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CLOSE TO HOME – Did I do the right thing


September 1, 2016
By Brian Krushel

798 words – MR

Did I do the right thing?
Second-guessing is a first-rate stressor

“Gun!”

As soon as the word hit the radio, the entire station went electric. Dispatch shifted to high alert. Adrenaline mixed with calm professionalism. Admin personnel stood at the ready to provide support commands.

Officers, uniformed and plainclothes, hit the street and rushed to the site. Off-duty members showed up to offer assistance (social media is a good thing).

One hundred or more bystanders complicated the stand-off scene (social media is a tool of the devil!).

Fortunately, the weather was not a factor. No howling windstorm, rain, hail or snow.

Officers held their positions behind squad cars and sandbags, on rooftops and alongside a dumpster, firearms poised for service if required.

Communication with the gun holder was established and, after some excellent negotiation by officers, the perpetrator gave up his weapon. The episode ended peacefully.

Most readers can relate to this scenario and may even see themselves in it, replaying the incident with intense reactions. Jaws tighten; shoulders bunch; breathing speeds slightly. The results may have been the same for some; sadly, much more tragic for others.

The debriefing session immediately following was very affirming. Administration congratulated the officers and dispatch on their excellent service. The operations review highlighted how well the platoon responded to what could have been a deadly incident.

Summary statement: “The good news is, the bad guy is detained and everyone’s going home tonight.”

It turned out that the weapon was a toy revolver, but who knew it at the moment? Only the guy holding it.

Then the second-guessing began. As chaplain I listened the next morning to the officer who called, “Gun!”

Those were just a few of the dozens of questions for which there were no answers.

I assured him his emotional state and head space were very normal, especially given his lack of sleep the night after the incident. I gently probed if he had exercised at home after the incident or increased his water intake to flush the stress toxins. How about sitting quietly and just allowing himself some cleansing breaths or journalling his thoughts and feelings?

He had used some of those self-care actions but the questions – the second guessing – were really plaguing him. Intellectually he knew all was well – no lives were lost – but still wondered if he could have done things better.

This is a natural reaction to a tense situation. With some intentional mentoring and support, he was able to move through the stress in a healthy manner. The four most effective factors which helped the young officer overcome the stress of second-guessing were:

1) A super-supportive partner. His fiancée was out of town but he was able to reach her and share the details. Her kind and compassionate listening ear was a primary factor in his recovery.
2) Other officers telling him he had performed his duties well. Several senior platoon mates and other members who heard about the incident affirmed him as an officer and person. There is a strong culture of mutual support in the force.
3) Reviewing the events and their emotional impact with the chaplain. [This will sound like I’m touting my role, but not so. I offered an outside set of ears, eyes and voice to affirm and support him in the critical moments and hours after the incident and re-ground in a set of values that provided some needed stability.]
4) Most importantly, police/family support. This officer’s father is a seasoned member of another police force. His phone calls and visit the next day helped immensely to regain perspective and work through the stress and self-questioning.

In many ways, the scenario I’ve described and the responses offered are ideal. No one was hurt. The right supports were in place and ready immediately after the incident, and on an ongoing basis. Not all situations conclude as well; we know this.

However, the actions taken and the support measures mentioned are essential in building professional and personal resiliency for members of the police family. As an officer, you might benefit by taking a quick inventory. How many of the above support mechanisms do you have in place? You might also ask what other supports you would suggest.

It is not a matter of “if” but “when” stressful incidents will cause you to second-guess your performance. How and from whom will you regain your balance?

BIO

Brian Krushel is a volunteer Alberta police chaplain and member of the Canadian Police Chaplain Association. His family recently helped him through a stressful incident – his 60th birthday!