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Police Psychology:  Dehydration

by Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D  ABPP

My head was beating, one of those really bad headaches that only come every once in long while.  This one was different though.  I had a little vertigo when I stood up, so much so that I was having trouble standing and needed to lie back down.  My heart was racing: I was extremely tired, in fact all I wanted to do was sleep.  My thinking was all messed up, like I was in a fog and couldn’t concentrate.  I was craving a roast beef and tomato sandwich from a street deli back home.  I hadn’t been to the bathroom in a long while, a couple of days.  I wasn’t going now because I couldn’t stand.  My joints were badly aching.  I was sure I was coming to the end of my life as the century had just turned and I was 43 years old.  My father only made it to the ripe old age of 45.  Besides, I felt I was needing to die to feel better.  With help, I made my way over to the infirmary at McMurdo station, where a physician’s assistant diagnosed me with the Antarctica Crud, a sort of flu-like disease people seems to get on first visiting the continent.  I went to the bathroom on the way out and noticed the tiny drops of urine were deep yellow, almost brown.  Then a thought occurred to me.

“Um, excuse me,” I asked the infirmary staff.  “Could this all just be dehydration?”

“Not if you are drinking your 6 liters of water.”  They snapped back.

“Six liters!!  That’s a little more than eight 8-ounce glasses I was always taught.”

“This is the coldest, driest pace on earth.  You need three times as much water.  Didn’t they tell you that?  People die from dehydration here.”

I do vaguely remember someone form the National Scientific Foundation telling me that when they described my work here, but I didn’t give it a second thought.

“Yea, Yea.  They told me that.”  Trying to hide my stupidity.  I walked back home and chugged water for two days and was better, but what stayed with me was how a few glasses of water can make a person feel so bad.

Dehydration is the body being deprived of water.  It can physically make you have all the symptoms above.  Vertigo, headaches, dark yellow urine, cravings, heart racing, bad breath, dry skin, muscle pain, and let’s not forget, major digestive problems.  Yet, estimates show around 75% OF PEOPLE WALK AROUND DEHYDRATED EVERY DAY!  75 PERCENT!!!!  And that is normal people.  They are more fatigued than they should be, have more aches, etc.

And I want to bet you that emergency service workers and police probably have some of the highest percentages of dehydration of all.  After all, if you are pushing a sector car you don’t want to be having to stop for the bathroom constantly, so you drink a little less.  If you are working an emergency and dealing with someone bleeding, you don’t want to taking breaks for hydration.  If you are involved in something that is a major event in another person’s life, are you thinking about having your daily water.  And if you go out for “choir practice” with your colleagues after work, alcohol is a natural drier of the body tissues.

So what does all this have to do with psychology you may ask, after all this is a psychological site?  Well, the effects of dehydration are not just physical, in fact even mild dehydration (like 75% of the population has) can have major psychological effects.  Mood problems, more irritable, fatigue, tension, anxiety, poor judgement, difficulty concentrating, memory and lack of judgement.  Any of this sound familiar?  People with dehydration are less like to have the energy to exercise regularly.  In fact, it affects the neurotransmitter production, the oxygen to your brain, and the whole running of your metabolism, so there are endless psychological effects.  In the British Journal of Nutrition study shows differing effect for young males and females.  Females tend to have more of the headaches, difficulty concentrating and tasks seem larger than life so they got over-whelmed easier.  Men tended to have problems with vigilance, mental learning and working memory.  Women also had greater mood variation when even 1 -2% dehydrated.  Ouch!  Maybe is not early stage of Alzheimer’s, may its water that is your problems folks!

Among other things, a clear simple test is available to help you.  I like simple.  If your urine is clear or faintly yellow, you are probably hydrated.  If it looks any darker than a light Chardonnay, you’re at least a little dehydrated.  If it is the color of a regular beer, you are there.  Drink ‘til it’s clear.  It could be that easy to keep your mind and body hydrated.

And I’ll drink to that.

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Police Psychology:  Emotional Extortion

by Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D.  ABPP

A baby cries in her bed.  The parents run in and comfort her.  She cries again, and they comfort her again.  She never experiences crying alone because when she cries – she is comforted.  The parents may even stay in her room or move her to their room to make sure she is comfortable and doesn’t cry.  The parents do so to be good parents and it is sort of common.  After a while, the parents say (or their doctor tells them) let her cry and she will learn she isn’t going to be comforted every time.  The crying pains them, but they do it and eventually the child learns to fall asleep without crying.  But, maybe the parents never let the child be alone and when she is a toddler she throws a tantrum, or when she is a pre-teen she throws an emotional fit and the parents come running to comfort her.  They are locked into and controlled by their child by simply being a good parent.  They are trying to keep their child calm and steady.  Making sure they don’t have too many negative emotions or maybe just trying to keep calm in their own life.  This is one of many ways Emotional Extortion starts and it is painful when you are on the wrong side of it.

Now, given the Aumiller rule of “few things have a unitary cause,” this isn’t the only way for Emotional Extortion to start.  Basically, when a person gets emotional and causes others to acquiesce, and it happens repeatedly, over and over again, that is Emotional Extortion.  So, the parents who want to keep their kids calm or make it so they don’t get embarrassed by a tantrum is one way it happens, but it happens adult to adult as well.  The guy who doesn’t want to hear his wife’s tirade for being home late or because he didn’t do something the way she wanted, that is Emotional Extortion.  If he changes his behaviors it is Emotional Extortion.  The wife that tires to not upset her husband because he goes into an anger rage and thus she changes her behavior, that is emotional extortion.  The key is that when you change your behavior to keep the other person’s emotions in check and it happens repeatedly – those are the factors that make it Emotional Extortion.

How does this happen?  Basically, there are some people that get emotional very quickly and get rather extreme in their emotions.  They tend to hit things and break things, or just make a mess of everything when they are emotional.  There are others that tend to hold in their emotions and back away from confrontation in any way that they can.  Mix them together and you have the grounds for Emotional Extortion.  Some would say these problems are gender-based, some would say they are based on ancestry, or what region of Europe or Asia you are from.  Germans are stoic, Sicilians are emotional, women tend to be more emotional than men, men tend to be angrier, etc. etc.  There something to both of these arguments that might lead to tendencies, but I tend to go with nothing is totally nature and nothing is totally nurture.  Life is an interaction of many factors.

So, let’s say after a tired day of work for 14 hours you come home and you just don’t know what to expect.  Are you going to smashed in the mouth with the problems of the day, or the kids homework that you have to do with them?  Do you stand outside not knowing what to expect and dreading the worst?  Do you have to psych yourself up for an argument or a fight when you open the door?  Do you have to calm yourself down from an anxiety attack because you don’t know if there is a lion or a kitten behind the door?  Hey surprise, you are Emotionally Extorted!

Now how did you get to this point?  First, you probably had signs for many years that you ignored.  Little problems became huge, a lack of stress tolerance, or any other myriad of signs that trouble was brewing.  You probably could have left much sooner before it got as bad as it is now.  But you thought you could make it better.   NAAAAAAHHH!  People get worse as they age, not better, unless they do something to examine it and admit it openly.  What else did you do – well at the point you recognized it you didn’t lay down the law and accept the tirade that comes sometimes when you state the obvious.  You didn’t say “look, I am not going to handle the screaming at me, so I am going away for a while (or forever).”  Instead, you just pacified, and pacified, and now look where you are.  Emotionally Extorted worried more about someone else’s emotions than your own.  Emotional extortion traps you slowly, but man is it painful.  And it shortens your life.  It raises your stress levels to such heights that you don’t really care if the end is near.  The things we do to each other are amazing sometimes.

Emotional Extortion is common in divorce.  It is common in internal investigations where you could lose your job or are being accused of something.  It is common in court cases, in fact many lawyers I talk to say the biggest problems they have is keeping a client from going off the deep end while the opposing lawyer is playing a game.  It’s is common in teenagers.  Have you noticed that it is common in a lot of situations that lead people toward suicide?  You see, it creates a lot of desperation and that is the major factor in suicide.

Now the unlikeable part.  How do you fix it?

First place you are not going to fix it so don’t ask it that way.  If you are getting emotionally extorted, you are in for a series of tirades upfront or on the backend.  If it is few and far between, you might want to live with it.  If not, and it is happening often, you must take other measures.  Tell them when they are calm that being yelled at and emotionally punched around is cruel to you and must stop.  They sell little tape recorders that you can wear over your neck and no one would even know it is there.  Put one on because Emotional Extorters tend to get you in trouble in by your reactions.  Tell the person to go calm down so you can talk about the problem.  Don’t get drawn in, but don’t let the tirade go on.  If it starts to get out of control, tell them you will leave if they don’t leave.  If they touch you, you must contact someone to control them.  Each of these actions will bring another tirade, but do not try to change them while they are overly angry.  When the Emotional Extortion is over see if you can work with them on fixing the problem, and if not, or if they continue to deny it, plan an exit strategy.  Emotional Extortion should never be a regular occurrence in your life or anyone’s life for that matter.  Extorters need to be left alone, and many are.

So be aware of the Emotional Extortion in your life and get control of it.

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Police Psych: Sex Crimes Cop Part 3:  The Delusions

With Easter having just past, I thought I would show you how a Sex Crime Cop sees the holiday (sent to me on Easter Sunday by a sex crime cop with the statement “this is how I see Easter.  Everything’s has become so sick.”)  We all see the world as a threatening place when something bad happens.  For the sex crime cop, it frequently goes way too far.  Any situation that their child is involved in, or their grandchild, or a child they know casually, bring up images in their heads.  It morphs from Boy Scouts, to clergy, to teachers, even to mythical figures dressing up at a shopping mall.  The worst part, is they don’t even have to have experienced these kinds of things, the images can be within their own creative minds.

You see the cop that is doing these kinds of cases jumps into a world of fetishes and philias, and crimes that are outside the box.  They see such creative types of perversions within the first year of sex crime work that they didn’t know existed growing up or working the streets.  And it doesn’t come from a books or pictures, it comes from real life, real images.  Drinking blood, nah that’s the easy stuff, ‘having sex with animals while smeared with human blood and eating engorged organs that come from who knows where while you are screaming like a Japanese Water Buffalo in heat,’ that’s the crazy stuff they are exposed to (yes there are Japanese water buffalo).  That’s the stuff of real perversions.  The type of perversion they are  exposed to daily surpasses their imagination and is a terrific shock to their systems, and if there are children involved ii intensifies their involvement.

So how does this lead to delusions?  Well, it is not the conventional delusions, but they start seeing everyone as a potential sex offender; they think have a view into everyone’s dark side.  Or perhaps just their potential dark side.  They go through the entire scenario of a child being abused when they simply go to church or a scout meeting.  That is the delusion.  A sex crime cop told me about going into a priest’s home and seeing the material on the floor of the closet from his masses, and cards from parishioners just thrown around like junk, while he went to their computer and saw years of child porn organized neatly by type of image.  How do you think he felt when his kid was going through confirmation classes?  Or first communion?  It becomes a perverted delusion that spreads to everyone.

So, Santa Claus is a perverted old man that likes little children on his lap.  Uncle Sam wants to see little kid writhing with excitement at his fireworks.  And Betty Boop is an elementary school teacher that wants to see little boy’s find their manhood.  Not to mention Scoutmaster Bucky, the Alan the Zookeeper, Frosty the Snowman and the entire Muppet cast of the Sesame Street.  They hang out in amusement parks, shopping malls, zoos, trampoline parks and even miniature golf.  A crime against children can happen anywhere there are children!

So how do you stop the delusions?  Well, in previous articles I have said when they start going overboard with seeing crimes, it might be a time to move them from the unit.  That is the first step very often.  The next is to have them work on deprogramming with a therapist or a psychologist that has experience with policing.  What are the steps that would need to be taken to make the officer more comfortable?

Certainly, it would involve letting the persons involved know what kind of work you did and the suspicions you have, not in an accusatory way, but just a caution.  Unless, they are very sociopathic, sometimes knowing there is extra scrutiny make some perversions disappear quickly or get under control.  Many sex offenders say I never had the urge around some child because their father was a cop or a boss’s kid.  I can remember two cases where the sex offender was related to the child and seemed to offend against every other child in the family except the cop’s kid.  Don’t be afraid to let people know what you do.

A second way is to get involved.  Be close enough to the situation at times.  Volunteer for camp outs or go to the field trip.  Offer to assistant coach.  Most sex offenders look for easy prey.  Don’t make it easy for them.  Be present when your child is with a new adult.  Remember, most adults are scared someone will walk in on them, so make your presence known.

Finally, a sex crimes officer needs to recognize that protection is never complete, but precaution can be.  Anyone can walk outside your door and be hit by a bus that jumps the curve, or step into a car with a friend who is a bad driver.  You tell them the signs to avoid, and ask them about something that happens, but you can’t totally stop them from living.  We all live with that risk every day with our loved ones.  We do everything we can do to prepare our children for un-towardly situations and people.  We tell them of signs, and ways to escape, and rules when driving, but we have to decide if they can handle the situation with reasonable amount of precaution.  Then we turn them loose and watch them.  And watch them.  And watch them.

The delusions eventually lessen as we watch.  But don’t expect them to disappear.  You don’t want them too either.  Remember in The Gift of Fear the author Gavin de Becker says fear is a gift that helps you survive, helps you recognize danger.  Listen to your intuition when it is not a delusion, and take precaution.

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Police Psychology:  The Police Brain

by Gary S. Aumiller. Ph.D.  ABPP

What if in the hiring process for police officers you could pick someone resistant to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, have the best ability to function under pressure, make good quick decisions with better accuracy than normal people, and someone who can control bias against minority groups.  At the same time, you could pick people that are good at setting priorities, good at organizing events, good at weeding out distractions, and good at orchestrating outcomes.  In shoot-no shoot situations, they get better scores and make better decisions on protecting themselves.  Sounds like that might be valuable, huh?  This was the presentation at the IACP Psychological Services Section by a brilliant psychologist named Dr. Mark Zelig who advocated for some level neurological testing as an addition to the standard battery for testing policemen for departments.  It also happens to fall in line with some of my thoughts.  What if neurological testing could actually help predict who is better capable of doing the job?

Most pre-employment psychological testing looks for personality measures or measures of past behaviors.  It would look at previous arrests, or perhaps emotional stability factors that could lead to problems on the job.  A value of course, but what if neurological tests could test for these other factors that are seemingly just as important.  IQ tests and most cognitive tests measure intelligence and accumulated knowledge, but they don’t measure what you can do with your intelligence.  They don’t measure how you can make sense of things that happen in the real world.  They don’t measure whether you will persist or how you get things done.

Dr. Zelig reported that three areas of neurological functioning that are the most studied would give you data on the performance of the candidate after they were given a job.  The first area is the ability of the brain to inhibit, put the stop on an action and make a person think before a response.  A very serious executive function.  Next is in the area of working memory or internal RAM.  Not just how it is stored, but how it is updated and how it can last long enough to work through an extended project.  Finally, Dr. Zelig says shifting and adjusting to meet a new goal is a real neurological necessity.

I like to add being able to think out of the box to find a solution, but Dr. Zelig would probably put that in the last category.

We are opening up on a new field of neurological psychology that actually measures some of these attributes.  It actually measures whether you can keep from being distracted and whether you can think clearly and behave appropriately, particularly in high stress situations.  It tests whether you can sustain attention, prioritize appropriately and have the flexibility to search out other solutions when the path you are going down fails.   This area is called Executive Function and it can be and may be tested in the future of pre-employment screening or promotion within the police.

Let me give you one example of a neurological screening demonstrating the Stroop Effect.  I am not giving any secrets away, this is all over the internet.   

Say these colors:

Now read these words out loud:

Now say the colors again on these words.  Just the colors.

 Each stage would be timed and would be compared to norms for the test.  The measure of this part of executive functioning in this portion of a test is how much the meaning of the word interfered with your determining the colors.  Was there a huge time difference or not?  This is called the Stroop Effect, named after John Ridley Stroop who published about the effect in 1935.  (Although some say it was published in 1929 by a German scientist.)  Let’s just say it was a long time ago.

Now let me get real scientific on you.  All those scans they used on the brain (PET, CAT, MRI) show that the anterior cingulate cortex, and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex are the two areas activated by the Stroop effect.  So, if they can actually identify the place and the activity of the brain for this effect which is shown to be good, then at some point we may be able to select our cop by brain scans.  Twenty-Second century stuff maybe, but iy might be closer than you think.

This of course is just a single example and it is just one portion of one test.  There are many tests that really measure out the functions of the frontal lobe of the brain in decision making, organizing data, flexibility, working memory, etc. that can really affect the decisions that police officers and other first responders make.  If this becomes part of the battery given on selection and promotion, it could change the course of policing and first responder selection.  But before that becomes a reality it would have to undergo the scrutiny of experimentation and data collection and that can take years.

So, suffice it to say there is a future where the functions of the brain can determine some of the decisions made in policing, but we are not quite there yet.  We are getting close though.  For now, consider the value of executive function in your first responders.

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Police Psychology:  Moments after Parkland:  A Personal Story

by Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP

I went from police psychologist to victim last week.  I’d not been a victim for awhile, since someone stole my tires in my driveway way back in the 90’s.  This one was a little more active.

Some guy who used to be in my wife’s class at Queensborough Community College (she is a college professor) back 25 years ago decided a day after the Florida school shooting that he would find my wife on a Facebook page and start posting.  He posted on four days about ten posts each day.  Some rambling psychotic stuff at first, then a post saying that he was going to rape my 11-year old daughter in the ass and murder her.  Quite a disturbing thing to read as well as post.  He mentioned my daughter by name, so it was a very specific threat.

My wife barely had a memory of him and couldn’t pick him out of two men if she had to.  She never failed him or had a problem with him — he had a crush on her 25 years ago.  His name was Indian and his Facebook page said he was from Trinidad and Tobago, but lived in Queens NY.  We ran to the police station on February 17th to make a report, leaving our child with the neighbor.  We were told that they would look for him, but Facebook had a long return on a subpoena, up to six weeks, and that his Facebook page likely was made up anyway.  I asked if the fact he mentioned “hospital police” if we could get some psychiatric hospital records from NY and I was told HIPAA laws wouldn’t allow it.  All the while information from the Parkland Florida school shooting was coming out, we were having a nightmare all our own unfolding.

“Guns have to be controlled so a crazy person can’t get them.”  “Don’t register the gun, register the mentally unhealthy.”  Tuning out rhetoric banter had become a way of life in the past couple of years because of the election, but this time it couldn’t be tuned out.  The Parkland Florida news rang in my ears as we went through this crisis.  Our lives were at risk until this guy was caught.  I called the FBI and the Secret Service, both who were willing to help if our local police didn’t catch him.

See, when you become a victim of this kind of threat it costs you a lot of money and time.  Making the police report, getting a camera alarm system for your home, making arrangements with an electrician, calling all the agencies, warning the schools and places that my daughter frequents like the karate studio, making sure my gun was cleaned, getting new bullets, warning staff in my office, (he threatened me as well), etc., etc.  The whole ordeal.   

He was apprehended on Wednesday and processed for an arraignment on Friday, February 23rd.  Not too bad really, but it seemed a long week.  And all the while is the news about Parkland’s psychologically unsound killer, the police not doing their job, liberals pushing gun control, conservative pushing people control, all a dissonant background noise to the problem at hand.  It was a Stanley Kubrick film played on fast forward with the volume turned way too high.

The man with the threats was a psychotic just released from a mental hospital the month before.  He is on welfare and his family takes care of him.  He has no priors.  We have an order of protection, for what good that is.  I don’t know what our country will do about gun control and registering guns, frankly that is not my concern right now.  The question is what are we going to do about mental health and the rights to identify them in our workplaces, communities and our schools?  We’ve closed a lot of our mental hospitals from the combination of costs and medications, but what are we going to do with the psychotic man with the threats. 

It would seem 5-6 weeks to get a subpoena for a Facebook site is our own kind of insanity.  As is releasing someone with a mental history without intensive follow-up from a hospital.  I am not as concerned about the rights of a mentally ill person right now, as either would be the victims of Sandy Hook or the students of Parkland.  Gun rights might or might not be part of this, perhaps some accountability to relatives who know there are guns involved should also be a part of this. I don’t know right now but I can guarantee if given a day to think it through I would come up with a plan that would make better sense than pushing it under the table.  I would call for a committee to be put together with psychologists, police personnel and victims (and even some people who have been psychotic) to come up with some idea for the government.  If we act now, maybe we can avoid one of these incidents in the future.  Talk to everyone you know and we can make this happen.

Because if we don’t come up with some solutions that can be implemented on how to handle mentally unhealthy people and some rules of follow up, we are going to be back in this position again.  We will be watching the nightly news and having the same debates the next time someone decides to murder our children, or the next time some random person sneaks up from the past to threaten a child of a teacher 25 years ago. 

I personally don’t need that again; and I will tell you after being through it, neither do you!

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Sex Offender Cops Part 2:  Nasty Recurrent Intrusive Images

by Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D.  ABPP

In Berkely, California there are researchers who are working on what happens to the brain in intrusive recurring images, in fact they are working hard on mapping what the brain does when it has the images.  They have gone as far as trying to replicate the images by stimulating those parts of the brain that light up when the image is shown.  They haven’t gotten quite that far yet as the stimulated images are mostly a blurry mess, but the basic shapes can be seen at times.

For the cop working crimes against children, and other sex crimes, the images are not blurry, in fact the recurrent images are like taking repeating concussive hits to brain.  It exhausts guys and girls in this work and makes like post-concussive syndrome affects the brain.  They get punch-drunk with images that eat away their family life, their personal life, and of course, their ability to sleep.  Their world is a much more dangerous place for women and children.  And while they stay awake from the images, the lack of sleep doesn’t burn off the dopamine in their brains and it gets even harder to fight the involuntary slipping into images.  As psychologists, we work hard to try to suppress the nasty recurrent intrusive images, and we try to use a variety of techniques before the patient gets comatose with bad visions.

Most treatment for recurrent images require pairing exposure to the image with some other state to take away the negative effect of the image.  For example, some treatments make the person imagine the image, then pair it with deep relaxation so they can build up new pairings.  The key is these techniques depend on some sort of repeated exposure to the image.  This technique has worked with many types of traumas police face.  For example, working on the second Trade Center Bombing in New York, I had a group of people that would start by imagining being there, then relaxing.  Then, they would see pictures of the Trade Towers taken at the scene and would change their image to some pleasant image or learn to relax.  We would increase the stimulus, step-by-step until we got to the point where we would take a trip to the site of the Trade Center and I would have them show me where they were and relive the situation.  Each stimulus had a pairing with relaxation or a positive image that would change their state from anxiety to a better feeling.   On the Trade Center Bombing, it worked most of the time.  But I don’t find this technique as very powerful with the images of a person working on sex crimes.

EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization Re-Processing is another technique used for images.  Here the person is given bi-lateral stimulation of the brain through back and forth movement of the eyes, or even patting them on each side of their shoulders.  That is paired with introducing images and the theory is the brain stimulation weakens the images.  There is little research with cops and none that I am aware of with Internet crimes against children cops.  But there is plenty of anecdotal evidence with police, including some that I have experienced with my cops.  Some cops respond well to EMDR and it works.  But, I have yet to have it work with sex crimes workers.  Perhaps it is the persistence of the images, or the repetitiveness and similarity of the images, but whatever it is, I do not have luck using this technique.  It may also be the images have been so completely ingrained in the people I see as many have been on the job way too long.

The idea of stimulation combined with exposure leads me to another technique used by people.  I have one psychologist friend that states he works with traumatized people by adding physical stimulation to the talking therapy he does.  He says by exercising on a bike or a rowing machine, or even lifting weights while doing therapy, he creates a pairing that stimulates his cops while channeling their energy.  You see, the pairing is very important in trying to get rid of images.  My cops who work in internet crimes say they do better when they exercise as it makes the images are less intrusive.  It is when they stop exercising, they start getting eaten alive by the images.  This is definitely something to be explored.

With the internet crimes and sex offender detectives I am working with, I find putting them on normal exposure therapy is not that effective and it seems to vary depending on how long they have been doing the job and how intense the job has gotten.  Unfortunately, the departments up here have kept the cops on the job multiple years and didn’t transfer them right away when they requested it.  The images are hard-set, and they are exacerbated by the resentment of the time spent locked in the unit.  Some are forced to retire completely as they are having trouble functioning.  With these personnel, telling them to relax in the face of images or waving fingers in front of their face trying to get bi-lateral stimulation is too much exposure and that is what they need to avoid.

I work with these cops by getting them refocused on their future.  I may have them do a guided fantasy of a future time without policing or if they are staying in policing without sex crimes.  I may try hypnosis if they are susceptible to make it more out-of-the-body and a place they don’t have to go again.  I bring conversations to work after policing, or travel to places that are more interesting or relaxing.  I have talked everything from marketing, to building a business, to running a campaign for a political office, to building an app on a computer or cell phone, all with the intent to get them into a different mode of thought.  Most of these guys are obsessive, and nothing works better with an obsessive than getting them to change their obsession.  I find that slowly the images they had while working sex crimes weakens, and become just another memory of their past, and then I can put it in perspective to make them positive images about who they have arrested and the number of people who are off the street because of them.  I then slowly introduce them into exposure situations and see how they react.  I use heart rate data and sleep cycles to let you know how they are doing.  Before it was making them count the heart rate by hand before they went to bed or when they woke up, but with the current Fit Bit type applications out there, this is easy to access.

Disturbing involuntary images are the start of the attack on the cop working internet crimes against children.  It is only a start, and it is a long process.  It is important that they not try to rush the process to really make the images disappear eventually or at least be controlled.  Stay tuned for other symptoms to be dealt with in future articles.

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Historical Trauma and American Policing

by Dr. Philip J. Swift

Historical or multigenerational trauma is the communal emotional and psychological injury of a group caused by traumatic experiences or abuses that transcends generations. When an individual or group is emotionally or psychologically injured by an event(s), the injury can be passed to non-traumatized individuals and across generations through unconscious cues, affective messages, storytelling, ceremonies or rituals, lessons, genetic damage, and exposure to symptoms of historical trauma.   Symptoms of historical trauma include anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, anger, guilt, substance abuse, loss of cultural and religious rituals, destruction of the family unit, and degrading economic/political/social capital. When these symptoms are addressed in a clinical setting, they are often treated without consideration for the complex and lengthy trauma history shared by the individual, their family, and their community.

Trauma can be categorized as either large or small trauma(s). Large traumas include genocide, combat/war, segregations, displacement, economic deficiency, and natural disasters. Small traumas, which are often overlooked by those studying and treating historical trauma, include the death of a child or family member, prenatal exposure to abuse, and routine exposure to violence. Regardless of the type of trauma that a person or group is directly or indirectly exposed to, historical trauma occurs when large and/or small traumas are passed on to non-traumatized persons.  Historical trauma can result in altered perspectives, cognition, health, behavior, and personality.

Historical trauma theory is based on the belief that trauma is experienced across several generations and cannot be forgiven or rectified in a single generation.  Originally, historical trauma was theorized as a construct to explain the multigenerational impact of the shared traumatic experiences of North American Indigenous peoples. The result of historical trauma studies revealed a correlation between trauma experienced by Indigenous people following the colonization of North America and the trauma experiences and symptoms of successive generations. Perhaps just as much was the effect the Holocaust had on the Jewish population of the world.  It added to the idea that the population was persecuted, and they must prepare to avoid persecution in the future.  Following the inception of historical trauma theory, the theory has been used to explore the impact of the unique traumatic histories of minority and gang ridden communities.

The importance of understanding the impact of historical trauma on minority communities has made it a recurring theme in cultural sensitivity/awareness training for law enforcement officers and for understanding the strained relationships between law enforcement and low-income communities. Although, recognizing the impact of historical trauma is key to healing, empowering, and bringing minority communities together I believe that historical trauma theory could and should be used to understand and treat the traumatic histories of non-traditional communities to include law enforcement communities.

Are law enforcement communities impacted by the traumatic experiences of its members? Are members of those communities experiencing secondary trauma, or a trauma they heard from others?  Do those traumas transcend generations? In my opinion; yes, as theorized below.

Upon entering a law enforcement training academy new law enforcement officers are regaled with stories and sometimes structured classes that describe the in the line of duty deaths of fellow law enforcement officers at the hands of a community member as well as the aftermath of those deaths. Further, new officers receive some form of “self-care” training discussing topics such as suicide, alcoholism, depression, anxiety, isolation, divorce, and domestic violence. As the training continues, officers are continually trained for and to survive “worst case scenarios” in order to prepare them for what they may face, however this training also serves to further convince officers that their life and wellbeing is constantly at risk from unpredictable and unseen threats.

As new officers leave academies and complete field training programs they are taught and come to believe that the only people they can depend on are their fellow officers and that community members represent a constant threat to their personal safety, financial wellbeing, and self-worth. This belief structure is reinforced when law enforcement officers and agencies come under scrutiny by persons officers see as outsiders and uncapable of judging the actions of the officer or agency. Recently, this scrutiny took a more drastic turn resulting in public calls for the assassination of law enforcement officers.

As a law enforcement officer that has experienced these events I can state that these traumatic experiences have left officers feeling abandoned by the public they have chosen to serve.  Their individual ethics and values are being questioned.  These types of experiences can and do lead to a feeling of isolation and a strong loyalty to fellow officers and those that have made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty. As predicted in the academy, some officers experiencing these traumatic events get divorced, become alcoholics, domestic violence perpetrators, and develop symptoms of mental health issues.

Due to similarity in the traumatic experiences of law enforcement, Indigenous and minority communities and in manifested behaviors and symptoms of community members, I believe that law enforcement communities are as likely to suffer from the effects of historical trauma as others. This conclusion is supported by studies in which family members experience trauma and secondary trauma when domestic abuse occurs in the home. Based on this conclusion, I believe that this is an issue that requires academic inquiry and attention in both the clinical and social setting.  The fact that law enforcement communities have shared experiences could serve to bring these communities together rather than divide them.

Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP

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Police Psychology:  It’s Not Just About Sex

by Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D.  ABPP

A soldier may have a few days in combat but they are interspersed with time back at their base.  The regular cop has what I like to call “burst stress” where they see a traumatizing situation, but in between are less stressful situations, or as Officer Friday put “Hour and hours of boredom surrounded by moments of sheer terror.”  There is a way to get away from the stress and the seeing awful things.  But, the cop working with sex crimes/offenses has a daily dose of images, one more awful than the next, each one more and more bizarre.  I read the story last week about a man who was released from a British jail who was talking to a fourteen-year old on the computer and telling her the sexual things he wanted to do to her before he ate her alive.  He had pictures on his computer of a child with an apple in her mouth sitting on a serving plate.  Sick!!  Or how about the detective who went to arrest an accused pedophile and while in the house found martini glasses with half eaten human feces in them and digital images/movies of pre-school children being subjected to anal rape.  Apparent the cocktail was used while watching the movies of children.  Life is a daily assault on these cop’s sensibilities, a diurnal attack of nausea from seeing a young life destroyed.  It is disgusting to even talk about these things, much less see them daily.  But we expect a portion of our police population to endure this attack so they can put the perpetrators in jail.  The problem is the criminals are not the only ones put in jail, as there are many types of mental jails.

“I can’t even hold my kids without seeing an image.”  “I can’t hold my grandkids without feeling sleazy.”  “I lose it every time my kids want to do something like go to a trampoline park.”  Yea, how about the arrest of the guy at the trampoline park that was waiting for little boys in the bathroom that was caught on videotape.  Or the tape of the Pirate Ship carnival ride attendant that would place his hands in the wrong place while strapping the kids in the ride.  Well, just avoid letting your kids alone at Carnivals, and trampoline parks and ….  It’s a jail of the mind and it is disheartening and devastating.   

Get a few years on this job and you can kiss goodbye to being a good father or a good mother.  The images build on top of each other and it restricts what you can do in life, and what you will allow to be normal in your family.  It can even effect who you will let near your kids.  “I know he’s your brother honey, but I just have a bad feeling about him.”  Good-bye marriage.

And the worst part is not only do you have to repeat the images when you are away from work, often work requires you to repeat the images in a separate way.  When preparing a case for trial, detectives tell me they must commit the images to memory that they have seen on tape.  Some of these cases have 50 counts and that means 50 tapes committed to memory.  Hundreds of times re-watching little Johnnie be assaulted, or little Alice doing things she does not want to do.  One guy described to me a tape of how to make you child enjoy having sex with you when they get older, by starting when they are babies.  Imagine watching that a few times, much less even once.  Now add to that, seeing new cases every day.  It is inconceivable.  Imagine being healthy after all that when it occurs over and over.  And many of these guys when they testify, the jury gets upset with them because they told too much detail in court.  In fact, there is definitely some compassion fatigue when you hear these stories from people who have lived them or you work as a juror on a case.

It seems like everyone recognizes the problem.  In an article about ICAC, which is a program that coordinates Internet Crimes Against Children task forces around the country,  the Department of Justice states unequivocally that programs should place times limits on a person working in the unit, should have ongoing mental health training and services, should have an awareness of the psychological issues involved, should have preparation training before they go to the unit and get people out of the task when they start getting affected.**(The article was published by the University of New Hampshire and can be retrieved at www.unh.edu/ccrc).  They point to insomnia, stress, anxiety, depression, weight gain, family problem, divorces, really the full gambit of problems.  For years psychologists have been telling police there have to be limits on this type of work.  Superior officers have talked about what they would like to happen and not what is really there.  For years, the practicalities of working in a busy agency have caused most programs to ignore the problem and the signs in the officers.  It’s probably not because they don’t see the importance, but crimes takes a higher priority.  Training and mental wellness can wait, so they think.

So, over the next few weeks I will lay out in a series of some standards on the training and treatment of people who work crimes against children.  I will talk about the preparation to work in this arena and the ongoing wellness of people in this area of policing.  And finally, the treatment of someone who has been a over-exposed.  But the first thing we have to do in law enforcement is get our departments to recognize there is a limit with this material and they have to pay clear attention to rotating people through this area rather quickly so they don’t get over-exposed, three years – at max five years seems to be the standard.  I tend toward three years.  Once the symptoms show, you are way over the time when they need to be taken out of the unit.  The department needs to be aware when a person asks to leave, then the next day they should be gone.  Or else, you will have created another victim, gang raped by the visions they are seeing and have seen.  

Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP

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Police Psychology: Law Enforcement Longevity and Loss of Self

Michael Tavolacci, PhD

Peak Performance Biofeedback, Inc.

(The interpretation of statistics and the opinions expressed in this piece are the author’s own, not reflective of the website or the editor’s.)

Consider:

In 2011 65 police officers were shot and killed! (Violanti, 2012)

In 2011 147 police officers committed suicide! (Violanti, 2012)

Ironically, the sad reality is police officers commit suicide more frequently than the civilian population. Admittedly, there are a myriad of possible explanations for the statistics, access to firearms being among the most commonly cited factors. I would suggest there is an important change that takes place in an individual who, previously determined to be of sound mind, commits suicide, weapon access notwithstanding. Degradation of self-worth, loss of hope, and feelings of helplessness are commonly understood to be elements in suicide and must have been prompted by some new variable in the officer’s life. Once the decision has been reached the weapon is merely a tool to do the job as there are various ways to end one’s life.

The Cumulative Career Traumatic Stress (CCTS) detailed by Marshall speaks directly to the hopelessness that accompanies suicide. I envision the three concepts of the suicide dynamic as the legs of a stool. As Marshall suggests that the officer’s sense of hopelessness is derived from constant, never-ending, stress, I see the leg weakening, at risk of collapse. The leg that represents the helplessness of suicide emerges as officers come to feel they cannot free themselves from the urge to help mankind, in the face of insurmountable cynicism for the very same. The third and final leg of the stool, worthlessness, represents the diminished public support perceived by most officers as they are often vilified for their mistakes and seen as representative of an increasingly distrusted government.

The three legs of the stool represent the contact points of the officer to stay grounded to the world. As those supports weaken and collapse the officer’s sense of self trembles and looses its footing. No longer grounded, feeling hopeless, helpless, and worthless the officer seeks relief and to regain control. Some choose suicide as a means to end the constant struggle and restore order to the chaos within them. At the most base level, police officers are trained to, and the demands of the job require them to, be in control. The term peace officer implies the directive to maintain the peace by controlling the chaos around them. Events that are inherently volatile, rapidly evolving, and both mentally and physically demanding are the standard of police work.

Police Officers are the “Hall Monitors” of the real world. As the hall monitor they are a necessary part of our society expected to keep everyone else in line so my day is issue free; a fact that is often difficult to swallow. A police officer is, what I call, a Utopia Tool. I describe a Utopia Tool as an assemblage necessary to continued movement toward an idealized existence and society. They are the, unfortunately, necessary structures and organizations required if society is to realize the Utopia that I feel is the unspoken goal of mankind.

The officer is needed to reach the Utopian society much like a shovel is needed to dig a hole. Once the hole is dug, the shovel has outlived its usefulness, just as the officer would no longer be necessary if society were ever free of anti-social behavior. If we accept the idea that police are here to help keep the peace, we have to admit there exist elements of our society that are predatory, that choose to create chaos, steal, destroy, and victimize the rest of us. We are forced to acknowledge the reality we are afraid and need help dealing with the predators in our midst. We would have to admit there are those who behave badly, thereby, diminishing the idealized opinion of humanity some hold and our hope for humankind to exist without the need for Utopia Tools.

It is rare to have an on-duty police officer at a family party and their attendance is most frequently prompted by some sort of crisis within familial relationships. We seek their guidance when at our wits end, we seek their protection when threatened, we seek their counsel when lost, and we seek forgiveness when caught hurrying to work, practice, dinner, or home. Normal people don’t call the police to their home to let them know the holiday dinner went off without a hitch or that they are turning in for the night after a loving and fulfilling day with their family.

There is a level of risk inherent in the day-to-day tasks of police officers. Their workdays are stressful, filled with conflict, loss, violence, and victimization. As a response to their experiences, officer’s bodies and minds have various reactions including but not limited to: fear, aggression, compassion, empathy, anger, sadness, pity, loathing, and spite. The physiological response demanded by these experiences cause the body to introduce chemicals and activates systems intended to affect the officer in multiple ways. The systems are intended to protect them emotionally, raise their performance physically, protect their vital organs, and speed cognitive processing (Gilmartin, 2002). These automatic responses by the body have both positive and negative consequences, which range in speed of onset and duration, from immediate to long-term, and every moment in between. Experiencing the undulation of the highs and lows results a predictable pattern of emotional responses that appear eerily similar to clinical depression when graphed (Gilmartin, 2002).

In truth, the statistics aggregated by The Bureau of Labor Statistics illustrate that the ratio of service calls to the number of officers, places a heavy burden on the individual and exposes the officer to significant levels of stress. Considered in the context of the negativity of a typical call for police, it is no surprise many officers show signs of succumbing to the risk factors of their occupation. The bulleted points below quickly highlight many of the factors that play a role in the overall psychological risk level for those in law enforcement. It is the prolonged exposure to that risk that eventually destroys the resilience.

  • In 2008 there were 883,600 individuals employed as Law Enforcement Officers (BLS, 2012)
  • More than 85% or ~750,000 officers worked for agencies smaller than 100 members (BLS, 2012)
  • 13,857 Chicago Police handled more than 3,700,000 calls for service in 2010 (Chicago Police Annual Report 2010)
  • 5,986 allegations of misconduct were made nationwide in 2010
  • 3,861 allegations of misconduct were made against Chicago Officers with 283 sustained in 2010 (CPD Annual Report 2010)
  • 3,298 attacks were perpetrated against officers by offenders in 2010, only 20% occurred while making an arrest (CPD Annual Report 2010)

As noted above, nearly 85% of active law enforcement officers are employed by agencies, which are home to less than 100 sworn officers. I believe this fact plays a major role in the overall sentiment held for police. The bulk of media coverage and media access is granted to the largest of agencies even though they comprise less than 15% of the industry. The coverage disparity combined with the sensational nature of modern news media, which holds to the old adage of if it bleeds it leads, results in a largely inaccurate and inflammatory portrayal of the law enforcement industry (Callanan & Rosenberger, 2011). This process empowers the minority to speak for the majority.

Initially, the accountability created by news articles and media segments on police behavior served the citizens and industry well. As time has passed the concept of accountability has evolved into a skepticism bordering on contempt for police officers. No matter which perspective is employed, studies have tended to focus on individual’s experiences with the police and have largely overlooked the importance of the media in shaping attitudes towards law enforcement (Callanan & Rosenberger, 2011).

Having no immediate safe outlet to express emotions that are largely rejected by their peer group, the individual officer is likely to deny the emotions, internalize them, or otherwise mishandle the processing of the events. It takes great courage for police officers to seek out professional assistance with the complex process of properly dealing with the things they experience. Complicating the urge to seek help is the limited number of skilled professionals, as I have experienced it first hand, who are qualified and experienced with the unique combination of complex and illusive elements of the police officer’s psyche.

Officers can fortify themselves against the risks of a successful law enforcement career. The fortification is subject to the acknowledgement and open admittance to several realities. First of these realities is that Cumulative Career Traumatic Stress exists and with rare exception it effects police officers in pervasive ways that impact every one. Second, that reliance on the natural resilience is ill advised and should be supplemented by extensive systems and programs to mitigate risk. Third, considerable attention to professional development must be paid including, but not limited to, thorough screening using Psychological batteries. The chosen assessments should have appropriate parameters set using realistic determinants not dictated by concern for political correctness, or fairness. Undue concern with fairness or being politically correct increases the potential for increased and unnecessary vulnerability. It is a disservice to, not only the recruit, but also the organization, the industry, the individual citizen, and society as a whole. Candid appraisal and assertion that police work is not like other professions and requires more stringent selection processes, unencumbered by concerns other than achieving the agreed on objective of keeping the peace, is vital to serving the citizenry and the individual.

Law Enforcement officers enjoy few rewards, little compensation, even less consideration, and steadily diminishing self-esteem resultant from a consistently weakening public opinion.

Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP

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Police Psychology:  Merry Stressmas by Gary S. Aumiller, PH.D.  ABPP

So I was riding on a train on Wednesday of last week, December 13, 2017, at 6 am in the morning going into New York City for a OASAS seminar.  OASAS is the certifying group that allows you to do evaluations on people who got a DWI  and recommend the type of treatment they need.  I sat down and noticed in the car I was riding on in the train every person, regardless of age, was looking at the phone.  I stood up to look around and over the seats and every last person was looking at Facebook or YouTube or texting or for whatever reason was phone involved.  I had my phone packed away in my briefcase and wasn’t going to open it because I never really commuted into the city, so I wanted the experience of watching people on the phone.  Then I looked out the window and an absolutely gorgeous sunrise was starting.  It was one of those crisp cold clear winter days and the sunrise was there for all to see.  Dark shades of red and orange and it looked so absolutely beautiful contrasting some of the dark buildings of Queens New York.  It was a sunrise that perhaps you only get 15 of these gems in your whole life and it was there outside the window for all to admire.  At least if you’d lift your heads from the phone, which I was the only person on a crowded train that did.  I thanked God for giving me a stunning sunrise to watch all by myself, a show just for me apparently.  I hoped someone else saw it too, but in my car.

Annoying little kids excited about Santa coming or the Hanukkah fairy, or whatever’s coming.  Funny how they forget parents have feelings too.  Annoying bosses that want work done before the end of the year.  Or quotas to meet  before the holidays.  Christmas parties we want to go to, combined with Christmas parties we don’t want to go to, combined with a get together we are having at the house where we only wish we could narrow the attendance list by one or two less desirables.  Then the family Christmas or Christmas Eve dinner.  It is amazing any of us make it through this time.

So, it is no wonder that people have perpetuated the myth that suicide rates are the highest in the holiday season.  Then they issue the warning “watch your friends and watch your neighbors to determine if someone is trying to ‘off’ themselves.”  (It is sort of like the myth that officers commit suicide at a higher rate than the general public).  All are myths or misused statistics perpetuated by people telling them over and over for impact.  In fact, the lowest suicide rates are in November and December.  Now, one suicide is one too many and leaves a family devastated and wondering what they could have done differently, but the overall effect of the holiday on suicide is very little.  Felt stress however is highly raised at Christmas.

Now for the good news and the bad news.  Good news it will be over in a week.  Bad news – stress is usually felt after the event and Christmas stress may linger into February.  Higher level of anxiety and depression are reported in February through April, the months of Christmas reckoning.  So, what is some advice for making the holidays smoother.  Three simple tenets.

  • Be non-judgmental – Let people be themselves. Correction at Christmas will just start fights.  Let some people brag, and some be mischievous, others get beat up or show off their skills, and some be humble all without an ounce of your comment.  I always say to clients who get stressed out frequently:  “sit back and enjoy the show.”  If your injection into a scene is not necessary, just enjoy the show and laugh at it.  People are going to hold grudges or change plans, so you are better off letting people be themselves.
  • Keep extremely positive – Ever find that when a group like a family gets together it is the sick and the deceased that tends to control the family conversation. Time to get up and walk away, or turn the conversation to good things about the person who is deceased.  “It’s a good thing we are all doing well at this table.”  Holiday are not the best time to talk about your ills.  This goes for all parts of life.  If you can turn it positive, you can have a better holiday.
  • Play – Many forget to play when the Christmas time comes. Play with the kids, play with the adult, turn it into the Christmas of play.  We don’t play enough when we are adults.  Stop the anxiety with play.  You’ll be surprised how much it help pass time.

And have a very Merry Christmas and last day of Hanukkah!! 

Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP

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