Webinar presenter Alana Negroni of The Counselling Team International answered a number of your questions after her presentation, “The Impact of an Officer Involved Shooting.” Here are a few of her responses.
Audience Question: Can sexual dysfunction be a subsequent symptom?
Alana Negroni: Absolutely. The reality behind that is when we experience stress of any kind, and it can be on a much smaller scale than an officer-involved shooting, we experience as human beings the kind of stress in the processing of what we experience immediately in that situation but also following that. The reality is that stress is going to go somewhere. Sometimes we’re able to get that stress out in positive ways, that’s engaging with the dialogue. It’s talking about it, debriefing. It’s going to the gym, it’s drinking water, drinking healthy things, it’s getting that stress out in positive ways. If it doesn’t come out in positive ways, it is going to come out in negative ways. And those negative ways can be drinking alcohol, they can be sleep disturbance, and it can be sexual dysfunction. So absolutely, sexual dysfunction can be a consequence.
Audience Question: Can you speak more a little bit more about EMDR? What it can be used to treat? Who can provide the service? What do we look for in terms of service providers? And also, do you offer or recommend that EMDR be offered in all officer-involved shootings?
Alana Negroni: Yes. First of all, EMDR, I will say here at The Counseling Team, we’re just kind of a small little outfit here in Southern California but we do specialize in working with emergency services. Because of that, I would say the majority of our clinicians are trained in EMDR. To speak a little bit to who can do that, a therapist, a mental health professional, either a marriage and family and therapist or a psychologist. They have to go through an EMDR training – there’s a whole process that goes along with all of that. In order to get the EMDR done by something who is qualified, you want to make sure that they are EMDR-trained. If you want to, you can reach out to us and let us know your specific area and we can help try to find a clinician in your specific area that is EMDR trained. You can go on to the EMDR website, I think it’s emdr.org or something like that – you’ll be able to find it online and they’ll have a list of clinicians that are EMDR certified so they have to be on the level of just being trained, they have gone through the entire process of becoming certified.
EMDR, again, is just a way for the brain to process through something you’ve been through. Specifically, under the context of an officer-involved shooting, we talked in the very beginning about experiencing a heightened sense of detail and kind of your brain shutting certain things off in order to send those resources to other areas. That’s great for you at the moment but again, your brain has now held on to that incident, what EMDR does is it takes that incident. I’ve talked so many times of people being involved in critical incidents, shooting and they say, my shooting happened 10 years ago, but it feels like it could’ve happened on my way here to the office. That’s how vivid and detailed these memories are. They haven’t turned into a memory of something I went through. Every time I tell the story, it’s like it’s just playing on a videotape in front of me. What EMDR does is it helps the brain process through that and it turns that into a memory. It’s not as if you’re going to lose the story, it just turns it into a memory. I had a client that I did EMDR with and he told me that EMDR was like his wedding. Before this incident, he would talk about this incident, he would re-experience the shooting every single time he shared the story and now it felt like his wedding. It feels like when he talks about his wedding – he can tell you about how he felt, how happy he was, how emotional he was on that day. But he’s not actually feeling it as he tells the story. That is what the shooting now felt for him – he can tell you how he felt, he can tell you what he went through, but he’s not actually experiencing it.
As far as to answer the question, do I think it’s something I think that should be offered after every single officer-involved shooting, the answer to that is absolutely yes. I know that certain agencies don’t have a direct access to it as other agencies as that are going through that they can obviously determine certain things. But I do think that it’s a wonderful therapy. I cannot tell you that it’s going to take one EMDR session or 900 because again, that process is individual. It’s absolutely a wonderful type of treatment.
Audience Question: You mentioned some of the symptoms associated with OIS like time distortion can also be seen in non-deadly force encounters like a physical fight. You also mentioned vicarious trauma experienced by peripheral officers. Can you speak to the possibility or the frequency of trauma effects on officers in near-miss situations like incidents where they could have or maybe should have shot but they didn’t? And how can we better support these particular officers? We do a great job when the shooting occurs but less so when it’s an almost incident.
Alana Negroni: I think that sentiment is, unfortunately, something that is even reiterated in the departments that we work directly with. There is the dialogue that going on right now between when do we provide the support? Do we provide them support if they just fired their weapon? Do we provide them support if they drawn their weapon? Where is the boundary between that? That’s a very difficult question to answer because they don’t think that there is, again for everybody, it’s an individual process, but I don’t think that there is a pretty clear-cut and dry formula to when we provide support and exactly how we provide support. The answer to that question is a little bit gray, but like we talked about, people who are in a near-miss situation just had that incredible adrenaline spike occurring. They didn’t actually fire their weapon, but it’s almost as if they did because they were about too. And then something came in and changed the story, the scenario that doesn’t actually need to. But they still experienced all those heightened details and so I do think – unfortunately or fortunately, however you want to look at it, whether we do or don’t provide support ultimately falls on the responsibility of their supervisor or also that individual to be able to advocate for themselves, “Hey, this was a situation that is a critical incident for me, even if I didn’t actually fire my weapon, it is a critical incident.” Or for the supervisor to be able to say, “Hey, you’re off your baseline and I don’t know if that’s because of stuff that’s going on at home or because of an incident that maybe happened here and we didn’t see it as a critical incident but it was for you because it was an I was going to shoot situation and I didn’t, or it’s a near miss.” Whatever the case may be.
So we really have to keep an eye on. Peer support that’s where supervisors come in. Keep an eye on where people are in their baseline. Are they off their baseline? And I think that that’s the time that we come in with the support. Again, it doesn’t matter if it’s a personal issue outside of work if it’s a shooting that they’re involved in. Because the reality is that they’re off their baseline and we’re identifying that as a supervisor or as a peer. If they’re off their baseline when they go out with the public and we need to support them because they’re putting their life in danger every single day. If you’ve got an employee assistance program, that’s something that you might want to talk to them about as far as what can we do? Debriefings might come to these types of situation. I know our agency, we don’t only go out when it’s an officer-involved shooting, we go out anytime the department wants us to come out. And we’re also available to the employees. So if the employee said, “Hey, this was a critical incident for me,” and the department didn’t see it as that, and I don’t want to have to advocate for myself to get a debriefing, I’m just going to come in individually and get that debriefing done on my own. But yeah, definitely, I think officers that are involved in those types of situations can be just as affected.
Audience Question: How do compounding stressors – the normal stress of the job, additional conflict, etc. – affect how we deal with these extreme situations of OIS?
Alana Negroni: That’s a whole another topic. We use the analogy of the image of a cup. You’ve got a cup that’s empty, it’s got nothing in it and you have a critical incident that comes in and it fills that cup halfway up because of the severity of that incident. Well, you still got some room, right? You have the rest of that cup to kind of process through and deal with normal everyday life stuff. If your cup is three-quarters of the way through or full of your everyday life stress, it may not even be stuff related to the job. We know that being in law enforcement, and not just critical incident-wise, it’s the schedule, it’s the shift, it’s the cynicism, having to be the first one to find your seat at the table before the rest of the family can sit down – it’s all of those things are going to affect the family. That’s creating so much stress in your personal life and your cup is three-quarters of the way full. When you get involved in a critical incident of any kind – it doesn’t have to be a shooting, and now your cup is overflowing. You’re not able to manage it in the same way that you would if you didn’t have stressors in any other categories. Who we are on a daily basis greatly affects our response to a critical incident.
That is one of the reasons why it is so important to make sure that we’re looking at officers that are just off their baseline for whatever reason. Doesn’t matter if it’s because of the job or if it’s not because of the job. They’re off their baseline so they need support, they need help whether it’s mental health, peer support, or the chaplain. being able to provide that support to them is going to help them with that cup being a little less full.
Audience Question: Can you comment on the need or the importance for agencies to have fitness for duty exams to determine if an officer has become too aggressive or too passive, just so that everybody can be safe the next time?
Alana Negroni: Part of what we do here at The Counseling Team, we do not do fitness for duty evaluation and not because there’s no value in them because there absolutely is. But the reason why we don’t is because we also are the employee assistance program for these departments and we don’t want their employees feeling like, “Well, if we go to The Counseling Team for a critical incident or our personal issues, all that information will be transferred for our fitness for duty.” We do not do fitness for duty for that reason. But a lot of what we do following a critical incident. If it’s a shooting, we will go out, different departments have different timelines. But we’ll usually go out that day, that night, the next couple of days to debrief that officer – 100% confidential, it’s not a part of the investigation. We’ll debrief that officer as far as the incident itself. Usually, they’re given some days off of work if it’s an OIS, they’re given some days off. And so, we will follow up with them again in our office before they return back to work. That is not a fitness for duty evaluation but just kind of a check-in. A lot of the time, the officers would confide in us because we’ve been able to build this relationship with them and I’m not ready to go back to work. And so, we’ll have a conversation around that. We will call the department and say, we think that they can benefit from a couple of days off. I have never had a department that says, “Unfortunately, they have to be back,” because they understand liability and all of that. But usually, they’re perfectly ok with that.
Recently though, I had an officer who was involved in an incident that had to do a fitness for duty to return back to work. Even though as a clinician that had been working with this individual for quite some time, I didn’t feel like there was a threat but because of the way the situation unfolded, I was extremely supportive of the fact that he has a fitness for duty evaluation because we need to make sure that people out there are safe, that they are prepared for the job, that they’re managing stress inappropriate ways. A fitness for duty evaluation can just evaluate that and speak to that. And so, a lot of the time, if the individual is involved in a critical incident and they are taken off work as a consequence of being involved in that critical incident, more as a supportive measure, I don’t know that a full-on fitness for duty evaluation needs to be performed to get them back to work. But if they are involved in a situation where they’re taken off of work, again maybe it’s because of a critical incident, but that leave is extended because of their processing. Well, now that speaks to what the individual is going through and so in that case, then absolutely, a fitness for duty evaluation may be necessary.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of “The Impact of an Officer Involved Shooting.”