On a regular basis, we as law enforcement officers respond to people in time of crisis. We’re trained from the time we are in the academy on how to respond to a number of situations and after several years of doing it, we do it quite well. Where we often fall short is when the crisis involves one of our own. How do you respond? What do you say? What do you do? These are the questions that often haunt the law enforcement community when one of our own is seriously injured or killed in the line of duty. Remember, it’s just a matter of time before the next one of us falls. History will always repeat itself, and officers will continue to get injured and killed in the line of duty. It’s how we respond as a profession that often has long lasting effects.
In an effort to improve our response to officers and their families in time of need, we must understand what our response should be. Lake Washington Lodge #22 (LW22) has worked at improving this response. LW22 is in a unique location in the Seattle area. When an officer has critical injuries, they are often brought to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. In addition to having to deal with the crisis at hand, if the family is from out of town they are dropped into city they are not familiar with. When this happens, the State Lodge gets the call and then calls the local lodge to respond. Now What? In order to network with the agencies and organizations that respond at times such as these, LW22 is partnering with Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS) and the Seattle Police Department to better understand the FOP role in this process.
COPS is an organization that no one is standing in line to join. You see, the only way to join COPS is to be a surviving member of a family who lost a love one in the line of duty. However, they are a wealth of information when it comes to how to respond to family members in a personal way.
In April of 2006, the lodge invited members of COPS to their meeting to discuss COPS as an organization. COPS members Renee Maher (Husband: Patrick Maher, Federal Way Police 2003) and Cheryl Jordan (Father: Robert Varner: Arizona Deputy 1989) attended the meeting. Two of the most important points that were made were: #1 Communication and Support. Sometimes when people don’t know what to say, they say nothing. This often makes the family feel alone and without support. Be there for the family. If nothing else, meet or call them and say “I don’t know what to say”. #2 Fill out the Critical Incident booklet that you can purchase from the Grand Lodge for a minimal fee. LW22 hopes to have an electronic version of this in place by the end of the year and will supply it to all it’s members and to the State Lodge for review. Both COPS members said if you do nothing else, please fill out this information and let your family know where it is at. It has critical information that the family needs when they’re in crisis. In September 2006, Brenda Donner (Father: Clifton Miller 1966) reaffirmed this information at a meeting designed to further our networking efforts. As a result of this relationship, LW22 voted to include any COPS members as honorary FOP members.
Since Harborview Medical Center is in Seattle, the agency that always gets the call to assist families at the hospital is the Seattle Police Department. Officer Abraham is the person who coordinates the response when an officer is injured and sent to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle with traumatic injures. He developed the ‘Help the Officer Program’ and has a lot of resources to assist officers and their families in times of crisis. Housing for the family is secured, transportation is made available, and 24 hour security is posted at the officer’s room to insure privacy and security. Officers from the FOP will now be a resource for this program, and plan on establishing a formal program within the lodge to assist officers and their families when necessary. The Seattle program started out as a one person program with limited funds, and has grown to a dedicated group of men and women who will be there for officers in time of need.
Another piece of this network is peer support. The State Lodge hosted training for Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) training. The Group Crisis Intervention course is designed to specifically teach crisis intervention and Emergency Mental Health skills to help officers cope with traumatic experiences. The two day course prepares participants to understand a wide range of crisis intervention services including pre and post incident crisis education, significant other support services, on-scene support services, crisis intervention for individuals, demobilizations after large scale traumatic incidents, small group defusings and the group intervention known as Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD).
Police and Fire Chaplains are another resource for officers. They can aid in family notifications or counseling. We use Chaplains to assist us sensitive calls for service while we are at work. Why wouldn’t we use them when we are in need? Please get to know your local Chaplain and involve them in this network.
Cops need to help cops. This includes the officer and their family. It takes time to develop relationships and trust. Start now!
The Seattle Police Department Help the Officer Program, COPS and the FOP fund their efforts through donations. If you would like more information any of these programs, or would like to make a donation, please contact the following: