Domestic violence during the Pandemic – The private response to stress

We don’t need anything or anyone, If I lay here, if I just lay here; Would you lie with me and just forget the world? Snow Patrol
The coronavirus has changed almost everything in America. Especially the rate of employment. Unemployment claims across the country are through the roof and it will be weeks before money is available to those most in need. The stress of this has increased calls for domestic violence in Massachusetts and across the country. Domestic violence stems from one intimate partner using coercion and control to dominate his spouse usually was a result of deep-felt anxiety and fear of abandonment. Music sometimes resonate with social issues. The lyrics from “Chasing Cars” written by Snow Patrol reflect the expectation seen in dysfunctional systems that demand loyalty often at the expense of extended family relationships. These lyrics may sound romantic but they illustrate the desire to isolate a partner to the extent that nothing in the world matters projecting an air of being marginalized and seeking comfort in a partner who shares a common detachment. Truthfully, most people need their families, friends, and work relationships making the mournful request in the song somewhat irresponsible yet compelling for many who may be so inclined. Lyrics by Petula Clark written by Tony Clark in 1964. Music often takes on the poetic plight of the emotionally imprisoned. It reflects social mores and falsely depicts life without hope. Helplessness and wishful thinking as the message of hope. “Don’t hang around and let your problems show, Forget all your troubles and forget all your cares and go downtown; linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty, How can you lose”? The Fresno sheriff’s department filed 77 percent more domestic violence reports two weeks ago than three weeks ago. The Seattle Police Department received 614 calls in the last two weeks — 22 percent more than average rate. Domestic violence prevention organizations in Boston warn of an increase in cases according to the Boston Globe on April 3. Domestic violence is a private matter that many people do not want the police to know about. But that is the outdated myth. In keeping DV a private matter domestic partners are victimized on average over 7 times before police are summoned. DV gets worse and more pervasive when times get tough. Now as the country is shut down because of mandatory social distancing, intimate partners are frightened that one wrong comment, or a late dinner, of the wrong glance at a cashier may result in the countdown to terminal violence. Helpless again.As cops, we must see it and call it out. Arrest is mandatory whenever there is evidence of physical violence. Among the highest red flag risks is the victims belief that she will one day be killed by her spouse. It is usually an ominous premonition. Law enforcement can plant the seed to recovery by encouraging a viable “safety plan” and leaving the victim a dead cell phone that can allow a 911 call when needed. This may be done in the aftermath of the crisis. If you know of someone in a dangerous interpersonal marriage or relationship talk to them about making a safety plan. They may need a friend or family member one night as a matter of life and death. They should not count on orders of protection because these are often inadequate and ignored.
At times of stress, families struggle to maintain the emotional homeostasis that keeps them safe. The normal roles and hierarchy within a family system may erode. Michael Sefton 2020

Benchmark behaviors for healthy police service

Law Enforcement flag

What are the bench-mark behaviors that are reflective of healthy police officer career development? How does a young man or woman go from a squared away academy graduate to an over burdened, irascible and embittered mid-career cop? There is a growing literature that suggests officer behavior and law enforcement culture become instilled in the field training process that takes place immediately following successful formal classroom training. The answer to the question about officer embitterment is a mystery but after spending time with members of law enforcement in Chicago in late March 2019 it begins to become apparent that police officers grow and remain productive in an environment of support: both within the organization and within the community in which they serve.

There are factors intrinsic to law enforcement that detract from career satisfaction like the risk of personal harm or death, career ending injury, time away from family, shift work, and forced overtime. This is a well known set of stressors that officers learn shortly after signing on. But things that may be unexpected include the quasi-military chain of command that often stifles education and innovative thinking, professional jealousy, arbitrary executive orders, the lack of opportunity to participate in policy making, nepotism among non-civil service personnel, and the lack of support for the sacrifice made by the field qualified troops for physical and behavioral health injuries. The period of field training differs from job to job. Field training picks up where the academy classroom education leaves off. Newly minted LEO’s all must undergo field training and are assigned to a single field training officer (FTO) who provides on-the-job training about the realities of frontline police work and closely monitors officer behavior and responses in the field.

Field training usually lasts between 12-18 weeks and was first initiated in San Jose, CA in 1972 according to research published in 1987 by McCampbell of the National Institute of Justice at DOJ (1987). “The primary objective of the Field Training and Evaluation Program (FTEP) is to ensure that all probationary police officers receive optimal field training, predicated upon staffing the Field Training Officer position with qualified officers, and to ensure through proper training and evaluation that only competent, motivated, and ethical individuals become Chicago police officers” as published in the Chicago PD Field Training Program and Evaluation Standards (2018). Field training officers have specific training in mentoring with an understanding of the demands of “street work” and the transition from classroom recruit to patrol officer. The FOR training process lasts several weeks as seasoned veterans learn how to be mentors and evaluation the training needs of individual probationary officers. 

The selection of FTO’s differs from department to department and has implication on long-term officer success. Attrition rates exceed 25 % under the FTO’s leadership and tutelage in many agencies. FTO’s can be expected to experience training fatigue and should be permitted time between assignments. “Dworak cautioned about agencies falling into situations in which they over-work their FTOs, resulting in diminished quality of work, and subsequently, decreased value delivered to the recruit being instructed” Wyllie, 2017

“The FTO is a powerful figure in the learning process of behavior among newly minted police officers and it is likely that this process has consequences not only for the trainee but for future generations of police officers that follow.” Getty et al. (2014) There is little standardization of training protocols aside from FTO catechizing war stories day after day with tales from the street followed by endless inquiry over possible decisions based on department protocol as the sometimes defiant FTO sees fit.

“New officers can be taught when to legally arrest and use force, but the academy cannot instill in each trainee the breadth of intangible, community, value-based decision-making skills that are necessary to manage unpredictable incidents in varying situations.” Getty et al. (2014)

FTO’s are closely monitored by the department training hierarchy and are required to provide daily observation report as to the demonstrated progress of probationary police officers toward developing competence in over 10 areas of police-related duties including decision making, judgment, court testimony, use of force, etc. At the end of each 28-day cycle FTO’s submit a detailed review of progress and potential deficiencies that arise. In Chicago, IL a probationary police officer (PPO) must complete a minimum of 3 28-day cycles with an FTO. It is known that FTO’s help to instill the police culture in PPO’s including policing by the book and prevailing beliefs and attitudes as they exist within individual agencies. I strongly believe that FTOs play a role in reinventing the police service and lowering the stigma associated with behavioral health and response to exposure to trauma.

Job satisfaction is greatest soon after the law enforcement officer is taken off field training and designated “field qualified”. Following the 12-18 week field training officers remain on probationary status for up to 2 years from date of hire. There is some thinking that FTO behavior rubs off on PPO’s and can impact career identity including misconduct later on long after field training has ended. Officer resilience depends upon solid field training with adequate preparation for tactical encounters, legal and moral dilemmas, and mentoring for career development, job satisfaction, and long-term physical and mental health.

Chicago Police Department (2018) FIELD TRAINING AND EVALUATION PROGRAM taken March 29, 2019.

Wyllie, D. (2017) Why the FTO is one of the most important police employees. Police One Taken March 30, 2019 Sun, I. Y. (2003a). A comparison of police field training officers’ and nontraining officers’ conflict resolution styles: Controlling versus supportive strategies. Police Quarterly, 6, 22-50. Getty, R, Worrall, J, Morris, R (2014) How Far From the Tree Does the Apple Fall? Field Training Officers, Their Trainees, and Allegations of Misconduct Crime and Delinquency, 1-19. McCampbell, M. S. (1987). Field training for police officers: The state of the art. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice.

Domestic Violence amid worries of pandemic

Brian Gagan of People Results, a Scottsdale, Arizona consulting firm on the left with Dr. Michael Sefton, a psychologist provider in Massachusetts are interviewed by media outlets in Maine following publication of the Psychological Autopsy of Steven Lake, a northern Maine man who murdered his wife and children after being denied permission to attend his son’s 8th grade commencement celebration. The Psychological Autopsy is a detailed case study designed to uncover cues to precipitating factors in DVH. The research conducted in 2011 undertook over 200 hours of interviews and presented the Domestic Violence Review Board with over 50 recommendations for reducing high rates of domestic violence homicide in Maine. 

At times of stress, families struggle to maintain the emotional homeostasis that keeps them safe. The normal roles and hierarchy within a family system may erode. The social distancing required during the coronavirus outbreak has frayed many people into irrational and sometimes dangerous behaviors. Domestic violence thrives at times when the strain of social order violates family routine. Fear and uncertainty over physical health coupled with 7/24 news reporting of death and suffering can be overwhelming for some. 

As with many out of the ordinary times, the incidence of domestic violence increased amid fears of contracting Covid-19. In a Chicago suburb a man killed his wife and then himself as the couple waited for word on the virus swab they had taken together. Neither person tested positive for the virus. Their bodies were discovered after family member grew concerned after not hearing from them over several days. 

According to a Washington Post, Patrick Jesernik killed his girlfriend because he feared they had both contracted Covid -19. His girlfriend, Cheryl Schriefer was murdered after she developed symptoms including shortness of breath. The couple were discovered to be dead by Will County Sheriff’s deputies whose preliminary report suggests murder suicide. 

Star of Will County, Illinois Sheriff’s Department

Domestic violence homicide when Covid-19 strikes fear – coercion and control take over

There is no telling what triggered this tragic event. The Will County Sheriff’s Department had no prior contacts with the couple so no pattern of DV could be established. However, with fear of becoming infected with the virus it is plausible that Mr.Jasernik believed he was ending what he wrongly assumed would be a horrific end of life for them both amid the growing pandemic. 

Some hotlines for people suffering from anxiety and depression have reportedly received more calls, particularly in areas where the coronavirus is spreading rapidly like Maryland and Portland, Oregon, but the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline did not report an increase last week. (The phone number is 1-800-273-8255.)

At these times: Still words to live by… from 2015

Chief Bert DuVernay on right photo by Susie Mullican
Take care of yourselves, rest as much as you can, read good books, sing loud songs (when you’re alone…would be best) and read a poem now and then”  Ann Sefton, 2015

These were the words of Ann Sefton in a Holiday card sent to my wife and I and are among the best advice I have ever received from my mother or anyone else.  I think they are worthy and spoken from the heart and I intend to share them with anyone who will listen.  The kindness and wisdom in the words struck me as a reminder of the joy and simplicity I seek in my life. Those words along with the espoused words of David Trimble, Ph.D. are beliefs that foster greater self-awareness, self-compassion, firm authority, integrity, and coherence to my life. Here’s to a great New Year! Let’s pray for the end of the Coronavirus and return of our society as we know it. April- 2020 Just an update: my mother Ann is now in memory care at the Bethany Healthcare in Framingham, MA. She introduces me proudly as her husband. My mother continues to experience joy on a daily basis and is receiving excellent care at Bethany. She is resilient and happy and will rest and sing loud songs. She has made friends. She still enjoys election coverage but must wait for now. I have not been able to visit for 3-4 weeks because of the risk of transmitting the virus. Meanwhile, Chief DuVernay recovers from several medical procedures and is on the mend. We wish him Godspeed as he and his wife Teresa plan a long-awaited westward move into shared retirement and grand-parenting. Because of the social distancing mandate due to Covid-19, I regret that I may not have the chance to say goodbye properly to Bert and Theresa. That would make me very sad and put an end our regular ‘Lunch with the Chief’ meetings where many former officers come together and shoot the “you know what” and share time together over lunch and remember our times together. The photograph shown is to recognize Chief Bert DuVernay on the anniversary of his retirement from the New Braintree Police Rep in 2015.  Read The shared words and share them with someone you care about.

Professional M.H. Intervention: Making the hand-off

Whenever there is a serious call of any kind, we review the incident..  We will attempt to weigh the seriousness and potential impact on law enforcement officers.  We will contact our CISM  Team members who may work in the district involved (they’d be more familiar with the officers) and obtain an assessment from them.  We will also contact supervisors that responded to get their impression of how the incident may have impacted their officers.  After a careful review, we will decide on whether or not we conduct a debriefing.  Sometimes (on rare occasion, we will contact the officers directly (the officers that were involved in the incident).  However, we try not to do that, because we don’t want them to try to debrief the incident over the phone (officers will naturally start talking about the incident over the phone and we don’t want that), but sometimes you need to go directly to the source.   Cumulative trauma extends beyond shootings and other “critical incidents,” however. Among cumulative trauma are the days and nights of being cursed and shouted at, listening to the screams, viewing dead bodies, and the momentary scares and fears that go along with law enforcement. These are the “bumblebee stings” that add up; one or two may be tolerable but, as they add up, the pain increases to the breaking point—and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Line of Duty Deaths
  • Suicide of a colleague
  • Serious work-related bodily injury
  • Multi-casualty/disaster/terrorism incident
  • Incident with high degree of threat to personnel
  • Significant events involving children
  • Events in which the victim(s) are known to personnel
  • Events with excessive media interest or scrutiny
  • Events that are prolonged that end with a negative outcome (failed CPR)
Any significantly powerful, overwhelming or distressing event when any incident such as the above occurs, we will be notified by our Operations Division and or CISM Team members and or rank and file officers, soon after the incident.  These incidents will always elicit a response of some sort (these are all “Mitchell Model”events).  After investigating, we make a determination on how to proceed;whether it calls for a Debriefing, a 1 on 1 with a trained peer counselor, a critial incident diffusing, a recommendation for clinical services, OnSite Academy, McLean Hospital, sometimes no action will be taken at all, but there will definitely be a response (as in an investigation and careful thought), etc.  We take many criteria into consideration when we make our determination.  What other officers have informed us about the involved officer, how long the involved officer has been on the job, what other incidents the officer has been involved in, the officers personality, who was with him/her during the incident, how gory the incident may have been, any external issues etc.   We almost never make a final determination until we have consulted with one of our clinicians.