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Police agencies receive speciality trauma training
By Jane Flasch
It was Todd Baxter's second day on the job as Greece Police Chief.
A day he cannot forget.
"The police officers who went into that situation were never the same," he recalled.
Officers responded to the home of seven-year-old Hunter Resch to find that he had been shot and killed by his own father.
"They were very professional but the fact is they've seen an atrocious thing that no one was ever expected to see in their whole life," he said.
In Brighton, it was an accident on Warren Avenue that badly injured three teenagers. For officers involved in both cases the day didn't end when the police work did.
"It was a crisis," recalled Brighton Chief Mark Henderson. "They were mitigating the crisis and after the impact there came a time of a debrief (sic) of the situation and also an emotional debriefing."
Many police agencies already recognize the value of counseling sessions that have become regular police procedure. Now the agencies are in Rochester this week to receive specialized trauma training from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.
"One goal of this training is to recognize when an officer is struggling," said DCJS Executive Deputy Commissioner Mike Green.
While first responders in our community have been killed or injured in the line of duty this year, more officers will be harmed by something the public rarely hears about: a build-up of what they see on the job every day known as "critical stress incidents."
"Police officers are tough," said Green. "The unfortunate reality is it doesn't matter how tough you are when it just gets to be too much. It could be a single incident or it could be something week after week after week."
The two day training is being attended by 70 officers who will take what they've learned back to agencies in 10 counties. Many of the people attending were personally impacted by last year's Christmas Eve shooting that killed two first responders in Webster.
Others think of a colleague's suicide this year which did not garner public attention. "You see friends getting shot, you see friends taking their own lives," said Chief Baxter. "It's the totality of the whole thing over our career that can hurt you."
The police chiefs say training on these mental health issues is as important as the physical training required to do the job.
"29 years ago when I first came on the job nobody talked about this," said Chief Henderson.
He added, "Now there's less of a stigma attached to it. Employees and police officers are not afraid to reach out and ask for help."