay up to date with the podcast, please visit us on our website at smalltowndicks.com/thebriefingroom. Thank you to SpeechDocs for providing transcripts and thank you to you, the best fans in the pod universe for listening. Honestly, nobody’s better than you.
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