Group helps law enforcement officers deal with tragedy
Posted April 30, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — Law enforcement officers are trained to handle emergencies – fatal car accidents, shootings, even the loss of a fellow officer – but many don't receive training in dealing with the psychological effects of those occupational hazards.
"I was never trained for after I lost my buddies," said David Henderson, a trooper with the North Carolina State Highway Patrol.
Henderson, who has been in law enforcement for 27 years, said he's seen a lot of tragedy during his career.
"The fatality crashes, the injuries you see, the pain, the human side of it," he said – it all adds up emotionally.
Last year, Henderson absorbed a particularly painful blow.
"I lost a very good friend last fall in the line of duty," he said. "That was it. I had carried all I could carry."
Henderson turned to the North Carolina Law Enforcement Assistance Program, which holds seminars to help officers deal with the stresses of emergency response.
NCLEAP director Aaron Back said officers often struggle with the emotional toll of duty, but feel like they should be able to handle it all.
"You are tough no matter what happens, whatever you see, you suck it up and go back to work," Back said.
The seminars bring emergency responders together to talk about trauma they've seen on the job.
"We see a lot of anger," said Andy Gruler, clinical director for NCLEAP. "We see a lot of questioning their sanity, really."
Gruler said some officers are suicidal; twice as many law enforcement officers in the U.S. take their own lives than are killed in the line of duty.
Gruler recalled one officer's traumatic experience after he responded to a crash site where a child was killed.
"That child was wearing the same pajamas he put his child to bed in two hours earlier," he said.
NCLEAP organizers say that meeting other officers face to face and sharing stories helps to make the terrible feelings that come with emergency response feel more normal.
"(We) tell them, 'There is nothing wrong with the way you are reacting,'" Gruler said.
Henderson now attends the seminars to help other officers.
"I don't want these men and women to carry this stuff if they don't have to," he said.