Can you tell us how you
started your career in law enforcement?
I was raised in a small blue collar town where my mother owned a
restaurant that was frequented by law enforcement personnel. She was a very
gregarious person and the
officers enjoyed coming in for meals where they were welcomed and
accepted. Many of the officers were
World War II veterans and it gave me the idea of going into the service and
then law enforcement myself. I enlisted
at 17, the first in my high school class to sign up. I attended Air Police technical
10 weeks and then was sent to Germany and began my training in as a canine
handler. All of this was during the Berlin crisis and Cuban crisis.
I returned from overseas and was discharged, it was difficult to
get a job with a police department so I went to nursing school on the G.I.
bill. I worked as a Registered Nurse in
a hospital in the ER and ICU.I still had the bug for law enforcement, though,
so I applied to the Connecticut State Police, wanting to help with emergency
medical training. I taught recruits and
also field troopers emergency medical training, which ultimately blended into
one of the first peer support programs.
That’s how I combined law enforcement with medical and emotional issues.
What drew your interest in the high suicide rate and the
devastating number of our officers who develop PTSD?
That's a very personal story.
In 1975 I began talking about emotional wellness. I had a trooper in my
in-service class at the State Police Academy that wanted to talk to me, but he was
called out on duty and we were unable to get together. That same night he killed
himself. This event
impacted me to such a degree that I committed myself to the emotional health
and safety of all officers. At that point I became a “risk-taker.” I
approached the Captain about starting an
Employee Assistance Program. I was
already doing physical fitness and emergency care, so it just seemed
logical. I was fairly personable and I
found that officers approached me to talk about a wide range of issues. I told
them it was confidential and voluntary
and they felt comfortable coming to me with their concerns. I had a lot of
exposure with all officers regardless of rank because I was in uniform—and a
How do you handle the frustration of knowing officers need
psychological help, but have so many roadblocks in their way to getting
RC: It’s truly a slow process
and it can be frustrating, but I can see continuous uphill progress in
everything we do at Badge of Life. There
has been a steady movement and a drastic change in attitudes over the last ten
years. My hope is that they will
eventually all get their needs met through, education, peer support, and psychotherapy
without the stigma that was
once attached to seeking a healthy mind and body.
job of a police officer in today’s world is toxic at its
best. I just can’t stress enough that
psychological skills in law enforcement are as important as tactical
skills. Ultimately, it comes down to the
leadership in law enforcement stepping up and modeling appropriate behavior and
encouraging healthy habits that protect the officer from cradle to grave.
Have you seen a transformation over the years in the way mental
health and the stigma attached to it has changed, or are we still in the middle
of the battle?
RC: Yes, there's been a
significant change in recognizing the emotional needs of the officer. Stigma,
though still present, has been
evaporating a little at a time. In the early ‘70’s there was a concept
developed called the “shoot team”. It was an early form of peer support. When
there was an officer involved shooting
an officer who had been through one themselves was paired with the officer who
had just been involved in a shooting. Support and understanding was the goal of
the team. Chiefs began to see the need
for the reduction in stigma and the need to start resilience programs. We finally
began to see literature focusing
on these concepts. It’s been a slow but
steady climb that BOL has always supported.
MWF: What about this whole
concept of “annual mental health checks?”
Tell us a little bit about that idea.
RC: It’s a relatively simple
concept and began about ten years ago with Badge of Life. The idea is based on
the fact that law enforcement, particularly over time, is one of the most
toxic, caustic career fields imaginable.
The emotional cost to the individual officer is immense, often leading
to anxiety, sleepless nights (or days), depression, substance abuse, and even
posttraumatic stress disorder and suicide.
These things are absolutely indisputable. The idea is that, in an
ongoing way, officers need an outlet and a means of monitoring and maintaining
their mental health. Certainly, they’re
psychologically screened before coming on, but maintaining their mental health
becomes more challenging as the years go by.
Critical incident trauma is certainly a problem, but the challenge faced
by cumulative trauma is even greater, more widespread, and difficult to treat.
MWF: How does it work?
RC: Well, we came up with the
idea of the “annual mental health check” as a means of maintaining a good
balance over the years. The idea is that
an officer should visit a licensed therapist at least once a year for a check-in,
designed to identify not only emerging problems, but to identify and enhance
what has been working well—and identify what hasn’t been working so well.
It may take more than one or two visits to
resolve any beginning problems, but the opportunity is there. Emotional survival
for a 20 and 30 year
career is the goal.
MWF: Does this mean using the
Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or departmental psychologist?
RC: It certainly could. These resources
are generally excellent and
should be taken advantage of. There’s
often some fear involved, though. Some
officers remain convinced that there’s a problem with confidentiality—that the
EAP or departmental psychologist is a conduit of some sort to the chief of
police or internal affairs section.
MWF: How do we counter that?
RC: Simple. To combat this and to be sure
advantage of the mental health checks, departments should do several
things—first, they need to make sure everyone understands these visits are
strictly voluntary and confidential.
Mandating them has been tried and doesn’t work—officers see it as a
“fitness for duty exam” and will say whatever they think is needed to pass
muster. Secondly, if they do have a fear
of the departmental resources, departments must let it be known that these
voluntary checks can be with an “outside” therapist of the officer’s own choice
and at their own expense (or co-pay).
There, confidentiality is assured because the records are absolutely
inaccessible to the department.
MWF: Isn’t the cost of seeing
an outside therapist a deterrent?
RC: It shouldn’t be. Most officers
have good insurance and the
cost of a co-pay is minimal. Frankly,
compared to the cost of that big pickup truck, RV or boat in the driveway of
many officers, the cost is nothing.
MWF: What about reporting? How does a department
track who goes and who
RC: There can be no
tracking. Again, it must be totally
voluntary and confidential for it to work.
For those that insist there be some measure of the program’s success,
progress should be by monitoring the level of things like sick leave,
complaints, law suits, internal affairs actions, alcoholism and even
injuries. After all, the officer who is
preoccupied by anxiety or depression is a danger to himself and everyone around
MWF: One question comes to
mind—are these mental health checks for the officers only?
RC: Not at all. They’re for everyone
from the chief on
down. Even dispatchers should be
included. The chief, actually, plays a
particularly important role, one we call, “Leadership.” He or she
should be the first one going in
for a “mental health check,” to set the example for all the ranks below.
Following suit should be the rest of the
command staff and the supervisors. All
of them, then, should be willing to share their experience with the squad of
officers, thereby encouraging them to do the same. This, of course, should be
done at least once
a year and even periodically during roll calls.
MWF: Doesn’t all of this negate the
role of the peer support officer?
RC: Not at all. Remember, the peer support
officer has never been a
“therapist.” Instead, he or she provides
an ongoing support system and a confidential (within limits) “sounding board”
for day to day problems, complaints and concerns. Where the peer support officer
particularly important is when they identify an officer as being in need of
counseling and guide them into it when it’s needed during the year. The
annual mental health check system could
not survive without the assistance and active support of the peer support officer.
MWF: What are your main
goals as Chairman of the Board at BOL?
RC: We continue to monitor and
report on police suicides across the country—I want to see that continue. Additionally,
I want to continue providing
the best possible statistics and programs, particularly the “annual mental
health checks,” to law enforcement personnel and leaders. Both our website,
our newsletters and other
means of disseminating information are all ways of doing that. It’s proven
to be a sizeable task—but worth