Police Psychology | Critical Incidents in Law Enforcement
by Doug Gentz, Ph.D. Guest Author
Unusual and sometimes disturbing experiences are just part of the job of a Police Officer. As they proceed through their careers, officers typically take these experiences in stride. At some point, an officer may have an experience that rises to the level of a Critical Incident. Two factors must be present to qualify an experience as a Critical Incident. The first is involvement in a sudden, unexpected, very unusual, life threatening event. The second is that the involvement in that event triggers a need for a much greater than “normal” degree of psychological adjustment on the part of the officer.
In a true Critical Incident, the involved officer has to work harder and longer than usual to digest the experience. A partial list of events that may (or may not) trigger a Critical Incident include Officer Involved Shootings, horrific car wrecks, and grotesque crime scenes especially those involving children. While the events are relatively easy to describe, the factors that underlie the “degree of adjustment required” are much more difficult to define. There are a multitude of examples of events shared by several officers that become a Critical Incident for one or two officers and not others. What makes the same event a Critical Incident for one officer while another officer experiences it as just unusual, perhaps noteworthy? (more…)