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Law Enforcement Agencies Train To Assist Officers Deal With PTSD And Loss

Lucas Willard

Law enforcement officials from across the region gathered in Saratoga Springs to take part in a course designed to help police recognize and assist officers and families cope with loss and mental illness.

The New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services’ TRAUMA program offers training to law enforcement agencies to help better deal with line-of-duty deaths, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicide.

Over the course of two days at Skidmore College, more than 100 police officers and executives from New York and beyond participated in the program.

DCJS Executive Deputy Commissioner Michael Green, a former prosecutor, said the training aims to provide for those on the frontlines of the fight against crime.

“You have situations where you have police officers are killed in the line of duty, suicide. But you also have police officers who night-in and night-out are exposed to incredibly traumatic things. They deal with homicide scenes, they deal with women who have been raped, they deal with children who have brutalized, and that can affect people in different ways. Sometimes it can result in post-traumatic stress and other situations, and the idea is to help give law enforcement tools to deal with the trauma.”

Warren County Sheriff’s Office Patrol Officer James Banish was one of the presenters at the training session. He was brought on board after looking for a way to help fellow officers.

Banish said he draws from his own past in the training sessions.

“I experienced my own issues with post-traumatic stress disorder in having dealt with my brother’s death, who was also a law enforcement officer. And my road back to health and  mental health took a challenging  path that I thought any officer should never have to do ever again, so I wanted to develop a course to help other officers who were in need.”

Banish said the program hopes to connect officers with their peers and open up about the things many try ignore.

“And we’re breaking a lot of rules within the law enforcement community by doing this, and brining it to light. And in the meantime, I think in the past year this is the 13th class, and we’ve seen a major, major shift in the way law enforcement is looking at this.”

One of the attendees was Scotia police chief Pete Frisoni, who is now serving his third year as chief in the village. Frisoni said what he learned at the training session will help open a new window in his department.

“I retired from another department in Schenectady where we did have a line-of-duty death, and did have an officer suicide while I was there. And I saw the impact and the trauma it had on people in the department and it really opened my eyes. We want to be able to have things in place so we can deal with those things and help people before it gets too late.”

Since the creation of the TRAUMA program in 2012, nearly 700 professionals have taken the two-day course. According to Badge of Life, 126 police officers died by suicide in 2012, although that number could be higher.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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