Police Researcher and Simon Fraser University Professor Josh Murphy on outdated law enforcement techniques and the power of community consultation.
Tracy: I was listening on the radio about how the DOJ (the Department of Justice) came out with a report saying that there was in fact institutionalized racism in the Ferguson Police Department, and that there should obviously be some restructuring. In your opinion, how could they begin the restructuring process for something so ingrained in their policing culture?
Josh: Yeah I saw that. By the way, two of their officers got shot this morning on the stairs of their department office as well; their Chief is quitting, and they're trying to get their Mayor to resign. But based on what I've seen from how [police] do business I'll give you a good example, because I actually just spoke to a guy from Winnipeg who's a researcher. He said their new Chief is Devin Klunis, this Jamaican man who's a really powerful speaker. We worked with him on their operational review of their department - he's a pretty progressive guy who has tried to take their department into a new era. They had a lot of problems - not as similar to Ferguson - but close enough. They had major racial issues toward their Aboriginal community, there have been a number of shootings in the last 20 years, and their trust is shot; it's very, very hard to mend the relationship there. They're trying, but they have major issues. Same with Ferguson. So this researcher was saying even just two Chiefs ago, the policing style they had was in line with the 1950s. It's very top-down, hierarchically structured: your line-level members don't have a lot of voice or a lot of input. The community has no voice. So they seem to say, "We have a policing model and we will deliver that model to you. We know what's best, because we're the police." There's no community consultation, and no focus groups - nothing. They police reactively. All they do is respond to calls.
I don't know a lot about Ferguson but the way I see it, they're kind of an odd place; like a small town, yet they're not that small. But they have a major issue and it seems to also be that they're very reactive. Now because the majority of their population is black, they're responding to mostly African American calls for service. I've read a bit about this, and what happens to officers is they get to the point where all they respond to is African American calls. So when they do pro-active work, they're looking for African Americans. Because, "they meet a certain type, we have our discretion", and whatever else. A clear example of how they do business is when as soon as that happened - the shooting [of Michael Brown] - the police department said, "You don't need to know anything. We know what's right, we sent in a military force," et cetera. And they're still at odds with protestors - they still refused to consult the community or engage [with] the community. So Vancouv-er's [VPD] is really getting better at that. This entire conference [in Seattle, WA] last week that I was talking at, it was all about that. All about that: partnering with community groups, interviewing the community - you need to do outreach work. Give your members more voice to make them feel like they're a part of the service, as opposed to just a guy in a uniform going into work and just doing what he does. It's really hard to do, you need a Chief who's got a vision, but that vision needs to align with what your members are doing, and if you don't have those officers, you need to get new officers.
That's what Michael Brown's mother was saying, "You can't retrain those who are stuck in these old ways, you need all new officers."
Yeah, and they might just have to do that. Winnipeg is going through that right now, to mention it again, they have new guys coming and changing the culture. That's how you do it. [A police service in the lower mainland is] a great example; they have a Chief who wants to change their organizational culture, and he's hampered by a number of issues within the department. He's trying to change the culture from the top down, but it's not necessarily filtering from the top-down. Because you've got all these guys who only do things a certain way. So Ferguson's going to have that issue, and Winnipeg is having that challenge, but he's doing a better job. It really involves community consultation, focus groups, surveys, connecting the churches - if there're churches in Ferguson then go to the church leaders. One thing I did when I wrote my honours thesis, is we had problems with the--I don't want to say problems, but obviously there are some issues with the Islamic community here because of [so-called] 'terrorist' issues or whatever - the same as the States has. One guy said to me, "You go to the Imam, you go to the leader of the church. You get that community on your side." and then you can make that change easier.
I read Malcolm Gladwell's book David and Goliath and there was a chapter on a female Chief who took over a rough neighbourhood's department and moved it away from the broken windows theory, then did that same type of community engagement you mentioned. They wanted to focus on removing that 'Us against You' mentality--
Yeah JRIP! You read that!
Yeah! And they began to actually care for some of the most at-risk youth - driving them to basketball games, checking in with their families to offer a listening ear. And while everyone was complaining about treating these "horrible criminals" kindly, the crime rates actually dropped significantly under this police Chief and for years to come. Anger, fighting, vandalism, etc. all come from that very isolating, cold treatment and hatred. They wont want to listen to, or work together, with people who abuse and threaten them.
Yeah, totally that's huge. JRIP is really unique - I actually presented that to my class. They did a similar thing in LA actually. There, as you know, the three-strikes theory doesn't work. I mean everyone agrees that three-strikes doesn't work, it's pretty well understood. The Americans seem to want to hold onto a lot of those things, but they're learning. This story just came to me: Bill Bratton who is the Chief of New York, went to LA and then back to New York. He's a pretty interesting guy who has done a lot to change his forces. So he went to LA (this story was recounted to me a couple weeks ago) in the middle of major issues; obviously major racial issues. There's a civil rights attorney who's famous in LA - a black woman who's very smart, and very powerful. She's won a lot of cases; sued them a lot. And she's always at these meetings. After [Bratton] just becomes a Chief, he goes to one of these meetings with all these people; she's there and she goes up to him. Something had just happened and she's planning to sue them. So he's like, "Yeah I've heard about you. So what." And she says, "Well, we're going to sue you." And he says, "Yeah and you're probably going to win. You'll get your money, you'll go home, and that's it. But will you have changed anything?" And she was just taken aback. And he's like "Do you really want to change things?" Of course she says yes, so he says, "Well then join. Join the LAPD and change it from the inside. Join us." And so she went away and thought about it. At the end of the day, she joined them in some capacity to help change them from the inside.
Now that's a story that hits. I like that.
That's the way to do it, right? Think differently. JRIP is another way to do it too. They're doing things like that in Alberta right now. Calgary's Chief Rick Hansen is really big on that. They have these 'wrap-around' programs where you target at-risk youth, and you try to change how they do things. Find why they do things. You address it differently. The Winnipeg one I was just talking about, they had similar success with auto-theft. They targeted these chronic auto-theives, these young auto-thieves, and they assigned them a probation officer, and a police officer to monitor them. For these kids, it wasn't the severity of the punishment, it was the certainty. It was, "If you screw up again something's happening. It's guaranteed." So when you install certainty, and you monitor them--I think they were calling their parents every three hours or something. You give them structure and they change. Well, their auto-thefts went down, and their youth thefts went down. These are the things you have to think of. Whereas Ferguson - to go all the way back to them - they're policing in the dark ages. It's 'Us vs. Them', and it's not working.
Another couple of things that stand out is mental health, and class issues. These are people in severe poverty who can't get themselves out - they can't get a job because of these issues. So yes, there's racism, but there's also classism. And again this is institutionalized as well, because if the people who keep committing robbery are time again again people with no job, and a mental health issue, then who do the police start targeting for robbery suspects. So then you get people being held on suspicion, for being poor, or having a mental health disorder even if they didn't commit a crime.
Yeah there's a sports writer who's actually pretty good - he writes on sports and social issues. He's an American guy named Jason Whitlock. And his contention is that the racial issue in America is driven by, one--he kind of lives in the dark ages, but she says one, is rap. Rap is a big issue in American culture. Because his theory is it's been made okay to perpetuate a stereo-type and the language around black culture. And that's not good, because it's making it okay for other people to see them that way, and it's making it okay for themselves to see themselves that way. That it's a good thing to be robbing and selling drugs. The other two things are: the War on Drugs, and America's over-incarceration movement. They wearhouse - they incarcerate everyone. So you get lost generations of black men who have kids and then their kids have no father, and then these guys don't get rehabilitated, so they leave and they re-offend. This is a major issue in America. And it's similar to what we have in Canada with our Aboriginals - it's a similar principle. They over-incarcerate instead of, again, implementing new ways of addressing issues. Canada has been really slow towards it too, but police forces have started doing it now in Canada because well, the governments have said, "You guys [the police] cost too much money." And police services have said, "Woah, woah, woah, there's all this stuff we do that you don't know about." But now they're being asked to do more with less. So they need to figure out how to stop the crime from happening. So how do we partner with social services? The big theme of this conference in Seattle was also partnership. Partnering with hospitals, social services, agencies, churches, youth groups - and giving them responsibility. So the police are like, "We don't want to be the leader; we don't want to be the sole drivers, we want to just be a part of the process." So join together.
I was going to ask you about something else you learned at the conference. In Canada there is about a two-year wait time between military service and municipal policing, whereas in the US there's none? Can you talk about that issue for me again?
For most [Canadian] police services I was told two years - yeah. In the States if you come back from service and you apply, you're not only likely to be taken right away, but you're prioritized. You're given the benefit because you were in the army. When I heard that, I turned to my supervisor who was sitting next to me and I said, "I think there's a problem with that." He looked at me, nodded his head, and after the guy finished his presentation, we started talking. I said, "Well maybe that's why these guys are coming back and [reacting like this]". I'm not saying all cops are ex-military, but policing has become a very militaristic culture in America. I'm about to read a book called Rise of the Warrior Cops which is by this guy Radley Balko. I've heard it's very critical, but then again we've got a militarized police force and militarized training structure in policing too - in America. So you're bringing in guys who were in the Army. For me I thought, "Is there any wonder that the first thing these guys do is go to their gun?" Or that one of the first things they do is go to their gun? Their trained in a way to see everything is a potential life threat. A lot of these guys, they've got Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, they came from a country they were policing where everyone's a potential enemy. Isn't that an issue? Should we really be emphasizing militarism in policing?
And they're coming into an entirely different context.
Yeah. One thing you might find interesting is that a lot of these police leaders and academics at this conference in Ottawa were saying, "We need to change the language from just policing, to policing and public safety. Or policing and public health; community health and wellbeing." This is what we need to change the term to because it's not just catching 'bad guys' anymore. He said that that represents a big part of their job, but now it's understood to be more than that. We're a community of safety workers or personnel, however you want to say it.
That's what you see plastered all over police cars and pamphlets on policing, or advertisements for policing schools, 'Community Safety'. But if you're only targeting people to shoot at or not shoot at, where's the "community safety" in that?
Yeah, and then not doing anything for safety. Some departments are definitely better than others; some are learning and some have more money to do it with. But the good departments are learning that's what they have to do, but it's a whole organizational issue. I contend the people in Ferguson are right - you might need to hire a new police force. One thing that's bothered me the whole time is, these protests keep happening, and these officers keep putting on their riot gear, and standing in their line, and doing what they do. And I haven't heard from any one of these officers, "Maybe we should think about a different way of doing things." Now that, again is a reflection of a couple of things: one, it's a historical thing that if you are a line-level guy, you do what you're told. Old-school police culture is top down: you do what you're told. They're not being given a voice. And the other thing is that it's a leadership issue: nobody's getting input from their officers. "What do you guys think we should do?" or "What would you like to see be done?". I've just done some research involving reorganizational strategic planning. So if a police service developed a strategic plan--say for 2012 to 2016 Vancouver police institutes a strategic plan: "Over the next five years, we want to do, A, B, C, and D, or achieve these certain goals." So they set out to do that in some way. But for all of these plans, where do they come up with these ideas? Well a lot of these departments will tell you that, well, they'll "involve community consultation, focus groups, and talking to our own personal". They're giving them a voice.
Having more voices from the 'front lines' so to speak. Saying, "How did this strategy work? If you're out there, you're implementing it, what's working, what's not?"
Right. More of a holistic view. One of my major issues with this conference (which I talked about with a colleague in our post-meeting the next day) was all these things being talked about are great, but until they get the input, they can't do this. They've got to talk to the guys who are on the street because they see it every day, and if they feel out of touch with what you want to do, you're not going to get anything done. Or if they're not hearing what you want, or getting it. One of the major things in policing is the concept that shit rolls down-hill, but information doesn't flow straight, from a historical stand-point. It becomes fragmented like a big game of telephone. For example, your chief will give a directive, then your inspector will translate that to a staff sergeant, his staff sergeant will translate that to a sergeant, and his sergeant will communicate that to his police officers. You saw this in that Village Voice article you sent to me, which I love and I tell my students to read; I still talk about it. A prime example of that was the sergeant getting crap from his staff sergeant, who's getting crap from his inspector. So he goes, "You better do this because I don't want to get yelled at." When it's fragmentation of information, because the big goal of what New York Police--the overarching goal of the chief of police in New York, was to reduce crime. That's his thing. And then to improve their efficiency. But when it gets translated and funnelled through all these different leaders, it becomes, "Make the stats, that's what I want, that's all I care about." And the guy becomes paranoid because from his perspective they're forcing them to make stats or change charges and that's not how you want to have policing.
So why do they have that? Filling a quota for ticketing let's say. Is it to show they're 'doing' something and not juts lazing around?
Yeah so COMPSTAT which Vancouver has and New York started is an accountability mechanism. But research hasn't shown that it's necessarily consistent with the principles of community policing. What CompStat basically is is where you get all your police leaders in a room every month, or bi-monthly or weekly, and you [look at] their crime statistics. "What's going on in your district? We wanted you to reduce auto-theft, so what do the statistics show? Are you reducing auto-theft? Well the stats show you're not." So that's what CompStat is - it's a way for the police service and the public to hold their members accountable to do what is wanted of them. Again New York has some major issues with Stop-and-Frisk, and these statistical issues. Going by the Village Voice article and [Balko's] book, what seems like happened there was it got out of control and it became an issue of, "There are ways we can fix the stats to where we don't really have to change how we do things. Just change how we charge people." It becomes institutional pressure.
I see, because they're not looking for a over-arching solution where you would see the results in five or even ten years.
Yeah exactly. So at it's best CompStat improves efficiency; it improves intelligence led policing. At it's worst that's what happens - you get guys who are just like, "Well we can fake it. We don't even have to do anything."
Want to touch a bit more on your own research and what you learned in the process?
Yeah I ended up talking about use of force in policing, so a lot of the research is on police brutality. It turned into mitigating that; how training can properly develop these officers to use force correctly so that they don't misuse force. And what I learned was that we don't know a lot in Canada. Police services don't do a very good job of educating people about what they do, and what they go through. I learned that it's a lot more complicated than you and I would believe on the surface of it. And they're still learning more. We don't have a lot of shootings here in Vancouver, but there's so much that's involved in that shooting, from a biological perspective, a psychological perspective, a social perspective. A guy named Bill Lewinsky, who's a police researcher in the States, mentioned how finally it's gotten to the point where police departments are not doing themselves any favours by not educating the public on the decision process, as well as the impact of decision making and use of force encounters. Because the public just assumes things in that case. The biggest one that still happens to this day is, "Well why didn't he shoot him in the leg, or why didn't he shoot him in the arm?" And police services will always tell students if they ask that question, "Well, we train our officers to shoot centre mass." partly because it's more likely to hit someone there, but mostly to minimize risk of missing.
Ah, because if they miss they could potentially hit someone else.
Exactly. Because the dirty little secret about policing is this: We in the public assume officers are amazing shots, but they're not. On a shooting range, to qualify, I'd have to shoot 100%, but I'm shooting a static target, so it's fairly easy. But in the field, accuracy rates do down to 60%, 40%, 30%, because you have a dynamic target that's moving and you're stressed. So let's say you're robbing a bank, and you have a gun. Well first of all you're skinny--and me too, (officers have said this to me.) So they're going to find the only part they can get at, which is here. [*Motions to torso*] If they just aimed at your leg or another limb, there's a high likelihood that they're going to miss. Well that bullet could then ricochet and hit someone else, or go right past and hit someone. But the public doesn't know that because police never say, well here's why we don't aim at arms or legs, or which ever.
The other example--and I do this in my classes, I'm going to do it tomorrow in my lecture actually because I like to give a demonstration - so I get someone to stand up with me and I show this [misconception] scenario: "Well he had a knife." and the response is, "You didn't have to shoot him, he only had a knife." Well that's not necessarily true. See, if you're a cop and you're standing about five or ten feet away from me, and I have a knife, what am I going to do with this knife? I ask, "Am I an immediate threat to you?" And most people go, "No you're far away and you only have a knife." So then I take two giant steps and I'm now right here. So am I a threat? In the time it took me to get this close, what were you going to do? The other thing is, I can throw a knife. I read this book by David Klinger called Into the Kill Zone. And he interviewed cops. He was a cop, but he interviewed cops who were involved in use of force incidents - shootings. And one guy had this happen to him: A woman had a kid, and she had barricaded herself in a house - she had mental stability issues - and so they go to get the kid, run up to the house and she comes at them with a knife in her hand, and throws it. He mentioned in the interview that he felt a throbbing in his head, but he ignored it. But as he was coming out, he said "all these guys were coming up the driveway with looks of horror in their eyes." And the knife had wedged into his head. One in a million shot, but it happened. So these are things that they have to talk about.
Was that because of the pure adrenaline? It didn't hurt as much as the officer thought it would?
Yeah adrenaline, nerves, everything. So he survived - he's really lucky, but he lived. And that's the thing, if you ask any police force, "Taser or gun?", they'll tell you the 'one plus one' rule: if you have a knife, our standards authorize us to use a gun or a taser if we're threatened. It's allowed. Now does that mean you always have to use a gun when they have something? No. It's using your judgement too. They have to have good judgement. I was talking to a guy the other day in Ottawa and he was saying, "I have a guy in our squad who's a fifth degree blackbelt." If someone comes at him with a knife, is he justified to shoot him? Yeah. Did he? No, he disarmed him. He actually took him on, and disarmed him. One of the things I learned in my thesis was that trainers will run a scenario in training with five officers, and they can do five different things, and it's all good. As long as it's justified, and they can say why they did it and what they did. But these are things that the public doesn't know. And police would do a way better job and have a way better time if they just told people their side.
I like the story about simply disarming him. Why is it that we're not teaching our police forces more things like Aikido, which is a Japanese defence mechanism where you don't harm the opponent as you take them down.
It's really interesting that you say that, because you get some guys who do training who actually are. I interviewed a guy for my thesis who's retired now, but he did Jujitsu, and Aikido - he was a martial arts guy. A lot of these use of force trainers are martial arts guys. They have martial arts backgrounds. So this guy who I spoke to, he's a big police judo guy talking again about how, "you're able to control someone with hands, you don't have to use weapons, you can dominate easily. And it's way less likely you're going to kill him." It really informed me how he wanted to do training, and he was really pushing it. But then other trainers who were martial arts guys, said it really doesn't come into play when they do their training. I talked to another guy from another jurisdiction who was a mixed martial arts guy, again. He said, "I bring those principles into what I do. I train with some major Brazilian Jujitsu guys." The thing is though, and this speaks to a lack of standardization, those guys do it and it comes into their training because they have that background anyway. They want to do that. But there's no standardization. It's similar to a university professor; if you have two professors for the same class, they're both going to teach the class according to the curriculum that they have to fulfill, but they're still going to teach differently. The same with training in use of force: there's a curriculum - they've got to teach how to use a baton, pepper spray, fists maybe, how to cuff someone. But there's different ways to do that, and that's scary because you might have a really good teacher, like in university when you have a really good prof, you learn it better. And someone in a different class might have the same subject but a horrible prof.
And come out with no understanding of the subject. Definitely. Like myself and my grade 11 Math teacher.
[Laughter] And one guy might be teaching but these guys don't stay; they stay for five years at a time or two years at a time. Then they move on and a new guy comes. They might teach a certain way or have a philosophy, but they don't change. One of the big flaws I found in my research was [that] there's a lot of hesitancy to change how they do things. You have them thinking, "A system is in place and the system works, so I'm not changing it." When you asked that question about why they don't teach it, it's because it's instructor dependent. So, do they focus on disarming? Yeah there's a lot of focus on weaponless tactics, but it's not always the best tactics they're teaching. [But overall] they're trying to do it better.
Some people might not be able to develop a marital arts skill that well, or good enough for dependence and certainty.
Yes, and that's the other thing, which is also interesting. I found that if you're teaching, on the same day with the same group of people you could be teaching a six-foot-five, 250 pound guy who's been a hockey player [and] knows how to fight. If you teach him a technique, it's going to work because he's big and he's strong. But if you teach the same technique to a five-foot-four, 120 pound woman, in training it might work, but what happens if in the field it doesn't. So they focus on teaching skills that everyone can master, and everyone can deal with. But then that discounts the fact that in the same situation, the female might be way more likely to talk herself out of a force situation than a male will. Which is something I've seen happen. Women are way better at talking themselves out of situations than men.
Really? That could be interesting when looking at recruitment of women. Trying to get more emotional intelligence over size and strength into a police force.
Oh yeah. When I did research for [a police service in the lower mainland] I saw it first-hand: two female officers I was on a ride-along with go to a house with a violent individual. There was a couple there, where the man was abusive towards the woman, so the officers are going to arrest him. When they arrive the couple is there and he's butt-naked and drunk, they're both on drugs, and he refuses to leave the house. So there are two women cops (and they're not very big - one's pretty short actually, and not physically imposing) and they stand at the door. I'm watching this happen and they're talking, "Okay, what should we do?" Do they go in? He's potentially barricading himself in a room. Well [in the end] they talked him out. They got him to come out in cuffs, he was acting crazy, but they calmed him down by talking him down. They were laughing and joking with him by the end of that whole situation. Later one of the officers turned to me and said, "You know what? A couple days ago we had the same guy, and there were two male officers, and there was a big fight - rolling around, kicking. But with us? We talk, we brought him down." So it's really interesting how that works. I think it's something police services recognize the value in: female officers. The trouble lies in just trying to attract them. It's hard.
Vancouver in comparison to many other metropolises has far less shootings. Why is that? Is it because of our gun laws?
Yeah, hmm I don't know. We have the same gun laws pretty much across the board in Canada. Part of it has to do with that fact that our police force has been one of the most progressive police forces in Canada - and in the world probably. They've done a really good job of making the reduction of violent crime a big priority to them. And again Vancouver was one of the first places in Canada to start doing strategic plans, having a research and planning section - targeting things. So that's one thing. Our issue is gangs. We've done a better job with it in Vancouver and that has to do with the policing style as well. Surry has issues still and that's in the news - there was a shooting just last week. They haven't had a great time doing it, but I think it's hard to explain. It comes down to policing style, and policing strategy, and it's a different city. Vancouver is a commuter city, we're a touristy city, and we just don't have a lot of violent crime. What violent crime we do have, or what other crime we have goes unreported, or there is a dark figure of crime that no one talks about.
Let's look at mental illness. When will this outdated - "dark ages" as I like to hear you say - style of the criminalization of addiction end?
Yeah that's the buzzword in policing right now: mental health. Police services have fought it for a while, but they've come to the realization that there's no way [they're] not going to have to deal with mental health. These people are who they're constantly being called back to, so how do you get around targeting them? That's what they're still trying to figure out and I don't think that they know, frankly. They get what we call "crisis intervention training", but it's really hard because these guys aren't psychologists; they're not care workers. Vancouver has done some things like 'Car 87' where a mental health worker and a cop drive around and respond [to calls]. They've done it for quite a long time - since the late 1980s actually. Their Deputy Chief was speaking at this conference I was at, and he said, "Well you know what? We've done that. We're trying to think of other ways to do this now, which is partnering with BC Coastal Health, or partnering with the hospital - trying to figure out other ways to do this." Montreal is also doing similar things I've learned. Calgary also, like I said before. I just saw a study of a police service in Ontario where they made a process for when a cop arrests someone for a mental health issue: they take him to the hospital. Then they improved the process with the hospital workers of getting that person admitted faster. Their mental health detentions have gone up, so they haven't addressed the problem, they just made how they do things more efficient. But that's them going, "Well we have to admit this - we can't solve it." So how do you get around that? I don't know.
I think it's got to be a collaboration. Certainly prevention on the part of society: by giving parents optimal conditions to raise a child, because how they're raised is huge for preventing addiction - the research is unanimous on that. And it would help the police out a lot. However, not right away. So this is where that patience issue comes in again. It'll take 20 to 30 years to see the outcome from when it starts to be taken seriously.
Yeah it's a collaborative issue. But it's also the case that we deinstitutionalized in this country, and now our streets are full of people who are self-medicating. And there's no way to track them, there's no way for them to get proper medication or help. So they drink, or they take crystal meth, or they do cocaine. It's a provincial issue, it's a nation-wide issue, America has the same problem, and the UK does as well. It's global. But here, we have no tracking of mental health right now. And unfortunately the people that come into most contact with [this issue] is law enforcement. Then when they do come out of prison, we need to look at reintegrating them into society. They know this because it costs them a lot of money, and for their officers it's very stressful. Another thing we can look at that might be an intro into beginning to understand all of this, is the mental health of officers. So this is becoming a big buzzword in policing as well. Historically police services everywhere haven't done a good job of monitoring the mental health of their officers or taking care of their officers.
Which would seem obvious to prevent police brutality as well. Also the idea of who is being drawn towards positions of authority. it tends to be, yeah, maybe the kid who was bullied, or was a victim, or witness of abuse themselves. So then that's the only way they understand how to deal with people - to hurt them or punish them.
Yeah absolutely. In addition to that, you can only recruit people who have 'integrity' or who are a certain solid type of person, but then you expose them to all this bad stuff, and you wonder why their personality changes. Right now what you have in policing is--actually my colleague would get mad at me for singling out police, so let's say first responders in general - that goes for paramedics (who have higher suicide rates than police), and so also fire fighters, dispatchers even. These are all your first responders and we have not done a good job at looking at them. Now we have major issues with anxiety, post-traumatic-stress, suicidal thoughts, alcoholism - but it has gone unchecked. This gets all the way back to what I was saying about police services: How do you change how you do business? Well, one of the ways is surveying your members, doing health and wellness surveys, finding out how they're doing. If you talk to a lot of police leaders, they'd say, "traditionally we're doing better, but we've not done very well in taking care of our own officers."
Does that also have to do with the stigma? How you've got to be this tough, strong person that can deal with anything? So to come out and talk about things like, "I'm not feeling very great" isn't easy for them.
That's huge. It's the fact that when someone says, "I'm okay", we can't take it at face value anymore. In policing - or any profession - but especially for first-responders, we just take it at face value and it's cool. There's a reason why when you talk to cops, paramedics, or firefighter, they're on their second or third marriage, or they have alcohol issues, or drug dependencies - because they see a lot of shit. And they get talked to pretty badly by other people, and they're bottling that up because of this tough exterior they traditionally have had to put up.
Have you heard of EMDR?
It's essentially a therapy used to help process traumatizing or disturbing past events. Because these things are what keep coming up, even if the person has forgotten about them happening. It helps break the memories out from the nervous system so the individual no longer has to relive the physiological stress response to any stimuli of that past event. It would be helpful to give officers these types of treatments.
Yeah definitely. I spoke to a woman who was a yogi and we discussed the benefits of yoga for first-responders to help with calming. I know one police service I was reading about recently has hired two full-time wellness workers to keep an eye on their officers so they can continue with their work. A female officer told me one time when I asked, "What do you do on your way to a critical incident, or somewhere that you're going to potentially see something bad?" And she said, "Well, we'll do breathing - autogenic breathing." (Which is just in-and-out, calming yourself down, regulating your heart rate.) And I asked, "Did anyone teach you that?" and she said, "No. You just learn." But that's just one person, so what are other people doing? Are they even doing anything?
Picking up on their own. Leaving them to self-medicate. For some people, it might be a shot of whisky.
Yeah. But seriously, yeah. And that's an extreme, but that is certainly the case. Something thing I've learned about police is that they won't go out and seek help on their own. A cop once told me, "By nature we're lazy. People are lazy, they won't follow up. You have to bring it to their door-step and keep up on them." So I think what we're going to start hearing this come out in the next little while. There is definitely going to be a big push in Canada - and in this province especially - for the mental health of frontline workers. There's going to be a big push. We're seeing a little bit on the news already, but I think it's going to be really big. Because the more the numbers come out on suicide rates like we saw in Ottawa last year, the more something has got to be done. So based on what I know, with who's doing the research and who wants it done, that's what's going to happen. That's the good news.
That's great news. Thanks so much Josh, it was really good to hear all about this side of things - certainly a paradigm shift.
You're very welcome. Thanks to you as well Tracy.
Capture Queue is a one woman team, so it's always greatly appreciated if readers feel inclined to bring my attention to any typos or corrections.