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October 14, 2013

Trauma training for law enforcement raises oft silent issues

(Continued)

STIGMA

There’s a strong stigma about mental-health issues that exists in the law enforcement community, Whitcomb said.

“There is certainly a desire (by officers) to not be weak in any way and (not) show signs of emotion,” Jerry Lottie, assistant chief of University Police at SUNY Plattsburgh, said after Whitcomb’s presentation.

“It’s been very enlightening,” he said of the training.

One of the things Lottie said he would take away from the training is the importance of recognizing the symptoms of PTSD in officers so they can get any resources they need quickly.

The topic of PTSD would be a beneficial one to include in the 21 state-mandated hours of training officers receive each year, Lottie said.

Plattsburgh-based State Police Sgt. Fred Atkinson echoed Lottie’s views on the widely accepted but detrimental attitude of law enforcement professionals toward expression of emotional difficulties.

Within the law enforcement community, there’s an idea that police “have to be strong and not show emotion,” Atkinson said. “(But) it’s OK to talk about things.”

Atkinson is a trained peer counselor.

Although there are many types of therapy, peer counseling is especially effective, he said, as those who have common experiences can relate and understand each other in ways that others can’t.

‘CLOSE TO HOME’

“This sheriff (Whitcomb) has some real-life situations (that resonate) close to home,” Plattsburgh City Police Capt. Michael Branch said.

He, Lt. Pat Rascoe and Lt. Scott Beebie from Plattsburgh City Police Department, who also attended the training, will pass along what they learned to their coworkers, Branch said.

“I’m happy that I came to this,” he said. “This (training) is pretty direct.”

Although Plattsburgh Police officers learn about PTSD and mental health in their time at the police academy, Branch said, there isn’t much direct training for City Police patrolmen on the subject.

But the department will explore how to integrate into departmental training the new information gleaned from the program about the unique issues police face, he said.

Several times throughout his presentation, Whitcomb reminded the attendees of their responsibility for their coworkers.

“Cops can help cops,” he said. “Your job is to protect and serve those who protect and serve.”

Email Felicia Krieg: fkrieg@pressrepublican.comTwitter: @FeliciaKrieg

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