Webinar presenter Wendy Stiver answered a number of your questions after her presentation, When Relationships Matter Most: Community Resilience, Trust, and Critical Incident Management. Here are just a few of her responses.
Audience Question: Do you have any recommendations about best practices for maintaining community engagement and community trust especially given the COVID-19 limitations? You touched on that a little bit, would love to hear any of the thoughts that you have on that.
Wendy Stiver: Yeah, obviously, I think one of the things that are going to come out of this is the creativity in how we’re using social media, Zoom, and things like that a little bit. I just saw an article this morning where a police department was going to taking reports by Zoom rather than by phone so they can have a face-to-face interaction with people. I think that’s super important another great idea. By the way, I don’t have any original ideas at all. I just borrow from other people. Another great idea and something that one of our when my colleagues here in Charleston had was we had employees who were non-essential with the city and the recommendation was made knowing that we have people out in the community who might be alone or elderly or dealing with domestic violence situations. And the research is showing us that you know, there are unreported domestic violence situations happening now, which is tragic, but we know they’re out there and some of them we have their information because we talk to them either through the police, mental health, public health. Somebody out there has information. Reaching out to folks who may or may not have other people to help them out during this time I think is huge and making those efforts and making those connections to do that. So, one of the suggestions was to take are non-essential employees here in Charleston and use them to staff some phones and make some calls and check in on people and see how they’re doing, and you know. Stuff like that goes a long way to communicate to the community that you do sincerely care about people and you’re going to make an effort to reach out to them even under these circumstances.
Audience Question: How can probation officers assist and get involved with the community after a crisis?
Wendy Stiver: I love that question, too. The thing about the Oregon district my friend Brittany who owns Heart Mercantile there just basically says we ain’t right you know, we’re on the island of misfit toys. We all come from different backgrounds and have different experiences and we’ve all had our challenges. Recently most people some people may know is especially hit hard by the opiate epidemic and so, you know, we had folks there in the Oregon district who may or may not be also dealing and struggling with those issues as well. So with full awareness of the fact that you know, there are people on probation and parole in our communities that are affected by crisis and trauma, I would hope that we would be making an effort to make sure that they’re getting the resources they need to be supported in any kind of a crisis particularly if these are folks that have difficulty coping with stress and crisis and their responses to those things are not only unhealthy, but you know, maybe violence or you know, criminal or the types of things that would put them in a parole probation status. So I would think that people in those functions which would be out there and I know they’re overworked and overstretched, but helping to make sure that those folks have mental health support and are getting their needs met in a way that you know discourages them from reoffending or violating the conditions of their parole and probation would be my thoughts.
Audience Question: Absolutely. In fact, Chris, my editor, just showed that she has seen a number of articles talking about upticks in the use of opioids and other drugs in regions because of COVID-19. So, thank you so much.
Wendy Stiver: Absolutely. I think a big fear is that you got people who might be used in isolation as well but don’t have a support system or people that can do an intervention if they overdose this which is horrible, you know. This is a tough thing to deal with and judgment aside, you know, it’s our job to keep people alive and so anything that we can do is communities to reach out to those folks and let them know they’re not alone I think is important.
Audience Question: How did you deal with the symptoms of trauma that you and other responding officers experienced after really long 2018?
Wendy Stiver: Well, I’m going to be real honest. The Oregon District is a bar community and the bar people show their love with alcohol and it was a rough month because I hung out with my friends in the neighborhood a little bit, you know, and we decompress together, but when they give you one shot, it’s more like four or five shots in a glass and so they hooked me by trying to show their love. There is a little bit of that. We went out. We hung out. There is a little camaraderie. What they express to me is they felt more comfortable getting together and having a few drinks with guidance and talking in groups that way versus going to like group therapy. After that, I had a very difficult time. I lost a lot of focus towards the end of 2019. It was a struggle and what I ultimately did is I refinished my basement. I’ve got to tell you completely refinishing a basement is probably a good way to kind of restore your focus and your sense of self because, you know, it’s the matter of you know, relatively simple tasks and problem-solving in installing vinyl floors and paint and actually have a little water leak I had to play with but which is where the problem solving came in. So, a lot of people when we talk about resiliency and I actually spent a year at the National Institute of Justice during some research about resiliency. A lot of people get hung up on single solutions. It’s really difficult to disentangle what creates individual resiliency or what supports it. There are people who invest in fitness, there’s a lot of other you know, meditation and mindfulness, yoga. There’s a lot of different ways to approach this and I don’t think there’s a single answer. That’s what I came out of that year of study was there’s also not a single answer on the definition of resiliency. There are debates in science about whether or not resiliency is really a state of being. Is it a dynamic fluid process? Is it, you know, you just inherently have resiliency and you can’t change that? Can you do things to increase or improve your resiliency? I would say one of the most poignant things I heard from a professor was that what really impacts resiliency is not necessarily all of those things. What really impacts this is how well, do you know your barista? How connected are you to your community and what are your relationships like? So, I used to use the word social distance a lot in talking about police and community relationships and that you know, we needed to close the distance socially between police and communities. I have now heard the word social distance so many times in the last couple of months that I don’t feel good about using it anymore. The meaning is obviously different but that really is what it is. There are studies that tell us when we’re isolated and socially isolated from other people, we tend to suffer depression, suicide is higher, all of that stuff. So those relationships don’t just help us do an effective job in our communities, but they very much contribute to our resiliency. There was a lot of back and forth during the year. One of the things that happened was when Detective Del Rio died, and we were planning a funeral. It was like crazy cold the day of the funeral. It was like 28 degrees in November. So one of my sergeants called me he was working on, you know, the funeral plans and he asked me if I could reach out to the Oregon district and see if any of the business owners would loan us those patio heaters so we could get those outside the arena where the funeral was being held for the family to stay warm during the outdoor part of the ceremony that was being planned. I dropped a message on that Facebook platform and people came out of the woodwork to donate those patio heaters to us. Again, it was all back and forth. We would lean on the community and the community would lean on us and so on. So, I think those social relationships are really what helped me. Get through a lot of that stress. I strongly believe in fitness as a way to cope with stress. There’s a lot of other stuff out there that’s promising in terms of supporting and building resiliency, but we all know right now that social isolation definitely does not help.
Audience Question: I did want to share one more comment. Ljubljana just messaged and said thank you, Wendy. I’m a retired police dispatcher from Nova Scotia Canada where a few weeks ago, they have the country’s biggest mass shooting where 23 people lost their lives. She wanted to say you’re absolutely right relationships are so important. We want to thank you so much for that, and we’re so sorry that you went through that.
Wendy Stiver: Thank you. Yeah, that’s that was heartbreaking to hear about absolutely. It’s through that evidence-based policing group that we do a lot of we have a lot of close interactions with our friends in Canada. I’ve been blessed to make friends with a lot of Canadian police officers, and I have a deep respect for all the work they do up there.
Audience Question: Before we close out, Wendy any closing comments or things that you want to mention?
Wendy Stiver: Yeah, if I could leave anything behind, I would say that you know, when a crisis happens, especially something of this magnitude your leadership gets worn out. People are going to be stretched to their edges and everybody’s got a lot on their plate. We had people dealing with legal issues and press conferences and then all the other like little micro things that happen. Sometimes the way we support the community is not always the way that we would prefer to support it. I would say the best thing that any city or any organization could do to prepare for this and then, you know, we tend to think that it won’t happen here, but particularly with these mass shootings, we’re learning that they do can happen anywhere, which is horrible. But to prepare for any kind of big crisis. I would recommend that somebody is designated just to be out there knocking on doors in a neighborhood, going door-to-door with businesses checking in on people and asking them what they need and all of that stuff. We can weather really big storms and where I keep using this metaphor is the rain is pouring outside, but we can weather it. As human beings, we can take a lot. We can really handle a lot of stress but then our cups get a little bit fuller, our buckets get full. It’s never the big event that really breaks us down. It’s the leaky faucet. It’s that unexpected thing that happens during the crisis that causes the most stress and by way of example, one of the business owner’s downtowns in Oregon district had a sick cat in the middle of this and couldn’t get into her vet. She was hard and she was strong I didn’t think she even had any emotion at all. She weathered all of these things really well but then the cat got sick and she was having a hard time getting what she needed to deal with that, and she didn’t have a lot of reserves left to handle that one little extra stress. So those things you know, the leaky faucet, the car getting towed, the cat getting sick, those are the things that we as a community can do the most or have the most impact with. It’s just a matter of going door to door and have somebody on the ground, looking for those opportunities to support the community with those little things that they need. For me, my best friend is a veterinarian. It was just a quick phone call to my best friend to say, “Hey can you get in? Can you guys work this out?” They did. That was huge but again relationships.
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