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Stress of shooting can overwhelm officers
Omaha World Herald ^ | 05-10-03 | Lynn Safranek

Posted on 05/19/2003 10:12:05 AM PDT by jim_trent

Stress of shooting can overwhelm officers



Officer says stress disables him

» Todd Sears is granted disability pension

When an Omaha man fired at police as they broke down his door to arrest him in 1996, Officer Chris Circo and another officer fired back, killing him.

The shooting set off waves of physical and emotional reactions in Circo.

He felt nauseated, he said. He cried. He went through times of anger and denial. And he asked himself the most unanswerable question: Why me?

Seven years later Circo, now a sergeant in his mid-30s, realizes that his response was typical of officers who have been through a traumatic experience.

Officer-involved shootings in cities the size of Omaha are few - there have been nine since 1990. For some officers, however, the resulting stress can be debilitating.

Three Omaha officers involved in shootings were so affected that they eventually were granted disability retirements. The most recent was 38-year-old Todd Sears. He was granted a pension Thursday based on the post-traumatic stress he suffers after shooting and killing Marvin Ammons in 1997.

Circo, then 29, and two other officers broke into 43-year-old Donald Hurley's home on March 26, 1996, to arrest him for pistol-whipping and threatening another man.

Hurley fired three rounds at the officers, injuring one. Circo and another officer returned fire that hit Hurley in the chest.

As Circo waded through his feelings after the shooting, he watched his fellow officers sort out the experience in their own ways.

"It's a kind of hard reaction for us," he said. "Nobody signed up to (kill someone).

"You can't protect yourself against traumatic experiences."

Such experiences aren't limited to officer-involved shootings, he said. Stress could be set off by anything from a bad accident to a case of sudden infant death syndrome.

Because his father, Charlie, was deputy police chief at the time, Circo couldn't talk to him about what he was going through.

Instead, he turned to his brother Chuck, who is a firefighter.

The brothers long have agreed that firefighting and policing are two different worlds.

Chris, the officer, doesn't understand how someone could willingly walk into a burning building on a regular basis. Likewise, Chuck, the firefighter, can't see having a job where people point guns in your face.

But the Circo brothers bonded within a month after the Hurley shooting.

In April 1996, Chuck Circo pulled Fire Capt. John Goessling out of a burning building during a four-alarm fire. Goessling later died.

The brothers sat down and talked about their experiences. While the circumstances were different in many ways, the tragedies triggered a similar shock to the system, Chris Circo said.

Sgt. Circo is part of a group of officers who conduct what is called a critical incident debriefing after an officer is involved in a shooting. The debriefing, in part, helps officers understand their emotions and reassures them that their feelings are a normal reaction to an abnormal situation, he said.

He also has helped other area law enforcement agencies with critical incident debriefings.

"For me personally, it's a healing process to talk to other people who have been involved in these things," he said.

Circo tells the officers he doesn't want to hear about what happened - investigators will tackle that job. Instead, Circo urges them to talk about what they are feeling and thinking.

The memory of the traumatic incident might fade as time goes by, but it can return quickly, Circo said.

Every time another officer-involved shooting occurs, even at a different agency, he said, he has nightmares about the Hurley shooting.

"All of a sudden," he said, "everything comes back."

TOPICS: News/Current Events
I hesitated before posting this because I know that some people will inevitably accuse me of being anti-police.

Col Jeff Cooper says that there is no post-tramatic stress syndrome in a justified shooting. Other gun magazine writers say the opposite (I forget the name of the guy right now who writes a monthy column on it).

Anyway, 1/3 of the Police Officers involved in shootings here in the last decade have taken fully paid early disability retirement. Each was in their 30's. Is this just developing into another scam or should we be spending more money on counseling than we seem to do?

I have read that one of the early retirees is now working as a security guard. I don't know any more details, but it would seem that that job would set him up for a repeat of the nighmares that he quit because of.

1 posted on 05/19/2003 10:12:06 AM PDT by jim_trent
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To: jim_trent
I'm a retired Federal Agent, once involved in a shooting, and don't consider you, just based on your post, anti-police. I was once very hard on Vietnam veterans, which I am also, who claimed to suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome, calling them crybabies. After being shot, I went through a period very similar to that described in the above article, and gained a new perspective of what the Vietnam vets were experiencing. Dealing with physical and emotional trauma on a daily basis without the time or opportunity to have someone help you to understand its dangers and potential effects can ultimately be disabling. But everyone is different, and is affected in his own unique manner. For this reason, Col. Cooper can say what he does about a justified shooting. Maybe for him, it's just another day at the office. For someone else, without Cooper's particular experience and mindset, it's something else. But the potential for a reaction to trauma is always there, and what triggers it isn't the same from person to person. Sometimes you just have to witness it up close, or experience it firsthand yourself to accept and understand it, but I don't wish that on anyone. As for whether the retirements are a scam, that, too is an individual thing. Anytime you have the government granting benefits to people, you have the potential for a scam. It just depends on who applies for them and why. Hope this sheds some light on things.
2 posted on 05/19/2003 10:27:04 AM PDT by DPMD
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To: jim_trent
Bang, Bang, .......You're disabled.

What a public employee can claim in order to meet the civil service world definition of work related disability is just UFB. I had an aunt with a management position in the National Park Service. She retired early from the traumatic suggestion that she have lunch with a co-worker three years before filing the complaint. The administration knew they would just be better off by paying her her $90,000 per year salary to go away. After all it's not their money.

My sympathies go to any officer who in the course of his or her duties is required to fire their weapon in self defense. But being a cop and complaining about the post traumatic stress of doing so is just crap. In their 30's, three failed marriages, a tendancy to hang out with other cops and drink, dealing with social scum in the legal system every day(the criminals too), and pencil pushing clerks, topped off with city politics.......Yeah, I'd want out on someone elses dime too.

3 posted on 05/19/2003 10:31:33 AM PDT by blackdog (Tag Line was where I stood in the second grade)
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To: jim_trent
Col Jeff Cooper says that there is no post-tramatic stress syndrome in a justified shooting. Other gun magazine writers say the opposite.

This is a very hot topic IMO. I'll not share my personal experience but will say I agree with Col. Cooper. Having attended Gunsite while Col. Cooper was running the school I am perhaps biased at some level. However, I had my views on post-tramatic stress syndrome firmly in place earlier than my taking instruction at Gunsite.

Police departments need to develop some sort of screening mechanism that sorts out applicants based on their tendency toward post-tramatic stress syndrome. As I understand it, department policy in many places requires the officer experience grief and sorrow for having taken a life while on duty. The issue is liability. Feeling elated at having come through a gunfight unharmed supposedly sets up bad PR for the department and increases the chance the city will be successfully sued.

My view is that individuals who cannot handle the stress of police service - including the taking of a life if necessary - should not go into law enforcement.

4 posted on 05/19/2003 10:35:06 AM PDT by toddst
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To: jim_trent
I don't have too many comments on the cops, but I belive an LAPD office who felt poorly after shooting someone and was granted medical disability would receive 80% of her salary for the rest of her life. Not too bad for a 25 year old who is still able to get another job.

I read an interview of a Finnish man who fought in the Winter War against the USSR. The interviewer was obviously trying to get the soldier to comment on how distraught he was over having to kill the invaders and asked him "isn't it hard to kill a man." The soldier said, "yes, they were very tough Ukranians and kept moving around--sometimes you'd have to shoot them 3 or 4 times."

Another vet in a different conflict was asked how he felt after killing a man. He replied "just like I felt when I landed my first Marlin."
5 posted on 05/19/2003 10:36:18 AM PDT by ibbryn (this tag intentionally left blank)
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To: jim_trent
There ought to be some sort of psycological profile that would weed out people who would have a hard time adjusting to having to pull the trigger.
6 posted on 05/19/2003 10:37:56 AM PDT by Blood of Tyrants (Even if the government took all your earnings, you wouldn’t be, in its eyes, a slave.If we are incai)
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To: blackdog
I agree.

If fully 1/3 of shooters are disability, then it is a scam.

Get full pay for saying I am tramitized???

Where do I sign up.

I have coffee with a viet (silver star) He and I have talked many times about his experiences, now 60 stilling selling. I can tell that he wants to talk about it but does not want to tell you the details.

Some how this decorated vet deals with it.

Sounds like an earlier post crybaby govt program.

7 posted on 05/19/2003 10:40:58 AM PDT by CHICAGOFARMER (Citizen Carry)
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To: blackdog
Yup and they get the full disability without the offset that retired military pay. Hummmmm. Interesting - full retired pay plus disability. No purple Heart required. What a concept!
8 posted on 05/19/2003 10:41:06 AM PDT by FRMAG
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To: jim_trent
Taking another's life is stressful, period. The only mitigating factors are one's convictions and general mental stability. If I had to kill someone in defense of my own life, I confess that I would likely have some long-term second-guessing and self-doubt issues that tend to occur among survivors of violent life-threatening events. But if I were forced to kill someone who was threatening the life of my family members, I don't believe I would bear such doubts.

Why is this? I chalk it up to self-preservation. When our own hide is on the line, we tend to question our motives later. ...but when the lives of others are on the line, the clarity of the moment does not lend itself to second-guessing and revisionist recollection.

That's my take on it anyway...


9 posted on 05/19/2003 10:45:12 AM PDT by Jay D. Dyson (When the smoke cleared, the terrorist was over there...and over there...and over there...)
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To: jim_trent
Among vietnam vets the age factor and support of family were major factors among combat vets as to who got and who didnt get PTSD

Col Cooper is not a medical while I am very interested about what he says about shooting I dont take his word as gospel when compared to a professional such as
Tom Williams Phd Vietnam Combat vet and VA counselor who pretty much wrote the book on on the subject

I have no problem with Police officers involved in serious trauma collecting a pension...though compared to what a combat vet gets its quite a lot more...with real health insurance to boot..

Its those same officers who go out and get full time jobs sometimes even with other police depts adding their full time salaries to their pensions..given for PTSD and allegedly because they are no longer able to make a living- period....

This is a scam and paints legit cases with a bad bad brush.....they should be ashamed...but hey when you are making 100 K a yr. shame probably isnt such a big drawback

10 posted on 05/19/2003 10:52:17 AM PDT by joesnuffy (Moderate Islam Is For Dilettantes)
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I used to work with a guy who had his leg crushed by a forklift. The company had two choices.......Pay his salary and give him a job at a desk, or pay his disability after the loss of limb clause in his benefits. After 15 years, he was late for work during the winter and missed three days without a doctors note. They fired him. He sued, he lost.

That is how the cards are dealt when you are NOT A CIVIL SERVICE WORKER!

BTW, the reason for all the notice given to school teachers and civil service workers being laid off is to give them enough time so they can go file an injury claim, get pregnant, or report a substance abuse problem, or develop some other maladay that contractually prevents them from being terminated.

11 posted on 05/19/2003 10:56:24 AM PDT by blackdog (Tag Line was where I stood in the second grade)
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To: Blood of Tyrants
Janet Reno, Lon Horriuchi, and that guy who stuck a mop handle up Abner Louima's arss would be the type that would pass that "pull the trigger" guilt test.

No thanks......

12 posted on 05/19/2003 10:59:00 AM PDT by blackdog (Tag Line was where I stood in the second grade)
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To: blackdog
There are people who are in the middle of the two extremes of mental wussie and souless demon.
13 posted on 05/19/2003 11:03:27 AM PDT by Blood of Tyrants (Even if the government took all your earnings, you wouldn’t be, in its eyes, a slave.If we are incai)
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To: jim_trent
Was this case cited one of the "wrong address" killings?

I can see a cop being bothered for killing an innocence citizen.

Can't tell from the story if this was criminal element shooting back or a home owner.
14 posted on 05/19/2003 11:16:25 AM PDT by George from New England
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To: jim_trent
I took my CCW class yesterday, administered by two cops. Among the statistics thrown around in the class(without any citation, however) was that 60% of cops involved in a fatal shooting are off the force within 5 years and a significant number of those (he didn't say what %) kill themselves. This was their way of trying to impress upon the attendees the difficulties encountered if one should be so unfortunate as to have to use one's weapon.

The situation for cops and civilians is also quite different than that of soldiers. As a soldier, when you shoot someone, it is a positive. Neither is there someone (or his family) around afterward who is going to sue you and make you relive the events again and again in excruciating detail. Try three years of lawsuits costings tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars and your marriage, house and car on top of the psychological impact of shooting someone and see how you feel. PTSD becomes a lot more understandable then.
15 posted on 05/19/2003 12:18:51 PM PDT by Faeroe
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It's a real issue. I would sumbit that the vast majority of people don't want to hurt or kill anyone. I'd rather have people on the police who are reticent about using that firearm.

But, once the situation's developed to the point where one has to shoot, then one has to shoot otherwise one will be dead. This leads to one of the common post-shooting reactions, and that is elation. One will be very happy for making it out of the situation still breathing.

Also, and conversely, we as normal people (not the amoral thug Bad Guys), will wonder if there was something else we could have done. There will be doubt, there will be questions from one's own self (let alone from the police and the Bad Guy's attorney) whether or not it was really justified.

The best way to lessen post-shooting stress is to know about it beforehand. Know that there will be problems. One will be looked upon differently - friends, acquaintances, even family will see the mark of Cain upon you for taking a life, no matter how justified.

Worse, one won't be able to talk about it. Anything one says is supoenable. The only people one can legally feel safe to talk to about the shooting, are one's attorney or physician. Not even the clergy are fully protected under privilige.

16 posted on 05/19/2003 12:42:08 PM PDT by Chemist_Geek ("Drill, R&D, and conserve" should be our watchwords! Energy independence for America!)
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To: Faeroe; Chemist_Geek
A couple of years ago, my wife and I attended two-day defensive handgun training at Front Site (Pahrump), NV. A significant portion of our time at Front Site had to do with the decision to use deadly force, and the aftermath. The gist of it was, even if you win the first battle (the shoot-out), there is a second battle as your decision is evaluated by law enforcement, and a third battle when the "victim's" family sues you in Civil Court for the "wrongful death" of their most wonderful husband/provider/etc., and the noted observations that you carry the Mark of Cain no matter how justified you were, and the financial costs are large. So, you only use deadly force when you and/or your family are cornered, facing death and with no means of escape. At least then you and yours survive, although nothing is ever quite the same. I don't remember the psychological part being covered except for having the decision point in your mind ahead of time. If you aren't willing to set up the rules of engagement before hand, knowing at what point it is appropriate to present, and if you do, knowing that you can shoot, then don't have the gun. Perhaps such prior reflection helps the psychological aftermath, because you weren't presented a situation where you were purely reactive, and then were 100% second-guessing afterwards.
17 posted on 05/19/2003 1:51:02 PM PDT by RhoTheta (Get U.S. out of the U.N., and the U.N. out of the U.S.)
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To: jim_trent
Several reactions. First, if anyone posting here has had to defend themselves by using deadly force, you obviously know what you're talking about. If you haven't, it's purely speculation. You don't know.

Second, post-traumatic stress depends entirely on the individual and the situation, although some outcomes are predictible, if you know the general profile of the individual and specifics of the situational profile.

Third, I think it's highly likely that officers involved in shootings are encouraged to take a disability retirement by the city. Officers involved in shootings become newsworthy. If they are involved in another shooting or violent confrontation, all newspaper, television and radio stories will begin with "Officer Joe Blow, who has involved in the fatal shooting of a citizen last year, was involved in..." If they can get the guy to retire, it takes heat off city hall, as well as the officer.

Fourth, have you ever heard the saying that a boxer is never the same after the first time he's knocked down? Same thing is true of the first time someone shoots at you, the first time you're trapped in a burning building, etc. You are never the same person again. You may be just as good, but you'll never be the same.

18 posted on 05/19/2003 2:08:27 PM PDT by Richard Kimball
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To: jim_trent
Thanks for everyone on their thoughtful posts. I am not a policeman and have never been involved in a shooting (of another person). I don't believe that all police are bad and I don't believe that they all can walk on water.

To fill in some more information to those who asked:
1. None of the 9 shootings mentioned in the article were innocent citizens. All were people with a long felony history with the law and most were actively breaking the law at the time they were shot.
2. In every case, there was a Departmental investigation. This seems to take a VERY long time and although in every case, the policeman was absolved of blame, there had to be a lot of stress just waiting.
3. As is required by State law, there was a special prosecutor appointed in each case and charged with deciding if a crime was committed. In every case except one, the decision was that no crime was committed. The one case, an alternate juror improperly influenced the regular jurors (an activist black woman who evidently threatened the white jurors and they caved). Once this was known, the decision was thrown out and the next jury found no crime was committed.
4. In several (but not all) of the cases, the City and the Police Officer was sued by the family of the criminal. To the best of my knowledge, none collected anything.
5. What got me wondering is that of the 9 cases mentioned, the three that led to early retirements were the last three. The first 6 did not. That seems like a trend to me. A bad trend.
19 posted on 05/19/2003 4:42:48 PM PDT by jim_trent
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