New Officer Training
During training and orientation, new Melbourne Police Officers are given an overview of resources available to them, like the Peer Support Group, the CISM and the city’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Trainers emphasize the importance of managing stress and explain to them what they might expect to see or experience during a violent incident, for example.
Peer Support Group
The Peer Support Group is made up of officers and civilian employees who are trained in active listening, how to communicate resources and when to refer an officer for professional help. Peer supporters reach out to officers to let them know that someone cares and that they are supported by their fellow officers and colleagues. For example, a trained peer supporter will be assigned to regularly check on an officer who is out of work because of an injury or will reach out to one who is experiencing a personal crisis, such as the death of a loved one.
Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM)
The International Critical Incident Stress Foundation website describes CISM as a type of “psychological first aid.” If a major traumatic incident occurs, such as an officer-involved shooting, death of an officer, SWAT situation of 6 hours or more, gruesome accident, or death of a young child, the CISM team joins together with the officers directly involved in the incident to take them through a structured debriefing process. This debriefing discussion is usually held right after an incident to help bring the officers involved through the crisis; to help them understand that any symptoms they are experiencing are normal; and that, if needed, there are effective treatments to help them deal with the trauma they have experienced or witnessed.
The CISM team is made up of officer peers, chaplains and mental health practitioners, all of whom must apply to be on the team and must go through an initial 2-day training followed up by quarterly training sessions and monthly meetings. Currently 14 police officers serve on the team in addition to the MPD chaplain and mental health practitioners, all of whom volunteer their time to provide the CISM service. There are about 6-10 incidents per year that call for the CISM debriefing process. The Melbourne Police Department has had a formal CISM for more than 15 years and now helps other agencies like Health First, First Flight, Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, Palm Bay Police Department, Cocoa Police Department, Sebastian Police Department, Kissimmee Police Department, and St. Cloud Police Department.
All officers are going to be exposed to traumatic events, and all are going to experience stress and be impacted by those events. By proactively reaching out and supporting officers we hope to help them manage and mitigate the effects of stress, get help when they need it, and support them through the process so that they can continue to pursue their chosen career.
Dr. Sharon Jones conducts Critical Incident Stress Management training at the Melbourne Police Department.