Police Training: Revisiting Resilience

What is resilience in police work?  Emotional resilience is defined as the the capacity to integrate the breadth of police training and experience with healthy, adaptive coping, optimism, mental flexibility and healthy resolution of the traumatic events. In general, resilient people are self-reliant and have positive role models from whom they have learned to handle the stressful events all police officers encounter.  In the best of circumstances officers are encouraged to share stressful events and debrief with peer supports that are a regular component of the police service.  Unfortunately, in spite of the availability of peer support many officers are hesitant to utilize and call upon their peers to help with difficult even traumatic calls like suicide and severe child or elder abuse.  One reason for this is a culture of internalizing stress until it whittles away career satisfaction and job performance.  The underpinning of police officer burn-out is the collapse of resilience and onset of maladaptive coping.
How many mid-career officers have reduced productivity and elevated stress that leads to increased use of alcohol, drugs, gambling, abuse of sick leave, and job-related injuries?  According to Leo Polizoti, Ph.D. resilience refers to professional hardiness that is protective against such career burnout and raises both professionalism and job satisfaction. Many believe that hardiness and resilience can be built and polished as the officer grows into his career.
Police training tends to be repetitive and often boring.  Officers train to attain a level of automaticity so that when field encounters become threatening they are quick to utilize tactical behavior in the use of force continuum.  Sadly, police departments everywhere have trained in the active shooter protocol so that when the call goes out every officer knows exactly what is expected of him or her.  By doing so the motor programs and cognitive maps coalesce into a tactical advantage for law enforcement.  Training also helps to reduce autonomic arousal and helps regulate internal levels of stress so that officers can function at optimal levels when needed most.
Just as it is difficult to identify mental illness in a civilian population until the person is off the rails, so too is it difficult to pinpoint a law enforcement officer who is struggling with the long-term effects of the high stress calls police answer on a daily basis. “Stress and grief are problems that are not easily detected or easily resolved. Severe depression, heart attacks, and the high rates of divorce, addiction, and suicide in the fire and EMS services proves this” according to Peggy Rainone who provides seminars in grief and surviving in EMS (Sefton, 2013).
High levels of stress are known to slowly erode emotional coping skill leaving a psychologically vulnerable person at higher risk of acting out in many ways including with violence.  The 2013 case of domestic violence homicide in Arlington, Massachusetts raises the specter of domestic violence homicide in police and first responders. In this case, a decorated paramedic allegedly killed his twin children, his wife and then himself. Outwardly, he and his family seemed happy. What might trigger such an emotional breakdown and deadly maelstrom?
“Although resilience — the ability to cope during and recover from stressful situations — is a common term, used in many contexts, we found that no research had been done to scientifically understand what resilience is among police. Police officers have a unique role among first responders. They face repeated stress, work in unpredictable and time-sensitive situations, and must act according to the specific departmental policies. ” Andersen et al. 2017
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. Before this can happen the stigma associated with reaching out must be reduced.
Reduced stigma will afford officers the chance to express themselves, lower stress and tension, and seek peer or professional 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.
Andersen et al. (2017) Performing under stress: Evidence-based training for police resilience
Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Gazette Magazine Vol. 79 No 1.
Polizoti, L. (2017) Psychological Resilience: From Surviving to Thriving in a Law Enforcement Career. Presentation. Direct Decision Institute, Worcester, MA
Polizotti, LF (2018) Psychological Resilience : From surviving to thriving in a law enforcement career. Personal Correspondence. Taken 4-21-2018

Rainone, P. (2013) Emergency workers at risk. (website) http://www.emsvilliage.com/articles/article.cfm?ID=176. Taken 12-1-2013

In the Aftermath: Does Community Policing Require Follow-up?

Commissioner Bardimages
Cambridge Police Commissioner Branville Bard, Jr.
WESTBOROUGH, MA July 30, 2018  The growth of the Community Policing model has brought about impressive changes in the way in which police and citizens interact. The Community Policing model brings police officers out of their cruisers and into the neighborhoods.  Its primary goal was to
reduce crime through improved relationships between citizens and law enforcement
personnel. It is not a new policing strategy and was first introduced in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Commissioner Branville Bard, Jr.  is shown below in a July 10 video where he was reading to a community group of children. His vitae indicates that Bard has earned a Doctorate in Public Administration from Valdosta State University. He has a B.A. in Criminal Justice. Bard has previously been appointed to serve as the Co-Chair of current Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney’s transition team for Public Safety and a member of the Criminal Justice Advisory Board (CJAB) for the Community College of Philadelphia.
When the Community policing model was first introduced it was assumed that greater visibility of police officers on foot patrol would reduce the fear of crime among citizens and enhance cooperation and trust between the police and those they are sworn to protect and serve. Officers throughout the Boston, MA area regularly can be seen on bicycle patrol. I have encountered Watertown Police officers on bike patrol on the Charles River trail and found them both helpful and friendly.
Police officers were given greater autonomy and discretion when handing citizen complaints and investigating crimes as the community policing model evolved. The cop on the beat got to know people in the neighborhoods he patrolled, business leaders, and many of the
local “players.”
Given the greater expectation for improved police – civilian encounters using the community police model it has become apparent that with enhanced trust and cooperationthat a bridge be built of transparency, fairness, and decentralized leadership. This must evolve to include greater appreciation for the needs of individual communities and those most in need of support.
“By almost any measure, Massachusetts has lost the leadership role it once had in
mental health care”  Boston Globe Series
      Police officers slowly bought in to the model and gradually saw the fruits of their efforts by developing relationships and understanding of individual differences among the frequent flyers.
The scope of community policing in the 21 st century extends the role of police officers to
include frequent encounters with emotional imbalance, mental illness and substance
     There are inherent problems with any notion that police officers will return to the scene of bad domestic calls where there may have been a violent arrest only days before. This stems from the adversarial model that exists in most law enforcement agencies where follow-up to criminal activity is rarely conducted by front line officers. Many departments delegate follow-up investigations to detectives or in rare case civilian
personnel and sometimes mental health advocates. This schism lacks fundamental adherence to the community policing mantra of building relationships and trust between the police and its citizenry.

Thin Blue Line


The loss of Weymouth, MA Sgt. Michael Chesna impacts all of law enforcement and the behavior of the shooter must not be repeated. Sgt. Chesna will be buried on Friday July 20, 2018 with the full honors for the hero he was.

“And maybe just remind the few, if ill of us they speak, that we are all that stands between the monsters and the weak.”       Michael Marks