Webinar presenters Brian Williamson, Joseph Hoebeke, Mike Brown, Deanna Cantrell, and Dr. Kimberly Miller answered a number of your questions after their presentation, Tough Times, Hard Conversations and Healing – Ask Us Anything. Here are just a few of their responses.
Audience Question: Any suggestions on how mental health professionals can build relationships with their local law enforcement? I know you have done that.
Dr. Kimberly Miller: That’s a great question. The first thing I would say is set up a time to talk to them. Whether it’s an officer, whether it is the chief, the sheriff I would call and say, “Hey, I’m a mental health provider in your community. I’d love to talk about how we can work together.” So, if you can get a meeting with the chief or the Sheriff, I think that’s great. That’s ideal. But if not, call into your non-emergency number and ask the officer, come by and say, “Hey, I want to talk to you about how can I get involved and how I can work with you and how I can support you.” So, I think that’d be wonderful. I know a lot of agencies already have co-responder programs, which are huge. A lot of agencies don’t and are looking to do that. Not to say necessarily you if you’re a mental health provider, that you would then become their co-responder but you could hook them up with people who might want to take on that role. You can also educate the police about all the things you can do, all the different services that you do provide because some officers in some communities don’t even know mental health services. They take people to a hospital and the hospital does it because they don’t where else to take him. So, I would say make a phone call and set up a meeting and that’s how it all starts.
Audience Question: Besides my own role in public safety, I administer a group of over 2000 police wives. Is there anything the panel could suggest to active law enforcement officers to be able to share with their families and wives that can provide a sense of security to their loved ones who are right now so scared of letting them walk out the door?
Kimberly Miller: So, Aaron help me understand that question. So, is it the spouses want to know how to support their officers that go to work? Is that the question?
Host: Absolutely. I think it’s a blend of how they supported the officers as they come to work. How can they encourage the officers to speak honestly with their wives to try to explain what’s going on to try to mitigate some of the fear that their loved ones are experiencing? (1:11:58)
Dr. Kimberly Miller: Got it. Who would like to jump on that one?
Deanna Cantrell: We collectively think you should.
Dr. Kimberly Miller: This is a hard place for a spouse to be in because number one, you want to love and encourage your partner when they’re going to work, right? That’s part of your role. At the same time, you get frustrated when they come home and they don’t want to talk to you, right? Because often they go to work, they burn all their energy at work. They use all their words at work. So, when they come home, they don’t have any words left and the last thing they want to do is talk about work that probably aggravated them or upset them. So, number one, you need to understand that about your spouse and partner. Number two, I would ask them if they want you to be in that role. Now, I know that probably upset some of you because you want to be in that role but you should ask them maybe they don’t want you to be in that role. Maybe they’d rather talk to one of their buddies, maybe there’s a police psychologist, maybe they’d rather talk to the police psychologist about it. Maybe they’d rather talk to a chaplain. Maybe they’d rather talk to their supervisor because some of the things that are going on in their head is, they don’t want to bring stuff home and then burden you with distress. In a lot of ways, people in public safety want to leave that stuff at work because they don’t want to come home and talk to you about everything that they’re afraid of and everything they’re stressing over because then they feel like they’re bringing the stress home to you, then you’re going to worry more. Then there’s going to be more tension in the relationship, etc. But I also know that y’all want to know those things. You want to hear those things. So, I would ask them, are you comfortable with me being in that role and be okay if they say no. If they say no, here’s what you need to do, you need to challenge and make sure that they are talking to somebody because I will tell you, as a police psychologist, most police still don’t talk to us. They hold it in, they stuff it in. They don’t talk about it and that’s why every year, more officers die by their own hand than by the line of duty death because they’re stuffing it and they’re not talking to it, talking to anybody about it, and I would also say, that if you are a decision-maker in your organization, whether you’re a Chief or Sheriff, Command Staff, Lieutenant, Division, Chief, whatever, if you don’t already have a competent mental health provider that understands law enforcement culture, you need to find one. Not to say you hire them full-time in your department but you at least need to get them on contract and build a relationship with your employees. So, they do have someone that they trust and they can talk to and they can dump the stuff with that person and then go home and be a little bit lighter and be a little bit more engaged and happier and involved in their family, instead of coming home burnt out, stressed out and they have nothing left for their families. So, again, it’s going to be hard if they don’t want you to be the person. I think you love them the best that you can and you also encourage them to find somebody to talk to.
Joe Hoebeke: Just for the person who asked that question. I know in the state of New Hampshire they brought in this gentleman, I believe, he was a retired Chief down in Chicago. He did a training called Bridgepoint, I don’t know if any of the other chiefs have heard of it, but it was a mental health resiliency training for first responders. One of the classes he provides is for spouses and family members and it’s a separate class. You can choose as a law enforcement professional if my wife went to it, I could choose to go with her or she could just go alone. So that might be a good opportunity to bring some outside training, some outside perspective in. I really benefited from the class. As a matter of fact, we made it mandatory for every person within our department to go to it. Of course, they have the option to bring their spouse to that separate training. So, I just wanted to mention that.
Dr. Kimberly Miller: Now, that’s good. And I want to mention a couple of things. One is Kevin Gilmartin’s book, Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement. If y’all don’t have it, I highly recommend that. And Dr. Gilmartin comes and does training. For spouses, it’s this great book by Dr. Ellen Kirschman, who’s also a police psychologist and it’s called, I Love a Cop. That book is great for spouses because it helps give you a perspective from law enforcement that your spouse probably doesn’t want to talk to you about. And Dr. Kirschman also offers training for spouses, so that y’all could look on our website about that. If you need her contact information, just shoot me an e-mail and I’ll send it to you but both those books and the training Joe talked about and Dr. Kirschman’s is also really good for spouses. So, thank you for asking the question. Brian, did you have something?
Brian Williamson: Yes, I just wanted to quickly add that there’s also an organizational role in creating that bridge for spouses and family members to talk to each other. One of the things that we do when we swear a new officer in is we have them bring their family and then we bring their family up with them and after we swear them in, we give a gift to the members of the family and welcome them to the police department as well. So, it’s an official welcoming for the new officer and the family and in my words, prior to swearing them in, I talk about what the role of the support system is and what the role of the officer is to the support system. Then when every promotion, anything like that, we involve the family and give them a different gift because you also were promoted today. This was a family that did this. So, I think there are things we can do as an agency to kind of encourage that. We also have the spouses group and when something big takes place in the nation or locally, I’ll shoot an e-mail to the spouses’ group, you know, just I can imagine how you’re feeling. Here’s what we’re doing as an agency. Here’s what I believe is achieved. So that they do feel like they are connected which might help the communication at home a little bit.
Audience Question: We are planning a roundtable discussion to talk about racial and social issues and how we move forward as a group for our staff. What does one thing you would recommend we do as administration to make sure that the discussion is productive?
Deanna Cantrell: Saw my wheels turning listening to that question. So, the question is one thing that they can do that would help them be productive? It’s an internal conversation that I take out with staff about, correct? I think, I think it was Brian, maybe, that touched on it about how delicate those conversations internally can be and how easily they can be misinterpreted from what your message might be or what your intention might be. So, especially if it’s staff, if it’s command staff, that’s going to be leading those discussions or having those discussions. I think some, you know, greasing that wheel in advance and saying this is what it is and this is what it’s not and being really clear about why are you having the conversation? What is it you’re trying to accomplish by having the conversation and that people have the freedom to express themselves? If you really want to have an honest, truthful conversation, an intentional conversation about race, you’ve got to give people some latitude about where they are and try to understand where people are. So that you get a good barometer of where it is, you know, you know as a leader where you’re trying to get to. So, it’s hard to figure out how to get there if you don’t know where you are currently. I think those kinds of things in advance would probably help set you up for a little more success.
Mike Brown: I’ll just add a quick comment. If you can make the panel as diverse as possible. I think, if you look at this panel, for example, we have LGBTQ representation. We have Native American representation. We have black and white. I think to make the panel as diverse as possible and as Deanna said, make sure the environment’s set was where everyone can speak freely.
Dr. Kimberly Miller: I’ll just add one thing to that. A lot of times, when we’re faced with any kind of a fix and many of us are very, very solution-focused. We’re focused on the finish line and not all the space in between. We’ve got everybody at the start and we’re focused on the finish line and a lot of people who lead meetings and especially if they’re higher up and things don’t go as they want, they will default to that rank and order. Then they’ll take all those people in the start line, and, by three o’clock when this meeting’s over all of you, whether you like it or not, you’re not going to end up on this finish line. That doesn’t do anything but make everybody angry, make them feel like they weren’t listened to. They weren’t heard and then your mission is not accomplished by the end of the meeting. I think you have to meet people where they’re at. As Deanna, said, you had to figure out where they are first. What are their thoughts about it? So, I wouldn’t go into a conversation, assuming that in an hour or two or three, you’re going to solve every solution around talking about race, and prejudice and bias and discrimination and how that might play out in policing. I think you plan to have ongoing conversations. Maybe the first conversation is why is it so hard to talk about this? Have that be step one. I think a lot of people are still so focused on getting a fix that the journey to the fix is not well thought out. I see that playing out in legislation that is very hastily passed and it’s not often done in collaboration with talking with law enforcement officers that have to deal with the aftermath of whatever the legislation is and people are so quick to try to get to a fix. Instead of understanding all the complexities and the complications of getting there and being willing to have conversations for the long term and deal with negative emotions and difficult perspectives and denial and all that stuff, it does not have a meeting and check the box or even have anti-racism training or implicit bias training, check the box and you’re done. That’s not how it is. This is a complex issue, and you’re never going to be done learning and being more aware, as Mike said, the self-awareness never stops. This stuff never ends, and I think, too often, people just want to check a box and get it done and that leads to a lot of bad consequences.
Audience Question: Mike, you were talking a little bit earlier about human rights training. So, Nina asks you suggested considering using a human rights approach to all, do you feel training would make a difference? You would think that seeing each other as humans first other than just based on race, gender, and ethnicity, would be the right place to start. So, we’d love to hear your thoughts about that, Mike, but certainly, anyone else that would like to weigh in would be great.
Mike Brown: Yeah, absolutely. Coming from a large metropolitan area where the police handle 2000 calls a day it’s easy to see people as a call, a statistic, or things other than humans. I think for us to take the time to get the human rights training will just give us a different perspective and a different way to look at the folks that we interact with.
Audience Question: What do you recommend that agencies do differently in the recruiting and hiring process to ensure that the very best people are hired to become officers?
Dr. Kimberly Miller: Hire for character, period. You have to hire for character. Yes, skills are important but you have to hire for character first. Because people tell me all the time well, we do that and backgrounds. Well, yeah, but it’s more than a background investigation. Character should be infused throughout your entire hiring process. It should be in your oral board questions. It should be in your background. It should be in your interviews. It should be in, like Joe said, that the test of emotional intelligence. I mean, it should be everywhere. Do you have the character? Is that in the forefront of your brain? The second thing I think is what Deanna mentioned and I talked about also is you have to look at how you’re training these people because they just do their programming, right? You want to hire for the character because you want to know their programming before they’re yours. Then once they’re yours, you have to be really careful about the programming you put in. What is the academy doing? What is your FTO program? What is your ongoing training in your department? What is the culture of your department? Because all of that affects who the person is and the decisions they ultimately make. You can have a great person of great character and if you put them in a really sick culture and you train them really badly, they’re probably going to make a really bad decision, So I think it’s really complex but I’ll start the conversation off and I know Joe, you have something to say, and I imagine all our panelists do too wrap up this one. So, Joe, have you go next.
Joe Hoebeke: Yeah, I think it goes back to, and thank you, Kim, I think it goes back to, you know, stepping outside your comfort zone. I mean, we’re traditionalist by nature. I mean, we wear uniforms and we’re in a very traditional profession. So, we’ve developed this traditional process when we hire people. In the current time and we’ve evolved, our society has evolved. Traditional processes really can be dangerous and you need to step outside your comfort zone and look at other processes that might allow you to better those candidates. That’s why, you know, character-based assessments are so important. Emotional Intelligence, one of the things I always ask candidates is do you know what it’s like to work in a small community or live in a small community? Do you have an expectation that you’re going to make hundreds of arrests a year? Because it’s just not what we do here. If you don’t think you’re okay with that, that’s okay. I hope you can find a place that you can do those things. But policing in Hollis, policing in Washington, DC, or Chicago, or Arizona wherever you may be is inherently different. So, you have to find that fit. You have to make sure that not only does it is the right fit for your agency and the community but they belong with you If you don’t have that, you shouldn’t hire them. It’s just not going to work.
Deanna Cantrell: I would just add that, you know, be careful how you recruit. Look at your recruiting. Look at your webpage. Somebody mentioned earlier, you know, is your site full of people in SWAT gear jumping out of helicopters and doing all that, you know, long rifles or is your recruiting video all about, your community, I mean, because policing is 95% social work. So how are you recruiting? What’s the language in your recruiting? Where are you recruiting from? I recruit a lot of folks from my community members, from youth programs, those kinds of things. I think I would just add that to it.
Brian Williamson: Just real quickly, if you’re using panel interviews. Be careful who you put on the panel that they represent the person that you want to hire because I’ve seen panels not set up that way that they get rid of good candidates because they do feel they’re too touchy-feely or too community-oriented and not tough enough. So, your panel has to represent what you’re looking for.
Mike Brown: Yeah, I’d just like to add a leadership piece. I think every agency out here has the policy and procedure manual but I think that leadership sets the tone. So, when you get in one of those situations that’s not covered by that manual, just ask yourself what is it that my chief or my Sheriff expects of me because they set the tone. This is how we do business.
Dr. Kimberly Miller: Yeah, and if you don’t have a good leader at the top, it’s hard to attract the goodly few at the bottom. Agencies that have, I would say, negative culture, you’re going to have a hard time recruiting too, you don’t have good leadership and you don’t have a good culture, it’s going to be a hard time recruiting and then you’re going to be doing what Joe said you shouldn’t do which is the desperate hire. Oh, your heart’s beating, come on. That’s a nightmare. That’s a Darth Vader problem waiting to happen. You’re better to run short than hire a heartbeat that’s not a fit for your culture because desperate hires end up doing desperate things. They become bad employees that are hard to fire, who will embarrass your department, and don’t create good relationships with the community.
Joseph Hoebeke: The old saying goes, Kim, the fish rots from the head down and that’s true of leadership. So, if it’s toxic at the top, and it’s reactive and it’s not willing to embrace change and be innovative, and progressive then it’s going to resonate throughout the organization and it’s ultimately going to have an impact on who you hire.
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