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FsnewsForce Science® News #35
To register for a free, direct-delivery subscription to Force Science® News, please visit . Articles are sent twice per month via e-mail. For reprint or mass distribution permission, please e-mail: Should Troubled Officers Take Antidepressant Medication?
IN THIS ISSUE:
I.SHOULD TROUBLED OFFICERS TAKE ANTIDEPRESSANT MEDICATION? II. FSRC RESEARCH AMONG LATEST INFO ON FORCE ENCOUNTERS FEATURED IN NEWAELE WORKSHOP III. MORE FEEDBACK ON IACP’S REPORT ON HOW TO DEAL WITH SUICIDE BOMBERS I.SHOULD TROUBLED OFFICERS TAKE ANTIDEPRESSANT MEDICATION?
Are antidepressants dangerous medications for cops? That question was raised recently on the listserv for the IACP’sPsychological Services Section. A psych professional from south Floridareported noticing of late “a marked increase in police officers beingprescribed” antidepressants, known pharmacologically as SSRIs (selectiveserotonin reuptake inhibitors). These include common brand-name drugs suchas Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Luvoc and Lexapro.
The staffer was curious about the possible negative effects of SSRIs on anofficer’s reaction time.
Other respondents, in effect, told him to rest easy. “Little evidencesupports a SSRI problem,” wrote a PhD from Louisiana, who cited studies inthe journal Psychopharmacology for Apr. 2001 and Jan. 2002. “Also recall,”this correspondent suggested, “that untreated, emotionally impairedofficers may also have a reaction-time risk.” A police psychologist from Colorado noted that he used to treat airlinepilots who were depressed but could not take antidepressants because theywould not be allowed to fly if they did. “I always thought this was odd,”he wrote, “since I would rather have a depressed pilot on an SSRI who wasfeeling good than have a depressed pilot not taking anything and feelinglousy. I feel the same about police.” Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Research Centerat Minnesota State University-Mankato, emphatically agrees. A specialist inlaw enforcement psychology for more than 30 years, Lewinski is aninternationally recognized expert in police reaction times in lethal forceencounters.
“Most of the time that’s required for you to react to a threat is taken upwith perceiving the danger, processing that information, deciding what todo and then sending commands from your brain to your body to react,”Lewinski explains. “The actual mechanical action of pulling a trigger todefend yourself requires only 6/100 of a second, a very minute portion ofoverall reaction time.
“The ‘front end’ of reacting, so to speak, depends on your ability to payattention to what’s going on around you so you pick up danger cues. Ifyou’re not or can’t be attentive because of your emotional state, the restis irrelevant.
“If you’re depressed you are preoccupied with your own suffering, your ownbleak view of the world. You’re focused inward, not focused on what’simportant ‘out there’ in the environment around you.
“Any effect on reaction time by antidepressant medication is minisculecompared to the profound impairment of cognition, information processingand survival-oriented decision-making caused by untreated depression.” The case of a Midwestern officer who shot and killed an assailant and whowas himself slightly injured in a gunfight serves as a dramaticillustration. This officer’s reactions were so blunted by untreatedpost-traumatic depression that he had difficulty even tracking radio calls.
“By the time he tuned in to a dispatch, the message was almost over,” says a therapist who knew him. “He’d ask the dispatcher to repeat, fullydetermined to pay close attention to what was said, but he couldn’tremember long enough after hearing the words to write them down. You canimagine how unprepared he was for any tactical challenges.” “You shouldn’t even be working if you have a seriously depressed frame ofmind,” Lewinski declares. “Yet many officers won’t seek help fordepression, either with medication or through counseling, because they’reafraid they’ll be stigmatized for getting psychological aid. Instead, theycompromise their safety and effectiveness by trying to tough it out.” Depression can arise from a number of causes, including your lifeexperiences, your body chemistry, mental illness and post-traumatic stressdisorder. Lewinski advises that if you have any lasting symptoms from thefollowing list, it would be wise to seek professional investigation andhelp: –Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood–Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism–Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness–Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were onceenjoyed, including sex–Decreased energy, fatigue, being “slowed down”–Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions–Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping–Appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain–Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts–Restlessness, irritability–Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such asheadaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain.
“Ironically,” Lewinski says, “when a depressed officer knows he isresponding to a high-risk call, the adrenalin surge will tend to counteractthe effect of his depression and his judgment, alertness and reaction timemay well be appropriately sharp for the situation.
“But on seemingly ‘routine’ calls, such as ‘ordinary’ traffic stops, thedepression will dominate his mental state and significantly affect hissixth sense and tactical awareness, making it more difficult for him toperceive an evolving threat. He’ll be way behind the reactionary curve anddetect any danger cues too late. And we know that most officers die not onknown high-risk calls but in common patrol situations that appear benign atthe outset.” Lewinski strongly advocates combining antidepressant medication withpsychological therapy and a self-administered program of positiveself-talk, such as described in the popular police text “The TacticalEdge”. “The combination of medication, therapy and your own positive beliefsystem can have a powerful impact on your survival,” he says.
The effects of antidepressant medication vary from individual toindividual, and in a small minority of cases SSRI drugs may not work atall, Lewinski told Force Science News. It may take some experimentation fora physician to find the right drug and dosage for you. “Once you find ahelpful medication with minimal personal side effects, the better you’lloperate on the street and in life,” Lewinski says. “If you feel better,you’re going to be more attentive…and much safer.” [Thanks to Force Science News member Wayne Schmidt, executive director ofAmericans for Effective Law Enforcement, for bringing this subject to ourattention.] II. FSRC RESEARCH AMONG LATEST INFO ON FORCE ENCOUNTERS
FEATURED IN NEW AELE WORKSHOP
Three representatives of the Force Science Research Center will be amongthe instructors for a new, annual use-of-force training seminar that debutsnext month in Las Vegas, NV.
Sponsored by the nonprofit Americans for Effective Law Enforcement, thepolice legal support organization, the “Lethal and Less-Lethal Force”workshop will feature the latest legal, psychological and physicaldevelopments regarding officer-involved force encounters.
The program will run from Feb. 13-15 and is especially recommended for LEcommand staff, city and county attorneys, police legal advisors and riskmanagers.
Eight nationally known instructors will present up-to-the-minute content onthe legal, political and practical aspects of today’s most urgent forceissues, including: –Case law analysis of lethal and less-lethal force liability, and thecurrent legal standards for force application; –Psychology of combat and the dynamics of violent encounters, drawn from research of hundreds of officer-involved shootings; –Important psychological factors, including perceptual and memorydistortions, that need to be accommodated when conducting reliableinvestigations of lethal encounters; –FSRC’s latest ground-breaking findings on the critical human dynamics ofarmed confrontations, including “demystification” of controversial shots inthe suspect’s back during a frontal attack; –Most current Taser policy, procedures and research, and how to “tame themedia frenzy” when Taser and other force applications are questioned; –Revelations of medical research into sudden and in-custody deaths, plus“defenses to the legal onslaught;” –Implications of using less-lethal force in suicide-by-cop and EDPsituations, with relevant case studies dissected; –Emerging models for use-of-force continuum redesign, including where toplace various tools and tactics on the force scale and how best to use thecontinuum in court; –Policies, procedures, training, successes and abuses of a wide range ofdeadly and less-lethal devices, techniques and strategies; –Aftermath of force applications, including investigative strategies andlegal implications of internal vs. review board vs. criminal investigations.
On the faculty from FSRC will be executive director Dr. Bill Lewinski, oneof the world’s leading researchers into life-threatening officer-suspectconfrontations; Dr. Alexis Artwohl, a foremost police psychologist,co-author of the book, “Deadly Force Encounters” and a principal in theSurvival Triangle Training organization; and Charles Remsberg, author of 3popular books on officer safety and a senior correspondent forPoliceOne.com. Artwohl and Remsberg are members of FSRC’s National AdvisoryBoard.
Other faculty members are: Michael Brave, president of LAAW Internationaland a former intelligence and investigative operations chief for theJustice Dept., with extensive experience as a police defense attorney andlitigation consultant; Jeff Chudwin, chief of a Chicago-area PD, formerprosecutor, president of the Illinois Tactical Officers Assn. and a widelyrecognized expert in high-level use-of-force incidents; Ken Katsaris, regional academy instructor, former sheriff, and a popular expert witnessand litigation consultant, with experience in all 50 states; Capt. GregMeyer of the Los Angeles Police Academy, a specialist in policy, training,equipment, tactics and supervision, with a focus on reducing injuries inforce encounters; and Dr. John Peters, president of the Institute for thePrevention of In-Custody Deaths, former LEO and administrator, and creatorof numerous books, articles and informational videos on force issues.
For more information or for registration, contact the AELE Law EnforcementLegal Center at 800-763-2802 or visit the AELE website at .
III. MORE FEEDBACK ON IACP’S REPORT ON HOW TO DEAL WITH
We continue to get email responses from Force Science News readersregarding our 2-part series on the recommendations of an IACP consultantabout how to deal with suspected homicide/suicide bombers.
[You can read Force Science News #26 and #27 in the Force Science Newsarchives when you click "View All" at this location: ] Tactical team commander Patrick Flannelly, with the Lafayette (IN) PDwrites: It is disturbing to see the feedback from so many people who indicate that“most” of their officers are not prepared to take a well-aimed, directed[head] shot. My question then becomes, “What will you want your officers todo if they are presented with a suicidal bomber?” The best shooters in theworld might miss this shot under extreme duress. Does that mean we tellthem not to take the shot because they might miss? If we train our officers to maximize their skills and prepare them to beaccountable for the oath they swore then in the end that is really all wecan ask. Imagine what might have become of the flight [on 9/11] thatcrashed in the middle of a Pennsylvania field if some of the passengers hadnot been bold enough to make a decision and then act on it.
Dep. Tom Robbins, Carver County (MN) S.O., with 20 years’ SWAT experience,notes: As terrorism continues in this country–and it will–law enforcement is going to have to rethink the way we do business.
With proper training and indoctrination, I think we can show lawenforcement that it is necessary to hit terrorism hard and head-on. Thepublic is another matter. The public wants us to protect them, but they donot want to know what we have to do to accomplish that mission. The levelof violence required to deal with violent people is very unsettling to mostpeople.
The first officer to make the decision to kill a terrorist without warningbefore he can kill innocent people will be crucified. Everything about thatincident will be questioned: Where did the officer get the information? Howreliable is it? Why didn’t the officer give the terrorist a chance tosurrender? Why couldn’t he have used some other tactic to disarm him? Andon and on.
What will change public perception? Terrorism. When we are dealing withterrorist activity on a monthly or weekly basis, when bus stations arebeing blown up and children are being murdered in their classrooms, thepublic will demand that we deal with terrorists quickly and effectively.
Unfortunately people need to get scared before they will accept a change inour response.
================(c) 2006: Force Science Research Center, . Reprintsallowed by request. For reprint clearance, please e-mail:ORCE SCIENCE is a registered trademark of TheForce Science Research Center, a non-profit organization based at MinnesotaState University, Mankato.
================ Written by Force Science InstituteJanuary 3rd, 2006 at 4:21 pm
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