Thursday, June 22, 2017

PTSD and infidelity

This is the script of a podcast to be added to my soundcloud library at Dr. Shults (< link)

One of the lesser known complications of PTSI is sexual misconduct – infidelity – affairs. Let me say at the outset that I am not going to let anybody off the hook by claiming their PTSI caused them to be unfaithful to their spouse. Let me also say that I’ll be using language associated with traditional marriage, but the principles still apply to all relationships where there is an expectation of monogamy.

The point of this podcast is to warn those suffering with anxiety and trauma related issues – and you’ll notice that I’m trying to get in the habit in both writing and speaking to use PTSI rather than PTSD. PTSI is post trauma stress injury and differs from PTSD only in the label. The idea in referring to the changes that stress, anxiety, and trauma impose on the brain as an injury rather than a disorder is to help educate folks about the reality of the physiology of the brain changes, and hopefully remove some of the stigma that the word “disorder” can have. Going back to the image of General Patton in WW2 slapping and insulting a soldier stricken with shell shock, there is still a prevalent idea that overcoming PTSI is a matter of the will – and certainly there is an element of self-help that is essential in recovery from PTSI – and the idea that courage and character are all that are needed to will oneself out of PTSI.

For those of you listening who have vestiges of that thinking about PTSD, let me tell you from experience about the courage and character and heroism I’ve seen in first responders whose work has resulted in PTSI. There is no courage deficit here folks.  But let’s move ahead.

Let’s talk about infidelity without PTSI first. Because of the mostly secretive nature of sexual affairs, it isn’t easy to get an accurate view of how prevalent it is. And, with shifting views of marriage and sexuality, getting a clear definition of what “cheating” is.  I’ll be using the old fashioned definition of adultery which basically means having sex with someone you’re not supposed to be having sex with.

Another question, of course, is whether intercourse is the ultimate definition of adultery or if physical touch less than intercourse counts, and wildly significant in the internet age, whether entanglement with pornography, on-line relationships, and Facebook flirtation lies within the circle of damaging extra-marital affairs. From my conservative moral position (and, let’s face it, from most women’s standpoint) anything that strays from loyalty and focus on your partner is damaging to the health and trust of the relationship.

Let’s be satisfied for now that infidelity is anything you know darn well would be hurtful to your spouse, that he or she would never approve, and that whether you’ve talked it over or not, you know it’s wrong, you keep it a secret, and the cost of being found out could be the end of your relationship. I think we can all agree on that.

The most commonly cited statistic on infidelity, according to the Psychology Today website, is a long term annual survey from the University of Chicago that shows an average of 10% of spouses admitting to cheating in every annual survey since 1972. (

That’s the average between genders with 12% of men and 7% of women. There’s bound to be a lot of lying going on here, and those raw numbers don’t reveal how long these things go on, or if it’s a one time thing, or if there is serial adultery or multiple illicit partners, nor does it specify whether the cheating is with opposite sex or same sex paramours.

As quoted in an article from (, whose author reports that infidelity in marriage is grossly overstated and over estimated:
“In general, based on the above data, we can conclude that over the course of married, heterosexual relationships in the United States, EM sex occurs in less than 25% of committed relationships, and more men than women appear to be engaging in infidelity (Laumann et al., 1994; Wiederman, 1997). 

Further, these rates are significantly lower in any given year. […] (Blow & Hartnett, 2005)” 
If we use a number of studies and methods, it looks like there is about a 6% occurrence of extramarital affairs in any given year, and a 25% occurrence over the course of a relationship over time. This is considerably less than most people glibly say when you hear conversations about cheating, where 50% is often touted as the number – but that is a number found nowhere in scientific research. (I might add that the 50% divorce rate statistic often quoted is also far from accurate, but that’s another program)

Now, let’s move to the subculture of the first responder world. Years ago I was a National Guardsman called out to man fire stations where the fire department had gone on strike. I was at the station for security due to some arson and vandalism fears associated with the disaffected union employees. It took several days for the women who apparently were regular visitors at this particular fire house to realize there was nobody there to “entertain” them. There are police and fire departments whose agency cultures actually encourage adultery, or at least wink at it, and certainly few that attempt to strengthen families and discourage sexual flings.

I’ve worked for a department where affairs were all but expected, from the Chief down, and I’ve worked for departments where family and ethical expectations were high. So, from a purely anecdotal viewpoint, my guess is that cheating in these male-dominated, testosterone infused professions is higher than normal.

Let me read more from the article, thank you author Dr. John Grohol
“And to put cheating into perspective too, the relationship (or one of the people in the relationship) needs to be lacking in something. As my previous article on the topic noted, these risk factors typically include: significant, ongoing, unresolved problems in the primary, long-term relationship or marriage; a significant difference in sex drive between the two partners; the older the primary relationship; a greater difference in personality than perhaps the partners realize; and having been sexually abused as a child.”

Whisman & Snyder (2007) also found support that the likelihood of infidelity decreases the more religious you are, as you age, or if you’re better educated. They also found that the risk for cheating was greater for women who were remarried (compared to those who were on their first marriage), or for either gender with the greater number of sexual partners you have.

So these are characteristics often found, according to researchers, of partners involved in cheating. These may or may not pre-exist in a PTSI involved couple, these conditions may be worsened or heightened during the stress of a PTSI journey, or a stress or brain injured person may have none of these circumstance and the infidelity comes as complete shock to the partner and maybe even to the cheater.

I point that out – in a Captain Obvious kind of way – to say that if you are in a relationship with a person who is in a relationship with a department that does nothing to strengthen marriage and family loyalty, then as a couple your challenge is much greater.

As a law enforcement veteran, as a chaplain, as a researcher, as a counselor, I look forward to a day that has yet to come – a day when the moral and mental health of first responders is one of the foundational training goals in our professions. For cops that means fighting, shooting, driving, knowledge of the law, and sustainable mental health should hold an equal standing as values for professionalism. I didn’t buy it as a rookie and I don’t  buy it now – that cops can use their tough job as an excuse to be an ass.

Now, we come to the added stress of PTSI and related brain and behavior issues. We regulate our behavior by our choices within a framework of moving toward positive things and away from negative things. Brain science tells us that we attend to the negatives much more than the positives. Negative thoughts have greater survival value: watch out for the stick it might be a snake! Don’t go in there! He’s giving you a dirty look! Compare that to positive thoughts – what a pretty sunset, can’t wait to go fishing, etc. Negatives always try to bully their way in front of positives. This is certainly the emergency worker’s life isn’t it!

Our behavior is also governed in a significant way by brain chemistry that is activated in a whole variety of ways that depend on a whole variety of factors – diet, rest, health, context, environment, etc etc.  This is the crux of the health problems associated with PTSI – the part of the brain associated with warning of danger and the hijacking of thoughts and body functions to marshal against a perceived danger are in over drive and don’t allow the body to recover to a point of pre-danger, normal alertness.

Among friends and colleagues who have engaged in affairs, the PTSI connection (if there is/was one in any particular case – I’m not disallowing plain old bad behavior) is often a diagnosis after the delinquent behavior. In other words, sexual acting out may be a sign of PTSI rather than something that happens after a person is struggling with a diagnosis. So, for the partner, even if you can’t deal with the unfaithfulness, you might have the presence of mind to tell the cheater than he or she needs to see a therapist to screen for PTSI if nothing else.

The list of body functions – and resulting feelings – is long with PTSI. So – are there characteristics of PTSI brain chemistry changes that either increase the risk taking behavior associated with infidelity, or decrease the control factors that would normally keep a person’s hands to himself? Let’s look to the diagnostic criteria in the DSM and see.

The DSM is the diagnostics and statistical manual that serves as the library of mental health and behavior characteristics that are diagnosable with a label like PTSD. Let’s review:  The list of criteria include :
·         Overly negative thoughts and assumptions about oneself or the world
·         Exaggerated blame of self or others for causing the trauma
·         Negative affect
·         Decreased interest in activities
·         Feeling isolated
·         Difficulty experiencing positive affect
  • Irritability or aggression
  • Risky or destructive behavior
  • Depersonalization. Experience of being an outside observer of or detached from oneself (e.g., feeling as if "this is not happening to me" or one were in a dream).
  • De-realization. Experience of unreality, distance, or distortion (e.g., "things are not real").
If you do an internet search on PTSD plus adultery or infidelity, you’ll find that most of the results are about PTSD as a result of an affair, rather than the other way around. So let’s visit, for a moment, the reality that spouses of PTSI sufferers are likely to have some level of trauma merely from living with a traumatized partner. Many spouses come to the relationship teetering on the brink of PTSI wholly apart from their partner’s trauma. So, in reality, when we consider behavior associated with PTSI in a relationship, we are ALWAYS dealing with 2 affected persons, whose alertness, lack of trust, and loss of their old identity are the context in which they live.

To quicken my analysis, let’s lump those criteria I mentioned above into one bucket we can call “Loss of Identity” . PTSI can rob us of our sense of worth through self-doubt and depression. This can result in a lot of different delinquent behavior including substance abuse, violence, and infidelity. PTSI constantly whispers “what the hell – you don’t feel anything, nobody could care about you, your old good life is gone, what is there to lose”. PTSI puts a dent in the things that kept us behaving.

Sufferers may feel a numbing of emotions and seek out something that will make them FEEL again. Or they may feel so separated from, and damaging to, the people they love the most that they  feel more separation would be the best thing for everybody.  A good read is an article I’m posting a link to in the script blog to this podcast. ( You can find it at or follow the blog link from my website While I’m promoting those sites, let me shamelessly remind you that I have two books of interest for sale there. One is THE BADGE AND THE BRAIN and the other is FORWARD I GO which is a daily inspirational book. Take a look at them at You’ll also find a link to, dedicated to speaking out and defending officers and the law enforcement profession. You’ll notice a donate button and anything you give will help keep these podcasts going.

Ok back to the subject – so there are some dynamics working here – the isolation and withdrawal can get twisted into a blaming of the partner from whom the PTS injured person is withdrawing from – which isn’t fair to the partner but that’s the way the stress injured brain can work -. In any case the separation can seemingly justify attaching to another.

Or the stress injured person can have such an emotional numbing that the normal emotional responses that help navigate self-control can be reduced. Numbing can also create a vacuum of sensation causing the stress injured person to seek something to create some feeling, which can be any behavior that involves risk and the potential for thrill or some degree of the old self. The numbing can also contribute to the “what the hell” attitude that nothing really matters and things can’t get worse so why not let loose and go for it?

Sexual dysfunction with the PTS injured person and their legitimate partner is also common. A brain that is in survival mode just can’t make an exception and take a break to be sexually aroused while it thinks it is fighting to survive the next minute and the next. PTSI robs from every body function in order to prepare for fight, flight, or freeze. This can lead to frustration and resulting inappropriate behaviors and responses.

Aggression can increase with heightened amygdala – that’s the lizard brain alert system – and sexuality and aggression have long been linked. Illicit sex can serve the same purpose as any displaced aggression that is really aimed at the cosmos and life, but is expressed in futile ways. It may be a way of punishing one’s self, or leaving consequences to fate as in some types of suicide attempts. Kind of a “let’s see if anybody cares” move.

We often hear PTS injured persons lamenting their behavior and responses and feelings. They’ll say “That just isn’t me” – and it isn’t the old them. This sense of not living in reality, the de-realization and de-personalization, can allow a person to do what they normally wouldn’t have done because prior to the PTS injury, they would have had the emotional capacity to foresee the bad consequences of sexual acting out and stop themselves.

Now, one of the other issues frequently involved in the lovely PTSI bouquet of experiences is the additional factor of brain injury. Concussions that damage or change parts or subparts of the brain that influence moral and emotional decision making, can be a huge component of behavior changes. 

Even if the primary trauma associated with PTSI is not a head injury, consider that, in the case of law enforcement certainly, there are plenty of career opportunities to get a blow to the head that may or may not be diagnosed or dealt with, and that may not be associated with the presenting problems of PTSI. So even in cases of cumulative PTSI – a stress disorder that may not be pinned on one life-threatening experience – the pre-existence or concurrent existence of some additional brain injury is a real possibility.We also cannot ignore issues of chronic pain often associated with PTSI trauma, nor the overwhelming challenge of ego and identity loss that can come with loss of employment in emergency services if PTSI or other injuries prohibit a return to work and the financial pressures that can pile up on top of all the other issues. 

In summary, let me reiterate that I’m not trying to give a pass to PTSI related sexual delinquency. Jerk behavior may be just because a person is a jerk and had weak moral foundations for relationships before they ever responded to an emergency. Nor am I implying that PTS injured persons should be immediately forgiven by the victim spouse, or that any of this knowledge reduces the pain of cheating and loss of trust. I’m also not saying that PTSI inevitably gets associated with infidelity (although sexual dysfunction and changes in intimacy are more common than not). 

If anything, the victim partner may be able to take some solace in accepting that they were not the reason for the infidelity, they did not “drive” their PTS injured spouse into someone else’s arms, and that resolving the PTSI with therapy over time will necessarily resolve some of the marital tension that comes with stress injury and illness. The victim partner should be aware of the increased risk of infidelity, and should be doing all they can for self-care, to reduce their own risk of developing PTSI. The decision to save a relationship wounded by infidelity is a difficult one, but it is possible when everyone involved does the healing work and recognizes that success may come in small steps over a long time.

If you have comments or questions about this topic – or anything really-  please email me at, check out my website at or call me toll free at 1 855 5SHULTS – 1 8 triple five S-H-U-L-T-S

Thanks for listening and remember that the script for this program with some article reference links are available on my blog that can be linked from my website.  I’ll leave you with 2Timothy 1:7  For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

November’s Christian Voter’s Dilemma - What's the Big Deal?

Those who are having a moral struggle with their Christian citizenship confuse me in their reluctance to vote for Trump or Clinton. It’s not that complicated as long as we face a few hard realities.

One of these realities is that we are not a Christian nation. The Founders were quite explicit about creating a secular government and I believe it was the hand of God that ordained it. I will always vote in ways that reflect my faith because it is inseparable from my being, personality, world view, and intellect.I will not, however, automatically vote for a candidate who claims Christianity because the mere label tells me nothing about his or her competence and wisdom.

The definition of who is a Christian ultimately resides in the heavenly realm. The maturity level, sincerity, and influence on thinking is not a standard template from person to person or season to season within a person. Nor is it biblical to say that God will bless the leader or the nation that claims to follow Christ over a leader or nation that does not. We grossly misinterpret many Old Testament blessings on the Jewish nation as promises to America. It is the church that is compelled to be a blessing to the nation, not the nation to bless the church. America has never failed God, only the church has done so.

Another reality is that the President does not have unlimited power to accomplish all that we might fear that Donald or Hillary will abuse. We have had eight years to see how a President can be unrestrained in influence, but this is the fault (if it is a fault – I understand the arguments but that’s my position) of Congress. It is Congress where our post cards and phone calls and emails and votes count the most. If one of you decides to abstain from the Presidential vote, DO NOT ABSTAIN from your vote for other offices for there is where your influence lies.

Another reality is that whether we can even chart the morality, much less a denomination, of a candidate is questionable. Our Facebook collection of like-minded friends gives us no compass with each assigning Hitleresque qualities to both candidates. The media, bless their hearts, seem to have lost any objectivity in favor of inflammatory headlines. And the publicity machines, consultants, and coaches, would never let a candidate speak Truth without a filter. Trump may be the only exception in that he apparently just says what is on his mind and this, to a public conditioned to hear only sanitized sound bites, is the very attribute that both attracts and repels. We tend to vote for personalities, but “I dunno I just don’t like (him)(her)” is not an informed vote.

It is my confidence (albeit shaky) in our local democratic process that allows me to vote for Trump. The very fact that he has unsettled us and will likely unsettle Congress is the greatest merit of his candidacy. The electorate has rarely been so invigorated and impassioned and we have The Donald to thank for that for better or for worse. I would argue that Bernie’s popularity owes a percentage to Trump’s contrast rather than Clinton’s. A Trump presidency might even be the final incentive for a third party whose time may finally have arrived to return to U.S. politics.

To the Christian whose compassion is encouraged by allowing open borders and more money for the poor, I would argue that we need to do a rational calculus of the nature and future of government programs. There is a liberty and culture cost to every law and program passed in Washington, D.C. I challenge any sociologist to attribute the destruction of black American families to anything other than the over reach of well-intended Great Society programs.  The Christian who claims that taking money out of someone else’s pocket to give to the poor is a Christian value should be more attentive to scripture. Therefore, to say Trump is hateful and Clinton is compassionate doesn’t necessarily translate to a policy that is good or bad when applied nationally and over time.

So the question of “How could you, a Christian, vote for _______” is perhaps a question that doesn’t deserve to be asked. In the end, we understand that God is sovereign, has a plan for our nation and the church, has given us a brain for thinking as well as a heart for feeling, and can give grace and blessing to whom he chooses. It is not Donald’s clumsy claims of being born again nor Hillary’s patronizing references to her Methodist background but rather our prayers, our good conduct, and our local political voices that will make the difference for our country.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Innocent Little Knife - Why Shoot?

An email writer posed this question: “If a criminal has a knife (no other weapon), should 2 or 3 cops be able to subdue him?”

That is a good question. It is a question that, if answered without a realistic understanding of the laws of physics and human capacity, can result in death, imprisonment, or the end of a career for a police officer.

This particular question includes the assumption, for this hypothetical, that the person with the knife is a criminal. 

Responding officers, of course, must assess the criminality or dangerousness of a person with a knife in the light of whatever knowledge they have at the moment that they make a response decision. There are two overarching issues in this proposition. The first is the nature of the officer’s observations, the second is the set of choices made by the knife holder.

Let me deal first with the knife holder. We often talk about levels of persuasion used by police officers to gain compliance. This is known as the “use of force continuum” that, until recent years, was standard policy and training for law enforcement. The idea was that the officer was to identify and classify the level of resistance they encountered, then calculate a level just above that resistance and counter with the minimum necessary force to overcome that resistance.

The continuum usually began with “officer presence” – a uniformed, authoritative manifestation that presumably produced in the mind of a rational lawbreaker a desire to submit to an arrest with no further violence. The continuum was often graphically represented as a ladder or stair steps ending in deadly force. This model has largely been rejected by both trainers and courts for a various reasons of practicality. 

My point here is that the idea that it is the officer showing up that is the first determinant of the wrongdoer’s behavior is erroneous. First and foremost, it is the law that requires a lawbreaker to submit to an arrest, not the officer. In most states, even if the arrest is not lawful, the citizen must submit because there exist remedies that can be applied later.

All citizens, by social contract, agree to submit to authority and comply with the laws of the land for the greater good of the collective community. This means that criminal conduct is not only a knowing violation of the community good, but that criminals explicitly accept any consequences of their own behavior. Those consequences are well known and predictable. 

I’m perplexed that the current movement whose first assumption is the wrongdoing of a police officer who uses force to gain compliance with the law, takes no account of the choices of those against whom force is used who violate the first rule of citizenship.

The other issue - that of the officers’ decision making process - is that the decision of how to gain compliance is a complex one. The factors that go through an officer’s conscious and subconscious mind involve complex legal and regulatory standards as well as primitive survival responses to basic brain functions governing the fight, flight, or freeze neurochemistry. 

These factors include decisions based on the officer’s experience and training, some of which are so instantaneous and instinctive that the officer may not have a conscious memory of them, or are so subtle that they cannot be communicated or understood by a calm prosecutor, judge, or jury looking at the known facts from a distance.

Many of these factors do not show up on video, and most importantly, do not fit the template that most citizens have how violent encounters occur because they have little in common with the images of television and movies that are as imprinted in everyone’s minds. One could compare television police stories and real world encounters to soap opera romances compared to real life marriage. Expectations created by fantasy do not create appropriate behaviors in real life. 

The tensing of muscles, micro expressions flashing in a millisecond, a subtle angle of the shoulder or foot, or the change in breathing can signal – in context – resistance or aggression. Athletes are given great honor for such instincts in boxing or swinging at a pitch; as well as great latitude for failure. Interpreting and reacting to the complex physics of a pitched baseball a third of the time makes a batter a hero! By contrast, one mistake by a police officer ends a career even if, were all possible facts known, he or she made a reasonable decision.

As one can see, the question of whether two or three cops can take a criminal with a knife into custody without using deadly force (the implication of “without deadly force” being contained within the question) begins well ahead of what the public would ever see involving many factors that are not even visible.

If a person who an officer reasonably believes has engaged in criminal behavior, and is displaying a knife, and who is resisting, evading, or not complying with a police officer’s arrest, begins the question of what reasonable level of coercion is necessary to gain the resister’s compliance with the law.

The first question that seems to capture the attention of critics is the size of the knife. Perhaps common sense would seem to dictate that a large knife is more dangerous than a small knife, with the scale of dangerousness diminishing with the size of the blade. This assumption is not true. Some considerations are the vulnerabilities of human anatomy to a stab or incision, and the maneuverability of a blade in human hands, rather than how big or frightening the bladed weapons appears.

Multiple areas of the officers’ body are vulnerable to pain, disability, and mortality. We don’t have to go past the 9/11 airline hijackings to remember the lethality of a blade as small as a box cutter. 

The August 2015 attack on a Belgian train was stopped by two trained U.S. military men and a civilian. The three did subdue the attacker, but one of our heroes suffered a cut from the attacker’s box cutter than nearly severed his thumb. Addressing, again, the ethics of use of force, a lawbreaker does not earn the consideration of the lawful actors’ (the good guys) willingness to have a life altering injury to prevent injury to the lawbreaker. The lawbreaker has forfeited any such consideration by law and social convention.

The human heart is typically less than three inches from the skin. Stab depths are effected by the elasticity and compression of the body so that the length of the blade is not the limit of the depth of a stab wound. Although ballistic material is often worn by police officers, the material is designed to spread the force of a blunt bullet, not a thin blade. Therefore a knife could penetrate a bullet resistant vest that can stop a bullet. Again visiting the ethics of use of force, the fact that an officer has tools, training, and protective gear for dealing with violent resistance does not, therefore, justify any concession of advantage to the lawbreaker.

Add to the risk of a single fatal stab, the vulnerability of eyes, arteries, and fingers to a slashing incision, one can imagine that a police officer attempting to gain control of a resisting subject who has a blade might be distracted or disabled by pain, blindness, or dysfunction with one intentional or accidental slash or stab.

The swiftness of a knife wielding person would obviously be affected by the size of his blade. A long samurai sword swung in an arc would take longer to maneuver than a paring knife. This makes the paring knife potentially more lethal than the sword in close encounters. A ten year old little league pitcher can hurl a baseball at 50 MPH. A thrusting or swinging motion with a blade is very fast and can be happening in literally an infinite number of angles. Add to that any running motion that might be a part of resistance or attack, even assuming an additional 3 MPH of body motion, makes any police attack on the knife as a target highly unpredictable.

Many training exercises police use involve a static dummy target, or role players who simply can’t accurately replicate a person motivated and willing to kill another person. What our imaginations envision of what a standoff between a bad guy and some cops would look like is not reflective of the speedy and deadly attack of a resisting felon in a real confrontation.

The argument that officers can use a night stick to create distance and knock a knife from a person’s hands assume an officer’s eye hand coordination under extreme physiological stress is accurate enough to be a certain success (since a second chance is by no means guaranteed!) The dynamics of movement, the speed and the infinite possibilities of direction makes getting close enough for a stick strike too much of a risk.

Not only is hitting the target an uncertainty, the effectiveness of an accurate strike is not certain either. Resisting criminals may be under the influence of alcohol, other drugs, or just adrenaline. All of these chemicals reduce response to pain. This means that a strike must not merely hurt enough for a person to drop their weapon, the strike must be powerful enough to break the anatomical structure enough to stop the control of the attacker over the weapon. That means interrupted nerves, broken bones, and damaged musculature.

Meanwhile, a motivated aggressor not limited to fighting just with his or her knife, but with the other hand as well as feet and head and teeth. Moving in close enough to do anything suggested by a non-lethal response presents the officers with too many threat variables to effectively control. I liken it to trying to reach into a blender to stop the blades from spinning without getting cut.

Another argument is that a gun is never a “fair fight” with a person who has a knife. A few points to remember are that 1) the resistor is making a choice to resist the law and the agents of that law and therefore is not entitled to any fairness until he or she is in custody; 2) just because a resistor is displaying one weapons doesn’t preclude the possibility that he or she has an additional weapon; and 3) a bladed weapon, as this writing has shown, is a deadly weapon and therefore merits a deadly weapon in response – not as a matter of some street fighting ethics but as a matter of tactics designed for the good guys to certainly win.

Keep in mind that a failure by the police in terms of allowing an officer to be wounded or killed, or to allow a dangerous person to escape and thereby threaten the peace and lives of other citizens, is a very high cost financially and morally to the community.

The TASER, or other electronic control device (ECD), is not appropriate as the first choice against an edged weapon. Best practice is to deploy an ECD against a person with a deadly weapon only if at least one other officer is present with lethal cover (i.e. with his or her firearm drawn) in case of ECD failure. ECDs have limitations and conditions for success that make the outcome of their use too unpredictable to be used as the primary option when facing a bladed weapon.

It must be noted that even deadly force is uncertain, as in many documented cases of attackers'  continued aggression after sustaining a deadly injury. Once again movies have convinced us that people who are shot fall dead immediately, which is rarely true.

The simplest answer to the initial question is no, multiple police officers should not attempt to arrest a criminal who is armed with a knife without an immediate deadly force option. The best outcome is always for the person who has chosen to be armed with a knife to then choose to submit to the lawful orders of our laws representatives – the police officer.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

I need help! pssst - don't tell anybody! The police officer's choice - secrets or the job.

            After my article on recognizing signs of distress in a colleague ( I received several emails, two of which made an impact on me.
A Tale of Two Officers
            One officer related how his supervisor and friend began to recognize signs of depression in his behavior, speech, and work. His colleagues called him on it and offered support. After engaging in some therapy this officer was able to recover and remains a productive detective on his department.
            Another officer, by contrast, wrote to tell of his struggle with prescription drug dependence. After a surgery, the officer discovered that he had become dependent on the pain killers. Although there was no effect on his work performance, he recognized his need to address the problem and sought help. He was able to get into a rehabilitation program which successfully got him back to his pre-surgery mental and physical fitness. Other than his time off for treatment, there was never any performance concerns from his department regarding his work.
            Based on medical records from his department’s medical providers, the department filed charges on some technical violations of failing to disclose his prescription use. The case may result in the loss of his career.
Don’t Ask Don’t Tell
            The officer who recognized his problem and solved it is being punished for his honesty. The obvious irony is that by confronting a health problem that could have affected his career in the long term may have short circuited it in the short term. The worst outcome of such a case is not just for this officer, but for the profession as a whole. The lesson may be to keep your struggles to yourself and hope you can avoid disaster since you can’t trust your employer’s health providers with confidentiality.
            The law enforcement and corrections professions cannot afford to encourage its members to keep their problems secret. Mental health issues such as depression and substance dependency rarely resolve on their own – especially in the pressure cooker of this kind of work. Agencies and legislatures must protect these professionals from job loss for seeking care where no permanent threat to public safety exists.
Stress and Survival
            Stress and other health and fitness issues must be elevated to more than a short block of instruction in the police academy. Along with Constitutional Law, EVOC, arrest control, and firearms, holistic health should be the fifth pillar of knowledge for every law enforcement officer.
            Health stresses, whether originating in the brain or the rest of the body, always ultimately impact the health of a department and, by extension, the community it serves. Prevention and treatment are the keys to preserving an agency’s most vital asset – the well trained officer. Punishing the sick and losing decades of potential service by failing to preserve an employee is wasteful and cruel.
Rookies and Administrators
            One of the ways that these issues slip through the cracks is that mid-career officers are the most vulnerable, both in health risk and to the risk of losing a career. Rookies tend to be healthier (not yet worn out), and less self-aware of the subtle corrosive effects of job related stress. They frequently lack the far sightedness to maintain self-care, including reporting and attending to injuries on the job.
            Administrators may tend to forget what patrol and shift work does to a human body. They may also be so focused on liability and short term costs that they find it easier to rid the department of a “problem” than to address it and preserve a valuable asset.
Dollars and Sense
            For an agency that hopes to retain an employee for 20 years, the cost of extended leave compared to a new hire is simple math. It costs money to recruit, train, and equip a new officer, in addition to the liability, supervision costs, and low productivity of two or three rookie years. It makes much more sense to make efforts to restore an existing officer to health and productivity.
            Sadly, the common presumption about things we classify as mental health issues is that they are chronic and permanent. With professional attention and peer support the things we worry about the most – PTSD, drug dependence, and depression – are all treatable with success. Members who have addressed and resolved these kinds of health issues must not bear the label of “defective”, but as valuable overcomers.


Thursday, October 8, 2015

Can Your Smile Get You Killed?

Anyone who has ever taken a polygraph knows how most citizens are feeling when a police officer approaches. A stress response is normal in almost everyone hooked up to the instrument. A stress response to any police contact is also certain.

Some officers, in a well intentioned effort to reduce the stress of the subject in a contact, will be exceptionally friendly. I am sad to report that this happy attitude can be fatal. Here are four reasons why:

Dissonance and congruence.
The brain wants to match every sensory input with a pre-existing pattern. It wants the world to be congruent with its expectations. When something doesn't fit, there is dissonance. Dissonance, like three sour notes played together on a keyboard, creates tension. Tension lights the fuse of the fight, flight, or freeze response.

What does a motorist or pedestrian expect from a police contact? The template in most minds is one of efficiency, stern alertness, and authority. We may not like that persona, but that's the role that society has assigned to us. When an officer is casually friendly it breaks the mold of that expectation. Rather than reducing tension, that smile and friendliness may trigger that dissonance in the citizen's brain, creating more nervousness, fear, or even anger than the expected standard professional greeting officers are taught in the academy.

Smiling Makes You Happy and Careless.
Research shows that when a person clenches a pencil horizontally between the teeth, the resulting lip posture mimics the muscles associated with smiling. This artificial grin actually tells the brain that you are happy. A happy brain is one that is all right with the world, therefore increasing lag time to recognize and respond to danger cues. Conversely, frowning is associated with making the brain think harder.

A person who thinks they can smile genuinely while pondering the possibility of a sudden attack will find the incongruity of those attitudes projected on their face. This conflict can be perceived by the citizen and likely interpreted as not really friendly, ratcheting up their stress response.

The Guilty Will Use Your Good Mood Against You.
Contact with a subject who is actually guilty poses the greatest threat to the overly-friendly police officer. The dissonance is amplified. For the offender who does not respond in kind with some socially acceptable friendliness behavior to the friendly officer, the emotion gap gets more pronounced. The officer will either increase efforts to be friendly, or suddenly turn stern in response to the guilty offender's stoic or silent response. Aggression can result.

The happy police officer tends to be more talkative, trying to evoke a sense of calm in the subject while accomplishing just the opposite. A silent offender is more dangerous than a talkative offender. Plots and plans for attack and evasion are on the mind of the silent offender. If the guilty subject believes he can use the officer's lack of awareness as an opportunity, he will. Humans are not wired to be cautious and happy at the same time.

Do Nice Guys Really Finish Last?
FBI interviews with cop killers finds that these killers often report a subjective feeling that their victim was vulnerable. A recent set of experiments by Dr. Bill Lewinski on traffic stops resulted in an informal report by the role playing driver. Told to fire on an approaching officer on a simulated traffic stop that driver also had a subjective sense of who would be vulnerable to attack. As a matter of statistical reality, the number of officer murders relative to the number of police contacts is so small that the randomness of police killings defies efforts to find patterns to the murders. However, these two well respected sources raise a red flag about the importance of an officer's professional and authoritative presence that cannot be ignored.

Polite and Professional Wins

Nothing in this article should encourage an officer to be surly, impolite, officious, authoritarian, or paranoid. Use the standard greeting that you learned in the academy. Be professional, polite, and alert. And smile a lot - when you get home.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Ferguson: Democracy Wounded


Around noon on August 9th, 2014, in the nondescript St.Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, every principle of the American ideal was tested and laid bare to the world. An armed agent of the government was brutally attacked by a man holding the meager proceeds of his strong armed robbery minutes before.

Michael Brown, African-American, is now memorialized with a permanent marker at the site of his death near his day's start of a quest to smoke the morning away. His funeral was a national spectacle, attended by representatives of high office.

The cigars for his recipe were stolen with a forceful shove from a hard working Asian-American. This shop owner continues his daily struggle as a forgotten  victim.

The armed government agent, of caucasion heritage, whose face was smashed and who fought for his life against his own duty sidearm is now in hiding after every scientific and legal proof of numerous investigations showed that he acted within the law.

This story as I tell it, factually incontrovertible, will never be read dispassionately - the reader's blood pressure and pulse are already on the rise no matter with whom one’s sympathies lie. Facts alone do not tell the story, for the story is as old as the nation itself and contains every emotion born of the human desire for freedom, with all of the slogans and mythologies that history records in every era.

The story is about power, privilege, fear, poverty, and the essence of government. The story is about the political exploitation of race, how we rage, and a search for the answer to Rodney King's plaintive question: can't we all just get along?

Most importantly, the story is about what we are not allowed to discuss. The rhetoric of easy, pleasing answers demands 24/7 surveillance of law enforcement, millions of dollars thrown at training and commissions and investigations - all of which are largely "reform theater": looking like we are all really doing something about a problem the public seems to want us to do something about. It will be used as long as it can obscure other national embarrassments, or to maintain some degree of mollification until more urgent news pushes it to a vague memory.

We are not allowed to discuss realistically the needs of law enforcement to accomplish the demands of its public. We used Tasers and the outcry was "too much shocking!” We shoot armed criminals and the outcry is "why didn't you just use the Taser?"  We dress and act tactically and are told to "soften" up and be guardians and not warriors, yet when a theater, or cartoon convention, or military base is attacked our shiny shoes and the bullet in our pocket can't protect those who depend on us. We acknowledge the soul-killing brain crush of the job and yet force our officers to keep their need for mental health services a secret or lose their career.

We can't discuss that because black lives matter we need to find a solution for black victims of black perpetrators. The rare police shooting must be headline news with the obligatory riot while black homicide victims at the hands of black killers in any given year would stack four across and up to the observation deck of the Empire State building. But to address that would be racist, irrelevant, generate no headlines, and embarrass leadership that depends on misdirected fear.

We can't ask what we can do for our country, we must only demand what it can do for us. We can't invoke Martin Luther King's call for non-violence to change hearts. We can't mourn black police officer's deaths. They are not sufficient fodder for political platforms, votes, and headlines.

The lesson of Ferguson will not be found in the noise or the flames or the headlines. It will only be found in the silence of what we fear to discuss. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Criminal Heroes – What Will History Say?

Someday a student will read about the middle of this decade, wondering who its heroes were. The names Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Freddie Gray will be cited as persons behind a catalyst of violence and murder that marked an epidemic of hatred directed at the institution of policing and individual police officers. The student will note that a few laws were changed and more training was required. The student will also note, if they are astute, that the number of officer involved shootings did not significantly decline since they were rare to begin with.

The student will read about black neighborhoods scorched by riots. Small businesses destroyed. Tax dollars strained to rebuild and neighborhoods abandoned. He will ask why those labeled as demanding justice brought ruin to their own community. He will see Brown described as a gentle giant and not as a man fleeing a strong armed robbery and proven to have attacked Officer Wilson, Garner as just trying to make a living selling cigarettes and not his organized crime affiliation and criminal history, and Gray, with a long rap sheet for narcotics and in possession of a switch blade when taken into custody, as having had “scrapes with the law”. The strain to make these habitual criminals into heroes will not be obvious to him.

He will read that journalists and commentators place these men in the same category as those who marched with MLK, and the victims of vicious lynchings of KKK terror. He will read that the violence was necessary for reform, and that the cry of black lives matter was as noble as the call of I have a dream. He will read that calling these men thugs was the worst kind of racism. Only in the smallest of footnotes will he read about the professional agitators and criminal gangs that joined local masked rioters to hurt and destroy.

He will read that the police were the greatest enemy of black citizens. He will probably not read that while cities burned over these men, bodies of black citizens murdered by black killers every year would stack as high as the Empire State Building. Those black lives didn't quite matter as much. He will not know what resources sucked into the repair caused by rioters would not be available to address the legacy of poverty in black neighborhoods where families of color worked hard and desperately to overcome institutionalized racism from cradle to grave. No, the focus was on that police contact. Was it poor prenatal care? Fatherless families? Third rate educational opportunities? No, it was that cop. The easy answer.

If the student of history desire truth he will find it. And he will wish we had found it in the moment. 

But we did not.