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Officers' Problems

March 17, 2002

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Officers' Problems

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Like other agencies, the Melbourne police department increased its attention to the issues of stress and crisis intervention for its officers.

Reynolds said the department, which brought in additional counselors for officers following Simpson's death, is developing a peer support group as well as expanding its chaplain program to give officers more resources to turn to in times of trouble.

"We have a problem," said Thomas Gillan, director of the Central Florida Police Stress Unit, a group that consults with individual officers and departments on how to handle stress-related issues facing law enforcement agents.

"We teach officers how to take care of everyone else's problems but not their own," he said. "We don't give them enough training to handle that. If you stab them, shoot them, they'll bleed like you or me."

While in years past, officers might have shunned seeking such mental health counseling out of fear of being stigmatized, that is slowly changing, experts said.

Most officers, once treated by a mental health expert, can return to duty with relatively few, if any, problems, Gillan said.

"They might be placed on light duty or given a break from road duty, but if it's personal, the department has to rely on the doctor's assessment," Gillan said.

Chandler said such assessments, the major factor in his decision to reinstate the SWAT team member, are the key to addressing concerns about an officer's performance following any physical or emotional trauma.

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