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Part 2: 20 tips for helping a traumatized officer

In Part 1  we shared the first 10 tips for helping a traumatized officer get through his or her experience without making mistakes that may make a difficult situation even worse. Now we share 10 more…

11. Don’t “congratulate” officers after shootings.


Officers often have mixed feelings about deadly force encounters and may find such comments offensive. Also avoid making flippant comments about the event, like “Nice work. That guy had it coming” or calling the officer names like “terminator.” Even if it’s done with the intention of lightening the mood, such comments can be painful and damaging.


12. Offer positive statements about the officers themselves such as, “I’m glad you’re OK.”


13.  Skip the second-guessing.


You may find yourself second-guessing the shootings, but keep your comments to yourself.  Critical comments have a way of coming back to the involved officers and accomplish nothing positive. 


14.  Accentuate the positive.


Encourage the officers to take care of themselves and acknowledge their positive coping mechanisms.


15.  Don’t let negative behavior slide.


Gently confront a traumatized officer with negative behavioral or emotional changes that persist for longer than one month.  Those prolonged negative behaviors can signal a compounding problem that could get worse with time, not better. Encourage them to seek professional help and help them find it if you can.


16.   Don’t ridicule.


Don’t refer to officers who are having emotional problems as “mental” or other derogatory terms.  Stigmatizing each other encourages officers to deny their psychological injuries and not get the help they need for fear of ridicule.


17.  Educate yourself.


Learn about trauma reactions by reviewing written materials or consult with someone who has familiarity with this topic. This will not only help you help fellow officers who have been traumatized, but it will help you understand some of your own feelings should you be involved in a traumatic event.


18.  Keep things the same, but acknowledge that something happened.


Don’t pretend like the event didn’t happen but do treat officers like you always have.  Don’t avoid them, treat them as fragile, or otherwise drastically change your behavior with them.  Most officers want to return to their normal routine as soon as possible.


19. Offer help proactively.


If you know there is something you can do to help relieve a traumatized officer in some way—like taking the officer’s kids out for a day with your family or helping with home maintenance chores—offer the help proactively. Consider saying, “My wife and I are taking the kids to the zoo. We’d like to take your kids along, OK?” or “I’ve got my mower in the back of the truck and I’m in the neighborhood. Can I stop by and mow the lawn real quick?” This takes the onus off the officer to ask for the help. Instead, it becomes as easy as just accepting it.


20. Remember that in this case, your mother was right: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Read Part 1


About the authors:


Dr. Alexis Artwohl is a prominent police psychologist, trainer, consultant, researcher and author of, Deadly Force Encounters: What Cops Need to Know to Mentally Prepare for and Survive a Gunfight. She is a member of the National Advisory Board for the Force Science Research Center, the Force Science News and other law enforcement organizations. Her areas of training include peak performance in high stress situations, preparing to survive deadly force encounters, investigating officer involved shootings and managing the psychological damage caused by trauma and organizational stress. Full details are available on her Web site.


Scott Buhrmaster is the Managing Editor for PoliceOne.com and the Director of Training and Content for the PoliceOne Training Network. He is also a member of the National Advisory Board for the Force Science Research Center with Dr. Artwohl.

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