A Behavioral Health Bill

In the 1970’s there was a bill that allowed police officers who earned their college degree to be paid extra money called the Quinn Bill. The Police Career Incentive Pay Program was enacted by the Massachusetts Legislature to encourage police officers to earn degrees in law enforcement and criminal justice according to the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education website. The funding for this ended in 2012 when the Commonwealth of Massachusetts stopped paying its share to cities and towns across the state. Officers hired after 2009 were not eligible for this program. In many cases, officers earned thousands of dollars on top of their base salary to continue their education. Many officers went on to earn advanced degrees and came to depend on this funding.

“Public safety is a priority, and it is essential that we have a highly trained and educated police force to keep our community safe.’’

Hon. Setti Warren, Mayor of Newton, MA

In Newton alone, the money to pay its police officers with earned an earned college degree amounts to an annual budget amount of 1.3 million dollars according to Mayor Setti Warren who believes it is worth it. Newton and many other communities in Massachusetts have continued payments to officers even after the state subsidies were no longer available. It is the right thing to do. In a similar way, reimbursing cops for “wellness training” should include subsidies for mindfulness and voluntary critical incident defusing sessions with peers following high lethality-high acuity events such as an active shooter incident.

Officer wellness is a vital component to resilient community policing. Officers who are resilient and mentally healthy provide better response to citizens in crisis. Just as it is important for law enforcement officers to be rewarded for continuing their education legislation may be enacted that provides funding for officers who undergo behavioral health and fitness training when it is associated with job-related trauma and mental illness. Peer support and crisis intervention training (CIT) teach LEO’s the skills needed to support fellow officers in need and deescalate people in the field who are in mental health crisis. By doing so, they avoid use of force and potential civil action against the police from use of physical force or incidents of officer involved shooting (OIS).

Officers are urged to sign up once they are released from formal field training and agree to be open to behavioral health follow-up moving forward. They do so after seeing the department psychologist to review incidents they have experienced in their early careers. Once cleared they agree to participate in regular defusing sessions in the aftermath of high profile incidents. At the same time, they may keep an electronic behavioral health profile with dates of traumatic cases and their role and response to each. If the LEO wishes to share these self-reports the department psychologist may have access to the case files and individual behavioral health responses. Family members would have access to the department psychologist if deemed necessary. There would be mandatory meetings with the department psychologist following OIS incidents and at other times depending upon department regulations and protocols.

Once a police officer opts to join the Career Behavioral Health Resiliency program he or she would receive a stipend that would be commensurate with the total time allotted to their participation wellness and resiliency programming. They can go all in and receive an annual incentive for both the resilience they achieve and for being part of the peer support network that might include mentoring another officer who is struggling with career embitterment or from the effects of repeated trauma. In some cases, an officer may choose not to mentor a fellow officer but agree to personal growth and mindfulness activities along with participation in educational offerings. The program would be a win-win all around by raising the behavioral health and emotional stamina of the troops in the field and the chain of command.

I suggest proposing a law enforcement version of “no man left behind” ethos espoused in the U.S. Military. There should be a path to recovery for most police officers who are willing to receive this current “best practice” standard of care leaving no man or woman behind. Dr. John Violante, a University of Buffalo research scientist and former N.Y. State Trooper believes “police officers have a moral duty to care for members of law enforcement who are in crisis”. This will put an annulment on the stigma associated with the human response to trauma that often leaves officers feeling alone and ostracized by the men and women with whom they serve. By using a robust peer support network and collateral police psychology model officers may develop a sense of normalcy for intervention following high acuity calls.

The International Association of Chief’s of Police (IACP) has a broad-based Mental Wellness program it is reporting on its website that highlights the importance of this kind of support. “The IACP, in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA)’s VALOR Initiative, is customizing a program specifically designed to help officers and agencies by enhancing resilience skills. The cost of such a program will reap rewards in the form of career longevity, officer well-being, officer morale, quality of community policing, and greater faith and trust in law enforcement in general.

copyright 2019 Direct Decision Institute

Investigating domestic violence, predicting danger, and containing the anger

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Domestic violence homicide results when victims decide to move on with their lives and inform a jealous, insecure spouse that they no longer want a relationship. October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. The risk is greatest when victims decide to leave. At first glance one might say “Lots of people break up and do not murder their spouse and family” according to Michael Sefton shown in the photo on the left. That is a fair statement but it happens enough in the United States and elsewhere that it must be considered. Last week in Massachusetts a family was murdered because one spouse asked to be let go and people were stunned that they saw nothing to warn them of what was brewing.

“Domestic violence is not random and unpredictable. There are red flags that trigger an emotional undulation that bears energy like the movement of tectonic plates beneath the sea.” according to Michael Sefton (2016).

At what point does a potential begin to wonder whether she and her children are safe? We are lead to believe that abusive intimate partners cannot be held in jail unless they are in violation of an order of protection, AKA: restraining order. Time and again, violent and abusive partners stalk and ignore orders of protection – especially using social media tracking software and trolling social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and What’sAp. It is all about control and instilling fear.

Restraining order’s are authorized by a district court judge who is on call night and day. They are not authorized unless substantial threat to the victim exists.  These orders are carefully crafted by investigating police officers whose reports highlight the exact nature of the violence and the reason the victim needs protection. “Protection orders are offered to the victim after the first sign of physical violence. It has been espoused that the police are not called until after the 6th or 7th episode of domestic violence” according to Sefton, 2016.  DV is a secret affair between members of a family who are often ashamed or embarrassed to come forward for help often until things gradually get worse – sometimes years into a pattern of violent dysfunction.

Research is clear that separating spouses for the night does not positively impact the level aggression and risk in the household as much as the formal arrest of the aggressor.  What usually happens is the police break up the fighting couple by sending the aggressor off to the home of a friend or family member – less often to jail unless there are obvious signs of abuse. Arrest is mandated by law when physical signs of abuse are apparent. It has become all too often the case that hindsight – taken seriously – may have saved a life. It is when they are attempting to leave that abuse victims are at greatest risk of death due to domestic violence as in the case of Amy Lake, a victim of domestic violence homicide whose case was carefully studied in the Psychological Autopsy of the Dexter, Maine Domestic Violence Homicide (Allanach, et. al. 2011) that occurred in June 2011. Lake’s husband and murderer was heard to state that “if you ever try to leave me I will kill you”. 

In research conducted by this author and colleagues we learned that as soon as police leave the scene the risk for violence is increased. We interviewed a man who served 18 years for the murder of his wife and he described in vivid detail how he used nonverbal coercion to manipulate his wife while being interviewed by sheriff’s deputies in Maine. He admitted that as soon as the police were out of the driveway he strangled and drowned his wife for calling them.

In the end, there is always at least a single person who knows what is about to happen and often does nothing to stop it. Whether this unwitting duplicity stems from the cultural belief that what happens behind closed doors is “nobody’s business” or the conscious result of intimidation should not change the law enforcement intervention in these cases. Early incarceration provides access to a viable safety plan for potential victims and in some cases, will instill a desire for change in the violent partner. In the meantime, substantive buy-in from police, legislators, judges, probation, and society needs to be fully endorsed for real change to happen and for safety plans to work and violent partners to be contained. 


Allanach, RA, Gagan, BF, Loughlin, J, Sefton, MS, (2011). The Psychological Autopsy of the Dexter, Maine Domestic Violence Homicide and Suicide. Presented to the Domestic Violence Review Board, November 11, 2011
Sefton, M (2016). https://msefton.wordpress.com/2016/07/20/the-psychology-of-bail-and-alternatives-to-incarceration/ Blog post: Taken October 9, 2019

Domestic Violence Awareness October 2019

Today, as we read about another family destroyed in domestic conflict here in the Boston area, I can imagine the images seared into the eyes of those who responded to the call finding 3 children dead along with their parents.  The Abington, MA police chief described the death scene in the Boston Globe as “something unimaginable”.  Some people are better equipped to handle horrific cases where death is on public display – perhaps even today’s horrific domestic terror attack here in Massachusetts. Others become impacted by the recurring images and how they are all the same after a while. Too many calls resonate with the officer’s personal well-being and safety leaving him or her constantly on guard. But over time – even the neurosurgeon – will become harmed by embitterment when his learned craft can do nothing to fix a leaking brain and his patient dies. Perhaps he feels that with updated equipment and training he may have been able to save the life?

This is what LEO’s face.  A loss of purpose in life and the unmitigated stench of a decomposing society over which they have no control and, too often, a internal command structure who does not know what it is like to be in a lonely barn at 2 AM and see the hanged remains of someone who, after 5 hours, would leave even the most hardened of us on our knees and wanting out.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. Cases such as today’s Abington murders often leave emotional tracers that can grow a database which LEO’s can utilize when investigating calls for service. Lives will be saved when society takes a closer look at red flag violence – these are the pre-incident indicators that violence and domestic violence homicide are at highest risk (Sefton 2018). Some behaviors are secretly guarded among intimate partners – as “nobody’s business”. Police officers must inquire and listen carefully to the victim who firmly believes her spouse intends to kill her. The underpinnings of her fear are generally spot on as in the case I that investigated in Maine using the psychological autopsy in 2012. For the cases with high likelihood of domestic violence homicide, greater care for victims must be initiated from the beginning before it is too late. It can be a hard sell, I know, but the reports we write must also be “spot on” when it comes to dangerousness, risk, and containment.

Sefton, M (2018) Violence prediction: Keeping the radar sites on those who would do us harm. Blog post: https://msefton.wordpress.com/2018/05/20/violence-prediction-keeping-the-radar-sites-on-those-who-would-do-us-harm/ Taken October 8, 2019