Career as LEO: Finding Resilience in the Ruins

WESTBOROUGH, MA May 1, 2018 Police officer behavior is a growing interest of mine especially in 2018 when everything is being watched by various citizen groups and the ubiquitous media looking for signs of police bias and egregious acts of abuse. Questioning every decision and reviewing all reports under the guise of freedom of information and transparency.  Is it any wonder that departments nationwide are having difficulty recruiting men and women to join the ranks as police recruits?  Many departments are offering sign-on bonuses like Salt Lake City, UT and San Jose, CA and others.  Some agencies are left shorthanded after having personnel poached by neighboring departments with bigger payrolls and greater opportunity for growth, training, and overtime. I still believe the police service is among the best career a person could choose and served 15 years both in Maine and Massachusetts.

Sgt. Michael Sefton Retired NBPD 2015
Police recruits undergo 6-8 months of rigorous physical conditioning, mental preparation for scenarios of all kinds, and legal and policy education for the particular state and local department for whom they are employed.  A growing part of the academy training has to do with maintaining healthy habits and staying positive and emotionally resilient over a long career in the law enforcement profession.  Officers are provided the physical training they need and behavioral health training necessary to face a career with high stress and often unbearable pain and suffering.  The effectiveness of these lessons depends upon the follow through as officers embark on their journey.  The career success they have may be directly related to the application of resiliency training to build and maintain physical and emotional hardiness that lasts a lifetime according to Leo Polizoti, 2018.
Reduced stigma will afford officers the chance to express themselves, lower stress and tension, and seek help when situations evoke or release the ghosts of cases past – often the underpinning of PTSD. This openness has not yet found its way into the law enforcement culture and while physical fitness has taken hold for career satisfaction – mindfulness has not become fully embraced.
The key to any new skill set is to train for events that may be unexpected and to apply emotional well-being strategies to after incident debriefing.  All too often police officers keep to themselves the underlying emotional impact of some of the calls they face and tend to minimize the psychological impact on them.  Yet it is well know that some calls leave their imprint on the human psyche.  How could any person walk away from the Newtown school shooting in Connecticut and not feel numb and traumatized no matter how senior a man you were.  Clearly the LEO’s and other first responders demonstrated heroic service to the Newtown Community – just at they did in Boston following that city’s 3-day siege that culminated with the execution of Officer Sean Collier, an MIT police officer and later an 8 minute fire fight in Watertown, Massachusetts. But in private moments what effect does this have on human resilience?
“Having a winning mindset and thinking more positively about the Law Enforcement profession you have chosen can go a long way toward limiting the effects of burn out, reducing illness and lessening traumatic reactions to critical incidents.” Leo Polizoti, Ph.D.
Police officers are needed more than ever and as a profession LEO’s need support and continued opportunity for training in all areas police service including handling the once-in-a-career “shit show” that clearly leaves its mark.  Resiliency training requires ongoing training – just like defensive tactics and legal updates.

Polizoti, LF (2017) Psychological Resilience : From surviving to thriving in a law enforcement career. Personal Correspondence. Taken 4-21-2018