Police and Crisis Intervention

In the years that I've worked helping veterans with reintegration I've heard the far too common story of police officers responding to a veteran in crisis with weapons drawn.  Many cases of a suicidal veteran, reaching out for help, are met with a show of force, triggering the veteran even more, and turning a bad situation worse. How does one interact within a situation where it is unknown what the intentions of someone is? How do you keep your cool while maintaining safety?

 Marine Good Conduct Medal

Marine Good Conduct Medal

I spent 5 years in the Marines.  I do not have a good conduct medal.  I wasn't a bad guy and not likely to be on any watch list.  Yet I can tell you that attempts to bully me to follow orders, flashing a gun, or the like, do not work on us on a normal day.  If the veteran is in a crisis state of emotion and substance abuse, then the triggers will lead to more aggression on their part.


The point here isn't to throw safety aside... but to understand what will make an already ambiguous, potentially dangerous situation more dangerous. I'm going to use an analogy here to illustrate a point. Suppose a kid is petting a dog you've never met. You don't know if this dog is kind or anxious and bitey. Would it be a smart thing to make jumpy movements around the dog? If it was a nervous dog, it might be more inclined to bite. If it was playful, it might want to play and jump up with you. 


It isn't just PTSD... it is training and culture

There is the stereotype of the crazy veteran with PTSD that hears voices and is ready to shoot everyone that comes around.  Veterans are treated like ticking time bombs.  Most veterans do not develop PTSD from deployment, readjust over some time, and are outstanding, contributing members of society.  Hope that your community has a good number of veterans in it... it'll be all the better for it.

But PTSD does affect some veterans lives in a powerfully devastating way.  Yet stepping aside from PTSD the intervening person (police, medic, friend, etc...) needs to realize some basic points about our culture and our experiences.  We've honed our Fight/Flight/Freeze responses to quickly act on Fight and to do with with more than enough force to get the job done.  There are no second chances in combat.  We develop skills and automatic behaviors in theater that are very useful, such as paranoia, distrust, secrecy, 'head on a swivel' (other wise known as attention deficit), violence of action, and more.  These 'normal' ways of being are perfect for a combat zone but not back at home.  When emotions get heightened we tend to fall back on behaviors that make us feel better and safer (civilians do too).  This means gaining control of our environment, protection from possible threats, and so forth.

Police personnel who do not take this into account when dealing with a veteran in crisis mode is adding fuel to the fire.  I do not ask for a lessening of security or safety by the police, but instead a change in approach with greater awareness to diffuse the situation.

A suicidal veteran reaches out to a friend.  The friend calls 911.  Police show up, handcuff the veteran, sit him down outside in the grass, and search his home for weapons.
A suicidal veteran calls a friend out of state. The friend is without hope for getting better, and is very depressed.  The friend calls 911.  Police show up, draw their weapons on an unarmed veteran, who flies into a rage and retreats back inside the home to gain a weapon for battle.

These are just two stories... there are more.  


Combat Veteran Domestic Crisis Response: Law Enforcement De-Escalation Options

As demonstrated in scenario-based training for first responders encountering any EDP (Emotionally Disturbed Person)  profile, the ability to apply EDP response principles for veterans in crisis is also achievable. The success lies in the ability to link the most common traits of veterans in emotional crisis, rapport building communication strategies. While no veteran will have identical trigger points or confluence of root causes, when viewed through a prism of  how to build rapport and trust, the table outlined earlier offers opportunity for successful application of response techniques. (page 12)

Perpetuating the Erroneous “Ticking Bomb” View of Veterans

VA article that takes offense at the reporting of such news stories as this: ““We just can’t use the blazing-guns approach anymore when dealing with disturbed individuals who are highly trained in all kinds of tactical operations, including guerrilla warfare,” said Dennis Cusick, executive director of the Upper Midwest Community Policing Institute. “That goes beyond the experience of SWAT teams.””

Employing Returning Combat Veterans as Law Enforcement Officers

The focus of this project was to understand the recent experiences of combat veterans as they transitioned into law enforcement careers. This report presents findings that underscore the transition issues faced by veteran officers and agencies as they deploy and return from military service.