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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