After the Webinar: Trauma Informed Policing. Q&A with the Presenters

Webinar Presenters Dr. Michelle Gundy and Joe Wright answered a number of your questions after their presentation, Trauma Informed Policing: What Law Enforcement Needs to Know.  Here are just a few of their responses.


Audience Question: What is the overlap or connection between Post Traumatic Stress Injury and ACES, substance overuse, and suicide?

Michelle Gundy: Oh, boy, that’s a, that’s a great question. I don’t have the stats in front of me right now. If you want to e-mail me, I’m happy to send them to you. But individuals with high ACEs scores, especially for higher, they’re at a significantly higher risk of suicide and also those with post-traumatic stress disorder, we’ve got decades of research that proves correlation between the two. So, if you want specifics on that, like the actual statistics there, they’re, they’re pretty incredible. I’m happy to e-mail those to you. I have studies saved on my laptop that I can send your way.


Audience Question: I’m surprised that the ACEs test didn’t include other factors, things like children, who are bounced around from multiple foster homes, form of abandonment by family, exposure to abuse, trauma, etc. which isn’t directed at the mother, living alone prior to being an adult, etc. Michelle, what are your thoughts in terms of how the ACEs study was developed? Do you have a sense as to why those specific forms of abuse or neglect or dysfunction were chosen? 

Michelle Gundy: I do, I know a little bit about the history, you know, this was the first real trauma study done at that time. There just wasn’t anything like it. And to be honest, when Dr. Felliti first presented to Robert Anda and actually, when he presented at a massive conference, he was laughed out of the room. When he tried to prove to his fellow colleagues in the medical field, that there was a link between obesity and trauma, and that he wanted to do this study. He couldn’t get buy in. No one believed him. They thought he was nuts. So, luckily, Dr. Robert Anda believe him, he had some faith in his studies, and they did this ACEs study. But this was the first, this was the nineties. We weren’t talking about trauma back then. We weren’t talking about childhood abuse and lifelong consequences. So, this was the first study done, I think, that they just sort of chose the categories that came up most common in Dr. Felliti’s obesity study, and they went with those. The ACEs study has been repeated thousands of times by this point in every type of population globally. And some of them do change the, the actual ACEs, the experience included some of them now include systemic racism, they include war, it’s changed throughout time, but, the reason it started with just these limited amount of experiences was just because there was no research to date


Audience Question: How can we apply the same knowledge not just to the community members we work with, but also to our officers themselves? 

Joseph Wright:  I think there are enough experienced officers and medics and corrections people these days who are seeing the light. It takes some discipline. But when officers go to a critical incident debriefing, say, they have been involved in a shooting, maybe not the officer who had to fire but were present, or investigated a child death, oftentimes, it’s optional if they want to take advantage of some type of debriefing. As I came up and got a little bit older and wiser, I knew what those debriefings were like and really didn’t need to go or didn’t feel I needed to go anymore. But I connected with all my other officers and said, “Let’s all make sure and go so that the young officers, the new officers, will go and they won’t avoid it because the old salts aren’t there, take it seriously.  What we found over time is maybe somebody had been there several times, but this was the first time that they’ve been there since their spouse was expecting, you know, or something like that. Trauma can be pretty sneaky. So, if you take a consistent look at it, and support officers for getting help, even in a simple way, make that a healthy, good thing to do and not something that you look down upon. I think you can model behavior and help people across your agency.


Audience Question: What are some additional simple ways that we can apply the knowledge that you’re talking about today in it and implement it as a police officer on the street? What changes should we be making in our day to day activity?

Joseph Wright:

Just my contact with a lot of people who experience behavioral health issues, who had huge trauma backgrounds. There are simple things to do.

If you learn about WRAP planning, advance directives from people with behavioral health issues that let you know what they want you to do when they may not be able to communicate it to them. Realize simple things – handcuffs really scare people. Like, Michelle was saying, if you have to by policy, maybe put handcuffs on someone when you’re taken to the stabilization center, tell them, “I have to put some handcuffs on you now. Are you ready or would you want to wait just a second?” Or maybe, “Hey, I almost got fired for not putting handcuffs on somebody the other day. Would you please help me keep my job?” You know, the ways to connect with people as we go through our daily routines that we take for granted. And, if we can be more aware of those traumatic experiences and suffering and how simple things affect them, you can change the little things we should do on the street. And the best way to learn those things is to work with peers. There should be some peer services in your community where people who have a lived experience with behavioral health issues and trauma are doing outreach because they’re in recovery. Oftentimes, they want a law enforcement partnership. If you can connect with the peer outreach organization, you can learn so much and it will really pay dividends.


Audience Question: Do we have any research on officer and if they have trauma in their younger years? 

Michelle Gundy: Yes, we do. And that’s why I said that, typically law members of law enforcement and social work. You’re helpers for a reason. A bunch of you  did you have high ACE scores? You did suffer from childhood trauma. You want to help, you want to make sure that what you went through, no one else has to go through. So, you join law enforcement, you get into social work, you’ve become a clinician. So, you’re starting from an elevated baseline. So, I absolutely recommend that everyone use the resources, that I provided in the handout. Take the ACE quiz, find out what your baseline is, and then you can know where to go from there. Because, yes, statistics and studies show that officers start, with elevated baseline of trauma. They have higher ACE scores, and then they just continue, it just grows from there. And, again, if you want to e-mail me, I’m happy to… I have no less than 100 ACEs studies saved. I’m a nerd, so I’ll send you those.


Audience Question: it seems like there’s a lot of discussion around trauma these days. Do you think awareness is actually sinking in and that we’re starting to see change in criminal justice’s trauma-informedness, or are we still stuck at the awareness level and there’s still a lot of work to be done in terms of enacting change, and if that’s the case, what can agency leaders do to help facilitate this change? 

Joseph Wright:  You got to go, where cops live or first responders live, go to the low-hanging fruit. It’s a little tough to connect with people in drug court for some people, but it’s really easy with the people at the veterans court. That’s just the way we’re wired, I think, in our profession. And if you can connect in some way with it, it’s like we taught this class today. I mean, Michelle is the brains, and I’m just a little bit of a connector here because cops learn experientially. You can get cops in the room with someone who has real experience then, they can start to connect to all that Michelle and others teach us, and that’s where the payoff comes. So, if you can get cops out of the cruiser, helping at Veterans Court helping a Drug Court, working with peers. I think that shines a lot of light on what’s happening and that’s when we can see some progress being made. Nothing is better than having a peer come into a classroom, maybe it’s the end of the in-service training and it’s somebody who every cop knows because they’ve taken that person to the E room or the detox center a thousand times. But, you know, people say, “Wait a second, I haven’t seen that guy for a couple of years.” Then he tells his story. He hasn’t had a drink in a couple of years, and he owns a house, he got married, he has a job, things like that. And they’d have this guy in their cruiser. That’s how we turn the corner I think is finding local success stories. You can use the little ones, and then connect the theory to it. You know, use those as learning opportunities so we can learn what people like Michelle could teach us.

Michelle Gundy: I just want to add one more small piece that if you don’t mind. I’m definitely seeing that we’re still in the awareness phase, but we’re advancing past that. One, perfect example is the Reid technique. We know that the Reid technique was debunked decades ago, but it was still lingering in, you know, in investigation for decades. Now, I just wrapped up a massive research project where I interviewed dozens and dozens of police chiefs and sheriffs across the country, and I asked that we wanted them, “Do your investigators use the Reid technique.” And I only got a yes from one. The Reid technique was debunked for a reason? And they’re not necessarily calling the new investigative techniques, trauma informed all the time. But they’re using trauma informed tactics. They are asking, “What did you feel?” They’re engaging the victim senses they’re giving them that 24 hour cool off period to get their brains back online. So, yes, I’m actually seeing it. And Joe even mentioned drug courts. We have trauma informed schools, we have trauma informed social workers. So, yes, I’m definitely seeing more, I’m hopeful for the future.


Audience Question: Does intergenerational trauma also relate to domestic violence and corrections involvement and addiction, or does it mostly just apply to historical trauma like the Holocaust and the former tribal schools? 

Joseph Wright:  I’ll say in my individual experience, I was talking about those families in our community, and I think anybody here listening today or watching today, I would say, “Yeah, I know those families, and I know every generation experienced trauma over and over and over, I feel like a lot of those kids never had a chance.” So, my answer to that is, Yes, it does. Michelle, does the data prove that out?

Michelle Gundy: Absolutely. Yes, it does. It’s, it becomes a cycle, and we use the word cycle of violence for a reason. Children that grow up in homes filled with domestic violence, where especially where their mothers is abused, they end up in repeating those cycles of behavior. Men grow up to be of abusers, women grow up to be abused. And what, you know, vice versa, it can be both, but yes, absolutely violence perpetuates more violence.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Trauma Informed Policing: What Law Enforcement Needs to Know. 


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