U.S. Armed Forces, Case Western Reserve University train Cleveland police to recognize stress


CLEVELAND Being shot at, chasing lawbreakers, viewing and handling dead, mangled bodies, and dealing with abused, battered and sexually molested children all come with a high toll on police officers and on our soldiers serving in dangerous hot spots in the United States and around the world.

On the job, police officers and soldiers must repress such natural human emotions as fear, anger, horror or sadness.

They have often been reluctant to share their work experiences with those closest to them, not wanting to expose their family or friends to the same trauma they have experienced.

They take care of us, but who takes care of them?

In the first collaboration between U.S. military combat stress experts and a local police force, Case Western Reserve University, the Partnership for a Safer Cleveland, and experts from the U.S. Department of Defense will train about 90 supervisors from the Cleveland Police Department to recognize and address the stress levels of individuals under their command, thereby helping to reduce the potential for violent confrontations with suspects or making life-altering mistakes.

Two three-hour training sessions were held on Thursday and Friday, April 22-23 at Case's Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences.

Experts will use "stress recognition models" developed by the U.S. Armed Forces to teach Cleveland's police supervisors to address operational stress in their ranks and methods for dealing positively with these issues. The training has been specifically adapted for law enforcement.

"Police work is highly stressful and one of the few occupations where an officer continually faces the inherent danger of physical violence and the potential of sudden death, as does a solder patrolling the streets of Baghdad today," said Mark Singer, professor of social work at the Mandel School and researcher who helped develop the training. "A police officer is often called upon to make critical life and death decisions within seconds, contributing to them being in a state of 'hyper-vigilance.'"

Singer has spent the last eight years working with police and has ridden along with them as they patrol Cleveland's inner city neighborhoods.

"Because American soldiers and civilian police officers in the U.S. face many of the same dangers, it's fitting that the military would develop and provide this type of training," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Mark Chapin, one of the trainers who currently serves as director of research and assistant professor of family medicine at the Uniformed Health University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md. He has worked with hundreds of soldiers returning from battle who experienced post-traumatic stress disorder, including combat veterans from Vietnam, Panama, Grenada, Somalia and survivors of the 1983 suicide bombing of the Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, Lebanon.

Singer said that since the U.S. war on terror has taken the American military to Iraq, Afghanistan, and other dangerous corners of the world, soldiers are increasingly being cast in roles similar to local police and they're facing escalating risks every day of their deployment. American soldiers have especially taken on the roles of police officers in such dangerous areas as Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iraq.

"Military policing and civilian police work share many similar conditions and outcomes," said retired Army Lt. Col Stephen Brannen, another combat stress expert and one of the trainers for the Cleveland Police. "Both soldiers and police officers experience events in their work that significantly increase the risk of stress and psychological trauma."

In addition, studies have shown that unrelieved stress can result in high blood pressure, alcoholism, cardiovascular disease, depression, aggression and job burnout. Singer worked closely with Chapin and Brannen to adapt the military stress recognition models to police work. Chapin received his doctorate in social work from Case, with Singer serving as his adviser.

Brannen is director of the master of social work program at Southwest Missouri State University. While in the military, he was in charge of oversight and policy development for stress management in U.S. peacekeeping operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. He also served as a consultant and trainer to New York City Parks Department employees to aid in their recovery from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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