The “2018 Baltimore Brother’s in Blue Bash” is growing into being a BEAST!!! It’s coming to Martin’s East in Baltimore on April 20th from 7pm to 11pm. There isn’t a Police Officer in the United States that needs our support then our Brothers & Sisters in Blue in Baltimore City. This is a MONSTER event is an event held by Cops, planned by Cops for Cops!!! Already the room is filling up quick

 

 with Police and their families. It’s heading to be a BLOCKBUSTER. The John Hall Law Group, LLC supports the Baltimore City Police Department so much, they are the GOLD SPONSOR plus sponsoring all of the commemorative glasses for all of the guests. While we were planning this event – we picked an awesome “All you can Eat” menu that’s a definite belly buster – Hand sliced Pit Beef, Turkey & Ham, Steamed Shrimp, BBQ Ribs, Italian Meatballs, Fried Chicken and much much more. Plus UNLIMITED Cold Beer on tap, Wine, and Sodas are included in the ticket!!! Then…here is where it goes “OVER THE TOP”:

A Live Auction filled with amazing vacation packages to Riviera Maya – Cozumel – Punta Cana & Jamaica. “Once in a Lifetime” experiences like an “Ultimate Sports Fan Package” where you get tickets, airfare, and hotel to any regular season game for any sport anywhere. Rare autographed Celebrity – Sports – Music Memorabilia like a dual autographed Pro-Line “On field” Baltimore Ravens Helmet signed by both Super Bowl MVP’s Ray Lewis (Newest Hall of Fame Inductee) and Joe Flacco plus an autographed Guitar by one of the most iconic Rock Guitar Players of all time…Angus Young from “AC/DC”, Jeffrey Dean Morgan “aka Negan from the Walking Dead” autographed Barbed Wire wrapped “Lucille” Baseball Bat and more.

A Silent Auction loaded with tons of incredible Decor like Jack Nicholson, Frank Sinatra and John Wayne, beautiful Jewelry and Rare Historical ticket collages from the Yankees, Orioles and much more.

Then…INSANE “WINNER TAKE ALL” raffles like a “Wheelbarrow of Cheer & Tower of Beer”, Big Screen Tv’s and tons more…we are giving away so much that you’ll need a truck to haul away everything you won.

There is limited space…lock down your tables of 10 now by contacting us or ordering online.  ASAP before it’s too late. TICKETS are also available online 

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2018-baltimore-brothers-in-blue-bash-tickets-43349894702?aff=es2

As specified on the coverLife Sentence  is the memoir of A Police Officer’s Battle with PTSD. From the very beginning, it is a fascinating, emotive and compelling read.

The prologue sets the scene of where Simon Gillard is now, in the nightmare of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. “I’m awake again, shaking, sweating. My heart is racing and I stare into the dark. I can’t close my eyes.”

From here we are taken back by Simon to when he was a young boy and fell in love with his ideal future, that of becoming a policeman. He never wavered in this ambition which was to carry him so successfully, but often agonizingly, for so many years.

Simon paints graphic pictures but also uses uncomplicated language to tell his story. He is a highly motivated, sincere and conscientious member of the police force. As he never becomes stagnant or complacent we are privileged to see the inside workings of so many different areas and locations of city policing as he continues to widen his experience and knowledge.

We also see the interpersonal relationships that are paramount to the successful functioning of any large organization especially the police force and their detectives. Simon continues to be a team pla the er even in the face of adversity. Leadership and the hierarchy have so much significance in the gradual demise of Simon.

Less than half way through this amazing account I actually became upset as his narrative triggered my own memories of unfair, unjust, disloyal experience in the workplace as a respected member of the high school leadership team where I was eventually put out to pasture. It was at this point of recognition of what was happening to Simon that I pre-empted (in my own mind) that the lack of empathy, loyalty, and support would be the start of Simon’s unease and subliminal onset of his PTSD, rather than his ability to work proficiently in his career.

The importance of good counseling and caring is vividly highlighted. The latter has even more imperative when dealing with crime with its many portfolios, some of which include drug use, rape, murder, suicide, street bashings and brawls, theft, gang warfare, pedophile rings and crime within your own ranks. Then there is the competitiveness and enmity between the divisions of police work not to mention individual idiosyncrasy and the interpersonal likes and dislikes that can, as illustrated by Simon Gillard, border on corrupt behavior.

What is even more shocking to me is the harassment, twisting of the truth, stalking, hounding and prowling, almost to the point of persecution of Simon by the insurance companies, one in particular. I wanted to congratulate Simon on naming and recounting their part in his PTSD. How could they but exacerbate this medical condition.

My admiration for Simon knows no bounds. At no time does Simon blame the workplace or those in it for his condition. He gives a factual account of coping and not coping with this disorder. It is also a story of love and family bonding. Simon’s great love and esteem for his wife and children save him from the brink on several occasions. Sarah, his wife is as much to be admired as Simon.

His heartrending story is told succinctly and openly. It is a must read for anyone who works in the public sector; police, politicians, the law, teachers, lecturers, doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, counsellors, carers, defence forces, wives and parents and especially those who work with or in Insurance companies or, for that matter those trusting workers who pay week after week, year after year to this greedy and unprofessional sector.

Simon’s “tips”, statistics and support information at the end just adds to the caring and sincerity of Simon as a wonderful advocate of humanity.

Life Sentence by Simon Gillard (with Libby Harkness) is available now from Dymocks. 

Original Story can be found HERE

It’s been a tough couple of weeks for Pierce County law enforcement.

The sheriff’s department shared the sad news that one of their deputies took his own life on Friday morning.  That comes less than three weeks after an officer with the Lakewood Police Department died by suicide.

It’s a tough topic to talk about, but an important one, because suicide affects so many people.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides support 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-273-8255.  If you’re worried about someone you love, you can find warnings signs here.

A recent study of police suicides found an average of 130 police officers take their own lives each year, from 141 law enforcement suicides in 2008 to 116 law enforcement suicides in 2016.

The statistics hit home with the recent deaths of Pierce County Deputy Kory Shaffer and Lakewood Police Officer Aaron Grant.

“There have been suicides across the country in law enforcement, and we haven’t had one for a long time, and now that we have two in Pierce County in a month, two active duty police officers, it’s obviously something we’re all taking a look at,” said Detective Ed Troyer with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.  “If there’s a way we can help people, not only in our agencies but other agencies as well, we want to figure out what that is so it doesn’t happen again.”

Troyer described 47-year-old Shaffer as a well-liked, well-respected officer who’d been with the sheriff’s department for 16 years.

“Great family guy, great cop, just a well-rounded good guy,” said Troyer.  “And if this can happen to him, unfortunately it can happen to anybody.”

Officers are often at heightened risk of suicide because their jobs are not just physically dangerous.  Working in law enforcement takes an emotional and mental toll as well, due to the violence they see and the stress they deal with on a regular basis.

“Kory was part of a high intensity unit that was involved in extremely high intensity calls.  In fact, he’d been involved in a couple of calls in the last few months that most people don’t even go through once in their entire career.  He was the type of guy that could handle that, same with the rest of his unit.  So we don’t think that was it, but that’s something we’re looking into,” said Troyer.

Kory Shaffer took his life while in Yakima on department business with his partner.

The Lakewood Police Department said that Officer Arron Grant’ “lost his fight with mental illness and took his own life” on April 25.

“This is a hard loss for our Department and our community,” said Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor.  “It is a sad reminder that besides facing physical dangers, our people and other first responders also face a wide and difficult array of emotional and spiritual dangers.”

Any officer feeling a stress or a need to talk to someone anonymously should call CopStress and speak to a peer supporter.
 

On the day of the 7/7 bombings in 2005, Pc Richard Oakley was one of the first police officers to arrive at the scene at Russell Square station.

Twenty-six people were killed when a bomb was detonated on a packed Piccadilly Line train just after it pulled out of King’s Cross station.

Pc Oakley, was just 21, and a relatively new member of the British Transport Police when he responded to the terror incident.

“We were met with carnage, ” he told ITV News.

He also witnessed many people being brought up to the station’s booking office with “severe burns, lacerations and missing limbs”.

Recalling his memories of the day, Pc Oakley said: “You go into the mode that you’re trained to deal with.

“I always remember quite a few people who were laying on the floor that were suffering burns injuries.”

Flowers left at Russell Square tube station on the 10th anniversary of the terror attack

 

When Pc Oakley got back to the police station later that day, the officer said he “curled up in the corner of the locker room and cried”.

“I think my body didn’t know how to deal or process it,” he added.

He then returned to work the next day “because you don’t want to let people down, it’s that ‘man up’ mentality”.

But in the aftermath of the incident, Pc Oakley began to experience nightmares about people he had been unable to help.

He then reached his lowest point in December that same year when he had a nervous breakdown.

“I’d heard the slightest noise outside and I’d be up at the window…I was very, very jumpy.”

“It all built up on top of me to the point I ended up locking myself in the bathroom and hiding away because I couldn’t cope.”

Pc Oakley went on to see a psychiatrist but found it did little to help. He then continued to struggled for a number of years.

In 2015, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

After years of suffering things finally changed for the better when Pc Oakley was treated by renowned hypnotist Paul McKenna at a conference

McKenna treated him with a pioneering technique called Havening which he practices on people who have experienced severe trauma.

“It completely reset my brain in how I approach and think things,” he said

“That one session did it for me,” Pc Oakley said, adding: “I don’t have nightmares anymore.”

The 33-year-old now wants to help other people suffering with PTSD and urges anyone in a similar situation to seek help.

The officer has also started using social media get in contact other people suffering from the condition.

“It’s ok to talk to talk about it. The more we encourage people to talk about mental illness the more we can help them,” he stressed.

 

FROM the time he was 10, Simon Gillard knew he wanted to be a cop.

Little did he know that the psychological effects of his work would see him forced out of the job he loved and standing on the brink of destruction. Like many police officers, the former detective developed anxiety through the course of his work, investigating deaths by suicide, heart attacks, murders, car crashes and missing people.

But it was not until he was seconded to Strike Force Arika in 2009 to investigate paedophilia at Knox Grammar School that the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder truly descended.

“It was the first time any investigation came into the house,” Mr Gillard said. “I couldn’t sleep, I had nightmares and had to check on my son. I’d wake up and have to check on Cooper, who was a similar age to the boys at the times when they were first abused … molested.”

However Mr Gillard was not initially worried about his son. He was worried about his own friends, who he had gone to school with.

The group had attended Pittwater House, a private school in Collaroy, where their music teacher, Gary Featherstone, was “very personable towards you as a child” and it was impossible for the boys to get in trouble with him.

During the Knox investigation, Mr Gillard found the accused paedophiles, particularly Barrie Stewart, had similar mannerisms to Featherstone.

“We used to play tennis while I was investigating Knox and I had this bizarre feeling of helplessness,” Mr Gillard said.

“I was distressed internally, thinking that something had happened to one of my mates while I was at school.”

The feeling persisted with nightmares, despite their being no evidence that anything had happened to his friends.

Featherstone was jailed for a minimum of 13 years for child sex offences in 2006.

Mr Gillard, 40, said it was incredibly difficult to interview the men about experiences that had happened to them as boys.

He said they would spend hours giving a 20 or 30 page statement, often breaking down when trying to describe the initial abuse.

“They had tried to blank out as best they could the intricacies of what took place,” he said.

“Their lives had spiralled out of control and these were the reasons why they were not coping.

“It hit me that these poor men went to an elite private school, who were now drug users, on the pension or the dole; it made a lot of sense where the explanation of what they’d become was from these traumatic events.”

The Turramurra man said the other tough part was interviewing the 70-year-old parents “who had no idea except their son had become a drug user, alcoholic, jobless person after going to an elite school”.

He said the men’s lives had often been the subject of numerous fights in these families over the years, because no one could understand why they had squandered their opportunities.

The investigation targeted a paedophile ring at the school, with Barrie Stewart, Roger James, Adrian Nisbett and Craig Treloar eventually charged with a range of child sex offences.

“It was a joint criminal enterprise — teacher one would tell teacher two they have a new “girl” (their term for a vulnerable boy) in the class,” Mr Gillard said.

“They would not only groom the boys, but their parents. The parents would think the teacher was amazing for giving their child extra attention.

“He would abuse their kids in their own house. Some of the parents didn’t believe us, because the teachers treated them so well.”

Mr Gillard was crushed when the men all received suspended sentences, except for Treloar who was sentenced to a minimum two years in jail.

The result exacerbated his PTSD, a condition which would increase his anxiety, depression, saw him develop a gambling addiction and, ultimately, make four suicide attempts.

The worst saw him standing on the edge of the cliff at North Head after receiving a dossier of photographs from insurer Metlife as part of their rejection of his Total and Permanent Disability claim lodged under the NSW Police Blue Ribbon Insurance Scheme.

“The dossier was full of photos of me and my kids,” he said.

“They were trying to make out there was nothing wrong with me.

“My mental health team all said go get yourself healthy, go outside. It would take me an hour to get off the couch, then when I did (the insurance investigators) took photos of me.”

Mr Gillard was invalided out of the NSW Police in July 2012, leaving him unsure of his identity or how to move forward.

He said going through the red-tape to try to receive his insurance and the way he was treated made him decide to author a book and tell his story.

Veteran ghostwriter Libby Harkness wrote his book, Life Sentence: A police officer’s battle with PTSD, which has been published by Penguin Random House.

“I want people to learn from my lived experiences,” Mr Gillard said.

“This has given me a new identity, I can help others.

“I want them to know that PTSD is treatable and measurable with grounding. You will still have triggers, but it gets easier to deal with them.

A book launch for Life Sentence is on at Mona Vale Berkelouw Books, 12/14 Park St, Mona Vale, from 6.30pm, May 11. For more information, visit simongillard.com.au

Police PTSD Therapy

Why departmental PTSD therapy is needed but will not help as many as it should.

There are a lot of deep issues in the police culture that should be examined to understand why it should be done, but how 80% of officers  with PTSD, that need help will fall through the cracks with a one-sided departmental approach.

Before we look at my reasoning let’s look at the causes that most people know about PTSD and police work. Where the departments fail the officers and where the officers fail themselves.  I do believe that the departments hold a responsibility to take care of their own but, the officers themselves hold a responsibility to themselves as well.

In police work you must be strong, you must be a hero and stand as a rock.  If you do not present yourself that way to the citizens, and criminals alike, the citizens will have no faith in your ability and the criminals will not respect you.  As a police officer, it’s about being strong and in control, of not only a situation but in control of yourself. 

Once an officer begins to develop PTSD, he or she begins to lose control of things in life.  They being to look for unhealthy outlets to deal with the depression and stress.  In police work, being in control is very crucial on the street.  Once officers start to lose that control, they push harder in all areas of their life to assert control.

My dealings with PTSD

An officer might recognize these things or they might not.  In my case, I had never even heard of PTSD past the military and it was foreign to me.  I only found out about it after my counselor told me about it and said I had it. First I had doubts about it but I did a lot of reading and soul searching.

I remember times in the department growing up in the ranks. Some officers took leave on stress and the first line supervisors and command saying they were faking it; saying they were weak and using it as an excuse so they don’t have to work.  I heard this from a police commissioner about me as recently as 2012 when I retired.

I do find it amusing that in the first 17 years of my time in the Police Department I took zero medical days.  During my time with the department I was awarded a silver star, 6 bronze stars, and 18 letters of commendation.  I worked 18 of 20 years in specialized units from drugs, the DEA task force, a Sergeant in charge of a shooting squad and I developed the city’s Gun Trace Task Force.

As with anyone in any job, it’s always: ‘What have you done for me lately?’.  After my shooting, I did what all good cops do.  I was back to work the very next day on the streets of Baltimore.  It was not until three years later and my life spiraling out of control, sitting in a bathtub with a gun in my mouth, that I realized something was wrong.  At that point, I went on my own to see someone; at the same time, sealing my fate with many of my brothers and sisters in blue.  Not to my face mind you, but the whispers. 

Anyone working in any police department across the country knows the whispers.  The “He’s just trying to play the system”, and “He’s weak if his mind is broken”.  Those are the same people that will stand up and proclaim to be your brother or sister to your face.  The same ones that I still love to this day, even after the hell I put myself through with the choices I made, the choices that were my responsibility during the time of my life when I had PTSD.

How departments will fail

So back to the topic of this story of how departments will fail to deliver on helping the police family.  Even with all their good intentions, it will not be successful. They may tout success and they could have the best programs that can be offered.

As an officer, you must have control and you must have face.  Most officers facing stress, when they think of seeing someone about it, will avoid it.  Not because they don’t want help, but for two main reasons. 

Reason one, time heals all wounds mentality.  While this is true to an extent, PTSD is not only a condition that’s brought on only by one action, but it’s also cumulative, it builds up.  If the officer does not get help in some way, this condition will not heal.  It’s like having a cut, it may heal over time but continual cuts will not allow it to heal.

Reason two, they think they will look out of control and lose face.  How many of us have had interviews for specialized positions at our jobs?  Many officers don’t want to push a patrol car their career.  Some do, and I applaud them as they are better than I, to put on that uniform all day and answer 911 calls. 

Police departments are the biggest gossip place I have ever found.  If I were to be pulled over for speeding two jurisdictions over by the time I could drive into my jurisdiction the entire department would know what I did. 

Same goes for seeing a counselor.  If you see a counselor through the department, someone knows.  A supervisor always knows, and if they know their boss knows, and then their friends know, and before you know it you are the crazy or lazy guy- you’ve lost face and your control. 

Now you are fully recovered and back to work, and you want to get into a specialized unit.  You meet the requirements, you have the time on, you have the stats and skills to do the job.  You go to your interview and after you leave- the whispers start: “I’m not sure we should take him, what if he stresses out?  What if he can’t handle this?” or “If he goes out sick again, we will be short someone”. 

The excuses are endless, like all police work, you can do the right thing a million times but falter once and that’s all you are ever remembered for.  Same goes for a damaged mind.  It will not matter if it’s fixed to others, you will always be that damaged person. 

Additionally, departments have no way of recognizing cumulative PTSD and no plan on addressing it past their yearly in-service training on the issues, and how to deal with them if they come up past the departmental counseling that couldAdditionally- no matter how it’s presented.

The cost to the department

So, the question is what are we left with?  What can the departments do to help the officers at the same time encourage them to seek help? Everyone loses if the officer develops PTSD.  The officer faces losing his mind, his family, his finances, his job, and sometimes his life.  The department faces losing an officer, that costs money to train, and civil liabilities through workman’s compensation. 

What if the officer becomes aggressive at work because of PTSD that’s not managed?  The sky’s the limit for the taxpayer and the city budget.  If the officer is aggressive it could be a lawsuit, to even riots that could cost the city tens of millions of dollars.  In the Baltimore City riots of 2015, the city’s cost was estimated at 20 million dollars and that’s not accounting for damages to individuals. 

So what can be done?

We are left with what can be done if the departments can’t solve the issues.  The issues need to be addressed on multiple fronts.  The departments need to have mandatory counseling after shootings; this should be the normal routine. Departments should also understand that the officers will not trust this counseling because it’s all reported back to the command. 

It reminds me of the psychological test I took when becoming a police officer.  A few questions amused me: “Have you ever been abducted by aliens?” and “Have you ever fantasized about killing your parents?”.  I’m not sure any reasonable person, even if they believed they were abducted or fantasized about those things, would admit to it on a police entrance test.  Same goes with counselors.  Many officers will say what they need to say, to be cleared back to work and with the least amount of damage to their reputation. It’s human nature.

Yes, initial counseling is good, but the emphasis should be placed on what signs to look for and how to address any issues that may arise.  The officers need to be trained in different coping skills concerning PTSD.  Police Departments should not expect them to reveal too much in counseling.  Officers need to be told of outside resources available to them, should they need it.  While the department may not like this because they lose the control aspect, it’s better than the alternative both personally and financially.

Our approach

There needs to be more groups like ours, CopStress, that works with officers anonymously.  We let them know that what they say is kept in confidence like other protected relationship.  At CopStress, we use models to first talk to the officers; if we feel that they need more assistance, we have independent counselors that they can talk to.  If the counselors feel they need a more structured approach, we encourage the officers to then seek help through their department. 

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to helping officers with PTSD.  Ignoring it and trying to control how it’s addressed will only lead to failure for not only the officer and their family, but the department, municipality, and society.   There may come a time that PTSD is looked at as you would look at a broken leg, but I don’t see that happening in today’s culture for at least another 20 years.

About the Author:

Rick Willard is a retired 20 year Detective Sergeant from the Baltimore City Police.  Rick Willard with others started CopStress.  He is currently the Chief Operations Officers in charge of Peer Support, Training, and Critical Incident Response. 

CopStress PTSD Support

BALTIMORE — There’s no question that being a police officer or firefighter is a dangerous job, but more first responders die of suicide than are killed working.

  

Mounting research points to untreated post-traumatic stress disorder as a main cause. Some Marylanders are trying to reverse the trend.

“As a young cop, you’re putting your mouth to a dead child’s lips, and trying to give them CPR. We had a young 15-year-old shot five times in the back and we’re covered in his blood, his brain matter and everything is coming out,” Rick Williard said. “When the nightmares started happening, in dreams, I would wake up think about the 17-year-old girl that stabbed her mother to death and every scene of that house.”

Williard is former Baltimore City police officer recovering from PTSD, triggered by constant exposure to violence. It was pushed to the edge after he fatally shot a 20-year-old during a running gun battle near the now demolished Murphy Homes in 2005.

“There comes a breaking point, and the shooting was a breaking point, and I didn’t realize it at the time,” Willard said. “On a personal level, it led me to divorce. I had a wonderful family, kids, life (and) beautiful house. It led me to very low points, where I had a gun in mouth at one point. You just want things to end, to go away from it all.”

The latest studies reveal 108 police suicides, 116 firefighter suicides a year, often triggered by PTSD. It is the leading cause of death for first responders.

“It’s as high, if not higher than in the veteran’s population,” said Dr. Abby Morris.

Morris is the director of a first of its kind, in-patient PTSD treatment center that just opened in Prince George’s County. It was created by the International Association of Firefighters, run by private medical company, Advanced Recovery Systems.

For their privacy, WBAL-TV 11 News didn’t film patients that were there from across the country, seeking help.

“I have to remind these guys all the time; they’re firefighters, they’re heroes, and part of what we do here, is focus on the fact they’re firefighters, but they came into this world human,” Morris said.

Morris, who’s also worked with police, said PTSD affects at least one in five active-duty police and firefighters. The new center in Maryland just scratches the surface.

“Divorce is high in this population. Suicide is very high in this population. Alcohol addiction is high in this population because there’s never been a lot of support that’s even been put into place within this brotherhood,” Morris said.

“When you work on the streets of Baltimore for 20 years you have a lot of brothers and sisters,” Williard said. “I want to be there for family to talk to them.”

Williard is now turning his trauma into action, launching copstress.com — a peer to peer support group, offering immediate help by phone.

“A lot of times it’s just having someone to talk to who understands what you’re feeling,” Williard said. “If I help one person, get through things in their life, it helps not only that person, it helps their family (and) it helps society.”

The inquest into the tragic death of former New South Wales police detective Ashley Bryant highlights the issue of suicide among police officers.

Central to the inquest has been considerations of how Bryant was treated by the police force and what – if anything – could have been done to prevent his death.

So, it is perhaps timely to consider the issue of police officer suicide, what factors contribute to suicide, and how the risk of suicide among police officers might be reduced.

Are police at high risk of suicide?

Policing is undoubtedly a highly stressful occupation, and suicides are a sad result. Compared with the general population, police officers face a significantly higher risk of experiencing threatening situations, violence, and traumatic events such as attending death scenes and fatal accidents.

It is therefore generally assumed that police officers are at a high risk of suicide.

Early research supported this theory. A study in 1963 found the suicide rate among police officers in the US was 1.8 times higher than that of the general public. It was widely assumed this was also the case in Australia.

However, more recent research has questioned this assumption, noting this difference may be the result of the particular demographic characteristics of police forces. That is, the majority of officers are male (around 80%) and aged in their early 20s to late 40s. These groups are also at the highest risk of suicide.

In studies that control for demographic characteristics, the difference in suicide rates between police and the general population disappears.

In Australia, the most recent figures identified 62 police suicides in the years between 2000 and 2012. This is a rate of approximately 11.4 suicides per 100,000 – a figure that is actually less than the suicide rate for the Australian population (12.7 per 100,000 people). Police may therefore be at no greater risk of suicide than the general population.

But this conclusion may be too simplistic when we take into consideration that police officers have generally undergone stringent selection procedures designed to identify individuals who are the most psychologically resilient, mentally well, and physically fit. Police officers are also engaged in regular, paid, meaningful work, and are likely to have access to healthcare services and benefits.

These are characteristics that research shows protect against suicide.

Given this, we might expect police officers to have a much lower rate of suicide than the general population. If this is so, then it is pertinent to ask what it is about policing that serves to raise suicide rates to higher levels than would be expected.

Factors associated with police suicide

It is often assumed that it is the effects of trauma, sometimes resulting in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), that drives police officers to suicide.

However, while trauma and PTSD are undoubtedly important, recent research has found that police officers also experience significant distress from repeated exposure to lower-level stresses. These include work experiences such as:

  • bureaucratic management styles;
  • insensitivity to personal distress;
  • unfair decision-making by managers;
  • seemingly arbitrary rules;
  • poor consultation with staff;
  • constantly shifting priorities;
  • increased workload;
  • shift work;
  • erratic work hours;
  • long periods of repetitive work; and
  • carrying out work for which officers are not adequately trained.

Additionally, issues such as a male-dominated culture that stresses macho problem-solving and denial of distress, and a pervasive fear among some staff that acknowledging distress will result in damage to their careers, are also linked to workplace stress.

Research also shows the quality of the treatment of distressed or traumatised individuals by an organisation strongly mediates the impact of trauma and the likelihood of suicide. In essence, negative treatment of a traumatised individual by an organisation compounds the effects of trauma – making suicide more likely.

Reducing the risk of police suicide

If police officer suicide is strongly linked to the cumulative experience of traumatic events, lower-level stresses and the manner in which officers experiencing distress and trauma are treated by organisations, then mitigation strategies have to acknowledge all of these factors.

Recently, police services have begun to set in place strategies designed to improve the response to mental health problems among their members, such as creating 24-hour assistance programs with direct access to mental health practitioners.

However, much of the focus has been on responding to major trauma and PTSD. While this is important, police also need to take account of the effects of recurrent exposure of staff to poor management and cultural stresses, and the stigma attached to mental illness within the force.

Certainly, educating staff – especially managers – into how to respond adequately to distressed colleagues, encouraging a culture of openness about mental health issues and removing any perceived stigma of personal distress would be useful strategies in this regard. They may reduce the risk of further tragedies such as Ashley Bryant’s death.

 

FLORISSANT • It was nearly eight years ago, but Kirk Lawless, a former Florissant police officer, says he can still taste the smoke from his gun and smell the blood of the man he killed.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve relived that moment,” said Lawless, 57, of north St. Louis County. “I kill this guy in my mind over and over, all day.”

Lawless had just begun an overnight shift in 2009 when he jumped on a call to back up a rookie cop responding to a home invasion. Within seconds, Lawless had shot and killed an 18-year-old coming toward him with a gun.

 

It was the only time he shot anyone in his nearly 28-year career, he said.

Lawless received a medal of valor for killing the man and possibly saving the lives of the rookie and two people inside the house. But the shooting ultimately ended Lawless’ police career because of the resulting post-traumatic stress diagnosis. Florissant fired him in 2012 over his inability to return to the streets.

Now, Lawless is fighting back in court against his former department, the city and his ex-bosses. The disability discrimination suit he filed four years ago goes to trial this week in St. Louis County Circuit Court. He accuses them of denying him counseling or light duty after he disclosed his diagnosis, requiring him to use sick time instead of providing workers’ compensation while in treatment, and then firing him.

“Honest to God, I feel like I’ve been in prison since it happened,” Lawless said.

Florissant police did not respond to requests for interviews. Jason Retter, a lawyer representing Florissant, said: “The city adamantly denies Mr. Lawless’ allegations that they discriminated against him or any other acts of wrongdoing, and we’re looking forward to presenting our evidence in court.”

The shooting

Just after 11 p.m. on July 19, 2009, at least four intruders forced their way into a home in the 2800 block of Cranberry Court and held Michael L. Jackson and his stepfather, Marlon Harden, at gunpoint. They said they were looking for Jackson’s brother, pistol-whipped the two men and ransacked the house in search of cash stored in a safe.

“A couple times they shoved a gun in my mouth and kept asking me, ‘Where’s the money at?’” Jackson said in a recent interview. “There was blood everywhere. Right before the police came, they said, ‘Let’s kill them now.’”

Some of the intruders ran off as Lawless and two other officers stood outside. Jhmari C. McCoy tossed aside a St. Louis Cardinals ball cap that was concealing a stolen silver .357 Magnum revolver in his right hand. He ran past the rookie officer toward Lawless, who said he made eye contact with McCoy and ordered him to the ground before shooting him twice, fatally injuring him.

“If I didn’t do it, I’d be dead,” Lawless said.

Jackson credits police with saving their lives.

Four months after the shooting, Lawless was awarded the Crusade Against Crime’s Medal of Valor, the highest annual honor in St. Louis law enforcement.

Two years later, two of the other intruders, Javaughn Garth of Vinita Park and Jeron Ward of St. Peters, pleaded guilty tawarded theder and other crimes. Garth was sentenced to 20 years in prison, Ward to 15.

The aftermath

Lawless was hired by Florissant in 1987 after three years with Jennings police. While at Florissant, he served as a detective; trained new officers; and worked undercover on a drug task force.

After the shooting, he returned to patrol after just one day off, despite not having slept since the shooting, he says. His first assignment was an armed robbery at an Imo’s Pizza; the robber took off before he arrived.

“That was a whistle-clean shooting, but if I went back out and got into another one, how were they going to view that one?” he said.

Months passed and he began suffering nightmares, night sweats, insomnia, violent dreams and flashbacks.

He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in late 2010 but waited several months to tell his department, he said. Lawless said his bosses initially told him his treatment would be covered but later required him to take family leave and use sick time. His last day in uniform was in April 2011.

Florissant “never paid a penny,” Lawless said. “Never sent me to a doctor. I literally begged them for help.”

Lawless lives with his wife and son in North County. He used to have a therapy horse, Corrina, but sold her to pay bills. He takes numerous medications for anxiety but stopped weekly counseling sessions a few years ago because he could no longer afford them.

His wife, Lynda Lawless, said the shooting and PTSD have alienated them from people at the department whom they once called friends.

“I realize now why people don’t reach out for help,” she said. “I don’t think any of us were prepared for what the backlash would be from the department. For all those years, we were part of that police family, and after this happened, it’s like we fell off the face of the Earth.”

PTSD has ruined her husband’s sleep and makes him anxious about leaving the house; sometimes he takes clippers and tears off the skin around his fingernails until they bleed, she said.

“He says it reminds him he’s still alive,” she said.

Police and PTSD

While  traumatic stress among military veterans has received lots of attention, less has been paid to police and first responders, experts say. Police often bottle up those emotions and ignore yearslong exposure to traumatic situations.

“We’re very closed up, and it’s not just police. It’s all first responders,” said Kansas City police Maj. Darren Ivey, who developed a training program on recognizing stress and anxiety from secondary trauma, which comes from observing other people’s traumatic experiences. “Not only do we keep things close to the vest, we’ve been told our entire career to basically suck it up.”

That’s partly why it’s difficult to accurately assess how many police officers experience PTSD.

President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing in 2015 urged police departments to address mental health of officers, citing statistics that police commit suicide almost 2½ times more often than others kill them.

Steven Bruce, a psychology professor and director of the Center for Trauma Recovery Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said recent studies estimate that 6 percent to 20 percent of police officers experience PTSD; he believes awareness within police departments is growing because prolonged overseas wars have produced combat veterans who return home and become police officers.

Lawless’ case against Florissant, Bruce said, “does nothing but reinforce the notion that if I come forward, that I’m going to get fired. It makes that cycle of being silent all the more powerful.”

Kyle Dooley, 44, of Cottleville, a former Lake Saint Louis officer who has suffered from depression and anxiety, helps run crisis training programs for St. Louis area police through the National Alliance of Mental Illness. This year, he said, Missouri began requiring that police get a minimum two hours of wellness training, which involves learning to maintain a healthy lifestyle and recognize risk factors.

“The state has recognized that it’s a problem,” he said.

‘Nothing to hide’

Lawless hasn’t sought work since he left Florissant; he was a police officer his entire adult life and doesn’t know what else he would do.

Nearly eight years later, he still describes feelings of “hypervigilance” — always looking over his shoulder for potential threats and ready for a fight. He carries a pistol in public.

In 2014, Lawless wrote a letter to McCoy titled “A letter to the man I killed” in which Lawless explained how he was changed by killing McCoy. Last year, a police documentary, “Officer-Involved,” which tells stories of officers after police shootings, tapped Lawless to record himself reading the letter to help promote the movie. He did it anonymously.

“I took your life, I get that,” Lawless wrote. “But still, you took something from me. And you changed me forever. … Killing a man is nothing to take lightly. It changes you. It changes what people think of you. You aren’t the same person anymore. And still I love life. I revel in the beauty of it, both the simplicities and intricacies of it. I appreciate life. This solitary act does not define me; it doesn’t even scratch the surface.”

Lawless insists this week’s trial isn’t solely about money; he wants to tell his story and be compensated for a law enforcement career cut short.

“I have nothing to hide,” he said. “They robbed me of 13 years on the job. I want vindication.”

Original Story

As former police officer Ashley Bryant stood on the platform above a waterfall on the NSW North Coast he made a final phone call.

It was about 8.30pm on December 16, 2013, when he dialled the number of friend and colleague, Detective Inspector Matt Kehoe.

Mr Bryant, a father of three who had been medically discharged from the NSW Police Force a year earlier, sounded “clear and concise” as he spoke.

He said he wanted Mr Kehoe to investigate his death, something Mr Kehoe couldn’t promise.

“I knew from the call I got from him that if I made that promise to him, I knew what he was going to do,” Mr Kehoe told an inquest into Mr Bryant’s death on Wednesday.

Moments later Mr Bryant killed himself.

 An inquest into the 44-year-old’s death in the NSW Coroner’s Court is examining what support was given to the detective sergeant as he struggled with post traumatic stress disorder, depression and alcohol abuse.

The inquest will also examine whether the police force needs to change the way it assesses the risk of officers developing mental health issues and how it supports former and serving officers with psychological injuries.

As a “hard-working” police officer with 24 years experience, who had responded to many murders and suicides, Mr Bryant knew every 000 call was recorded.

This was one of the last numbers he dialled before ending his life west of Byron Bay.

“I understand this is being recorded and I suffer from PTSD,” he told the 000 operator in a chilling call played to the inquest.

“I now live with the trauma of it and I know this will go to the coroner. There needs to be more things put in place for partners of those that suffer … ”

The operator asked Mr Bryant if he could wait for police to get to him.

“No, I’ll be gone before they arrive, thank you,” he replied before the line went dead.

Growing up in the Mid-North Coast town of Port Macquarie, Mr Bryant was an athletic teenager who spent his spare time surf lifesaving and training with his older brother.

He earned the nickname “ice man” at the police academy because he drank ice water while everyone else downed alcohol, the inquest heard.

That changed after he joined the police.

Counsel assisting the coroner, Ian Bourke, said there was clear evidence that Mr Bryant struggled with the affects of PTSD, depression and alcohol abuse in the lead-up to his discharge from the force in 2013.

Over the years he went from going off alcohol completely to downing up to 10 drinks a night. At one point he had his police firearm taken off him after he was aggressive towards work mates.

Mr Bryant spoke to some about the traumatic jobs that haunted him.

There was the drowning of husband and wife, Carole and Joseph Sherry, at South Ballina Beach in 2010 and a murder-suicide at Casino.

He had also worked in the Unsolved Homicide Team, including on the high-profile cold case involving Sydney teen Trudie Adams.

In 2012, Mr Bryant was working as a detective sergeant at Ballina police station, which was understaffed and overworked, the inquest heard.

The NSW Police Force were notified about his PTSD in March that year as he was treated by a psychiatrist, psychologist and GP.

It was around this time he sent Mr Kehoe, his superior the Richmond Local Area Command, a text message.

“I just can’t stomach this job any more, I need some time away,” Mr Bryant wrote on March 13, 2012.

Over the next few months, Mr Kehoe checked in on Mr Bryant, meeting him for coffee in Byron Bay and walking the iconic lighthouse track.

Asked about how Mr Bryant felt around this time, Mr Kehoe said: “He was at least looking forward to the future outside of the police.”

In December, 2012, Mr Bryant was medically discharged from the police.

Then he awaited a decision on whether he would get an early superannuation payment, which depended on how his level of disability was assessed.

In 2013, a psychologist on behalf of the superannuation fund assessed Mr Bryant as someone who could return to work in a job less stressful than police work.

He would get partial remuneration, not full.

His brother, Jason, a former police officer who left the force with psychological and physical injuries in 2009, said insurers assessing Mr Bryant’s injury claim were getting him down.

“He said words to the effect of how he was changing case officers all the time and he was worried about where he was going to end up financially,” Jason said.

Mr Bryant was staying in Lismore at the time, in student accommodation, after moving out of the family home in Port Macquarie.

Hours before he died, he had a psychologist appointment with his wife, Deborah. She told him he could move back home if he stopped drinking.

Mr Bourke said Mr Bryant stood up, said words to the effect of “I can’t do this any more”, and left the room.

He then “must have driven directly to Minyon Falls”, Mr Bourke said, getting beer and a bottle of scotch whiskey on the way.

The inquest before State Coroner Michael Barnes continues.

 

Original Story