Helping a fellow cop after an SBC

What can you do to help support a fellow officer in the aftermath of a suicide-by-cop event?

An SBC is a traumatic event, and that officer involved will be impacted by it. Just as when the body experiences a traumatic physical injury requiring some type of physical recovery, the same is true for trauma to the mind.

Unless you’re a medical professional or physical therapist, you’re going to be a cheerleader on the sidelines as your fellow officer recovers from a physical injury. But in the event of an SBC, you can take a much more active role in your colleague’s recovery process. 

So, what can you do to help support a fellow officer in the aftermath of an SBC event? 

Just Being There
One of the most important things may simply be making oneself available to talk and “be there” if you’re needed, according to Dr. John Azar-Dickens, an Associate Professor of Psychology and a sworn LEO in the state of Georgia.  

“Officers need other officers during these times. While psychologists, therapists, and counselors, can be of value, the most important resource for an officer is the supportive ear of other officers. It is important for officers and the department as a whole to be supportive and let the officer know they are there for support if needed,” Azar-Dickens told me.

Azar-Dickens — who serves as a presenter for the Force Science Institute, providing seminars nationwide on behavioral science issues involved in use-of-force incidents — added that it’s important to remember the officer will need some time.

“It may take the officer involved in the SBC some time to reach out, but it will be important to let him or her know support is available. Helping the officer understand that everyone in this type of situation is going to experience some distress — and encouraging them to talk about what they are experiencing — is important,” he added.

Appropriate Recovery
One of the most-typical reactions an officer will have after an SBC is to jump back into work and deny any personal distress, according to Azar-Dickens. 

“Often they think that admitting to any distress is a sign of weakness so they will rush back in and try to appear tough,” Azar-Dickens stated.

Consequently, the department and other officers should stress the importance of rest — a few days off to recover — and a reasonable transition back to duty.

“If the officer had a physical injury on the job nobody would think twice about taking time off to heal. With a traumatic event however, officers tend to see it as more of something they should quickly get over and as such, they often do not take the time to recover and heal. 

So, encouraging the officer to rest and recover appropriately is important.

While all traumatic events impact people differently, the bottom line there will be consequences from an SBC. Those consequences can include: 

•    Emotional distress
•    Nightmares and/or trouble sleeping
•    Repetitive thoughts about the incident

Further, an officer involved in an SBC incident can experience changes in body functions, such as aches and pains, fatigue, as well as increased urination/defecation. 

“Helping the officer understand the SBC event for what it is — a traumatic event that will have an impact but which can be overcome — will be of value as the officer struggles with the emotional and psychological aftermath.”

Knowing what to expect after an SBC event occurs can help you help the involved officer move through it. 

About the author

Doug Wyllie is Editor in Chief of PoliceOne, responsible for setting the editorial direction of the website and managing the planned editorial features by our roster of expert writers. An award-winning columnist — he is the 2014 Western Publishing Association "Maggie Award" winner in the category of Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column — Doug has authored more than 900 feature articles and tactical tips on a wide range of topics and trends that affect the law enforcement community. Doug is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers' Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA). Doug is active in his support for the law enforcement community, contributing his time and talents toward police-related charitable events as well as participating in force-on-force training, search-and-rescue training, and other scenario-based training designed to prepare cops for the fight they face every day on the street.

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