In a culture of increasing awareness of terms like diversity and inclusiveness, the ironic result is often an exclusion of some of our great American traditions, including asking God's blessing on public events. This is not necessary under the establishment clause of the First Amendment and often injures the free exercise clause. Today's event deals in essence with death, and how its shadow informs the police officer's life. It is fitting then, that such a sober contemplation of things immortal, transcendent, and eternally significant be attended by calling upon our Creator to lend attention to this moment.
I invite you to join me as I do that or to engage in whatever pose, attitude, or thoughts that give honor to this occasion. My prayer is this -
Dear God, we gather today to honor servants of mankind who have given to us their last full measure of devotion. As we gather to honor the dead I pray that the light of their sacrifice might illuminate our own purpose; that as their life was too swiftly extinguished that it will yet fuel our dedication to peace and service.
May we as peace officers be renewed in our thankfulness to be numbered among heroes, and refreshed in our desire to faithfully serve others. As no greater love has any person but to lay down their life for another, let us so love - to love justice, to love our community, and to embrace our family and those who love us with active, purposeful demonstrations of love.
We pray that while we are wholly accountable for our actions that the critic' voice will be softened by voices of encouragement from our good citizens. We pray for wisdom for our legislators and leaders that they will never lightly employ our coercive power so that we shall never be a hand of oppression but always an instrument of peace.
Guard our liberty, Oh God. Guard our hearts Oh God. Guard our honor Oh God. In the name of the One who hears our petitions and has the power to grant them I pray. Amen.
Friday, May 11, 2018
Monday, May 7, 2018
A highly educated, intelligent, and moderately conservative acquaintance recently posted a story on his Facebook from a woman who had a police encounter to relate. The woman used social media to tell of a car stop of a vehicle in which she was a passenger and her boyfriend was the driver. The officer and the driver engaged in an escalation of tension ending with the officer pointing a gun at the driver. Upon their complaint to the officer’s supervisors, the officer reported that he had his Taser out and not a firearm, and there was no finding of wrongdoing. The woman decried that nothing had been done to discipline the officer. Her version was the only one presented. My acquaintance made this introduction to his sharing of the woman’s account: “Some of our police are heroes worthy of honor. But we need to reign in those who think that a badge and a gun make them lords among men.” That statement is factually true but bathed in the not so subtle prejudice that implies the worst of most officers. It sounds suspiciously like "I have a ____(black, gay, muslim, etc) friend and a lot of them are fine people....
There was a time when critics of law enforcement were scofflaws and lawbreakers, or those who had personally experienced an unpleasant encounter with the police. Now we have ordinary and outstanding citizens who vicariously join ranks with the harshest critics, damning with faint praise with statements like “some of our police are good.” Losing the support of solid citizens who succumb to prejudice against the police is a blow to quality law enforcement.
How did the narrative of deeply flawed policing catch fire at a time when police officers have never been more carefully selected and trained, with higher education levels and more professional leadership than ever? Why do the carefully edited and selected videos proffered by the media and anti-police activists gain superior credibility over scientific studies on the realities of violent encounters? Why is Michael Brown still a hands-up-don’t-shoot hero when every investigation says exactly the opposite?
The answer to these questions of how prejudices develop is in psychology. The answers to why is in politics.
Origins of Prejudice
Prejudices are just one way that the brain processes information seeking to enhance pleasure and avoid danger. We are programmed to generalize and predict. When we get information, we use that to establish templates for decision making. What is familiar to us does not alert strong feelings of fear or disgust. What is unfamiliar we approach with caution.
Another factor is the human inclination to associate with groups or tribes. We know who our friends are and who else is like our friend group. We develop a sense of who is in and who is out and, further, we begin to build real or imaginary walls and defenses against the out-group for our protection.
Throughout our lifetime we accumulate the information that our brains use to decide if something is safe and familiar or foreign and potentially a threat. We tend to pay attention to information that verifies our existing conclusions, but our experiences and new information can eventually change our prejudices. Prejudices are not based on mathematical probabilities. Most sticks are not snakes. Most berries are not poison. Most cops are not jerks. But if very many things you thought were sticks turn out to be snakes, you will hate both sticks and snakes.
Changes in prejudices seldom happen immediately and completely. If, for example, a person has an embedded mistrust of police, they can have a positive experience or friendship with a law enforcement officer. The person will consider that positive relationship an exception to the rule rather than an endorsement of all police officers in order to hold on to their preconceptions. A more general trust or appreciation of the broader group will take more intense experiences and positive information.
The Politics of Prejudice
Whether intentional or not, the playing and replaying of controversial videos of violent encounters with law enforcement feeds information to a public increasingly willing to interpret those images negatively and apply them broadly. Because department spokespersons are usually not the first to frame the story or are rendered silent by legal issues, those negative first impressions get more attention from the brain of the civilian.
Viral videos, whether on traditional mass media or social media, are often shown in edited form and with a sensationalistic narrative. Untrained observers are likely to be repulsed by the intensity of the encounter and immediately begin a mental process of denial to deal with the images. The denial process allows the civilian to believe that they wouldn’t act like the suspect or the officer, thus immediately making the persons in the video part of an out-group. And, if they identify with the suspect in some way, it places the law enforcement officer further away from the public’s embrace.
Even events that are eminently explainable from a police perspective get imprinted as negative and no amount of scrubbing will convince most people that their first impressions were wrong. Those who profit from sensationalism, and those who benefit from opposition to the police, jump on these many opportunities to fan the flames of misinformation. Individuals come to believe that those negative impressions are the norm, providing more validation to an already existing bias. A police officer, who sees those in their in-group getting unfairly treated, is prone to respond defensively and angrily, often playing into the hands of critics ready to paint defensiveness as guilt.
Can the good guys win the perception wars?
If the frequency of confusing images and negative messaging is a major cause of anti-police sentiment, the cure may be more frequent positive messaging. Police agencies may no longer be content for the occasional feel-good newspaper article or community relations program. Consistent, persistent, positive messaging through multiple avenues is a new essential in law enforcement leadership. Constantly building credibility with the public is not a distraction from fighting crime, it is an essential element in effective contemporary policing.
Posted by Dr. Joel F. Shults at 12:57 PM
Monday, April 16, 2018
Unless you have the self-discipline to ignore things on the news that are utterly un-newsworthy, you have probably heard that a couple of men were arrested by police officers for trespassing in a Starbucks in the city of brotherly love. Apparently, two gentlemen sat at the coffee place for a while then asked for access to the bathroom. Since they hadn’t purchased anything, the manager did not allow them to use the restroom and asked them to leave. When they did not leave the manager made a 911 call to ask the police to handle the matter. Now, let’s see how much you know about all that.
Q 1 The management is racist because non-minority persons are allowed to hang out without buying anything but these guys were black so no way was that going to be allowed.
C. Doesn’t matter to the responding officers since they got a call, had a witness, attempted to resolve the matter without an arrest, and had probable cause to believe a violation had been committed.
Answer: C . For those of you who wished that there was a “D” choice, this is what it would have said : D. The officers should have called the CEO of the company and asked for a change in policy that would allow a person, regardless of race, color, or creed, to hang out at Starbucks like it was their living room for an indeterminate amount of time. If that had been an option on this multiple choice question, the answer would still have been C.
Q 2 A common cultural courtesy when sitting in a business is to:
A. Keep looking at your watch to signal that you’re waiting for somebody
B. Buy a pack of gum or something cheap as a good faith gesture
C. Doesn’t matter to the responding officers since they got a call, had a witness, attempted to resolve the matter without an arrest, and had probable cause to believe a violation had been committed.
D. Make yourself at home and make sure to take some napkins and sugar packets while you’re there
Answer: Yup, still C.
Q 3 Upon hearing of the incident, the Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross:
A. Immediately appointed a task force made up of one ACLU attorney, one Black Lives Matter member, and a federal judge to investigate why officers are responding to 911 calls involving minorities
B. Placed the officers on unpaid leave until the investigation into the matter could be delayed long enough for the media to forget it ever happened
C. Made a statement on social media explaining that the officers did nothing wrong
D. Implemented a policy prohibiting officers from drinking coffee with cream or sugar in it
Answer: Aha! Trick question! The answer is C. Support of line officers by an administration in politically charged environments does seem to be the exception to the rule, but Commissioner Ross decided to take the unique course of sticking with the facts and the law.
Q 4 In what ways did Starbucks back-pedal to keep its customers?
A. Apologized for allowing its manager to follow its policy
B. Denied the tweets that compared this incident to the Woolworth lunch
counter arrests of the 1950s
C. Doesn’t matter to the responding officers since they got a call, had a witness, attempted to resolve the matter without an arrest, and had probable cause to believe a violation had been committed.
D. Passively took a verbal beating from Philadelphia’s mayor, who accused them of racism
Answer: Again, for our purposes, the answer is C – although I would score “all of the above” as correct.
Commissioner Ross is quoted as saying “These officers had legal standing to make this arrest. These officers did absolutely nothing wrong. They followed policy, they did what they were supposed to do, they were professional in all their dealings with these gentlemen — and instead, they got the opposite back. I will say that as an African-American male, I am very aware of implicit bias. We are committed to fair and unbiased policing, and anything less than that will not be tolerated in this department.”
Commissioner, I will be sending you a personal note of congratulations. And it will include my usual appreciation gift – a Starbucks gift card. Just make sure and order quickly when you do go in.
Posted by Dr. Joel F. Shults at 9:05 AM
Wednesday, April 11, 2018
This is one of those discussion pieces that I try to leave alone because I have a chip on my shoulder and I try to keep my brain from running away and keeping me awake at night. My defensiveness comes from forty years of immersion in the world of law enforcement as an officer and leader and as an academic and trainer. Besides being a police academy trainer, I was immersed in deadly force studies after an officer-involved shooting of one of my officers when I was a police chief. I also work, in my capacity as a chaplain, with officers wounded in the line of duty that are so terribly ignored and disposable. My heart is with the cops, and I have trod there.
During that intense study and the years that have followed, I have become aware of the physics and biology involved in an officer’s decision to use deadly force. We pay more attention to the skill of a quarterback playing football than we do on the dynamics of an officer’s use of force. When those factors arise in court and presented to judges and juries rational decisions are made by the courts to find that the officer’s actions were reasonable and justifiable, despite ugly critique and disturbing videos.
Mr. French – and yes, thank you for your service – makes an attempt to credibly compare his military unit’s success in killing few civilians during wartime to the controversial killings by police officers. He fails and here’s why.
The theater of war is not the streets of America. “I walked the streets of local towns and villages. I experienced tense situations where you didn’t know whether to shoot or hold fire I walked the streets of local towns and villages. I experienced tense situations where you didn’t know whether to shoot or hold fire.” Right. You were at war. You didn’t want to kill a good guy or let a bad guy live to fight another day, but the consequences, though grave, are not the consequences that a police officer faces. There are allowances in war. Collateral damage is a pre-calculated cost. Allowing anonymous forces to get away to do anonymous damage in another battle lays differently at the combatants’ feet than the police officers.
French explains “our troopers faced constant attacks. IEDs claimed lives. Men died to ambushes. Indirect fire was a frequent threat to our combat outposts. Our troopers fought pitched battles in the streets, called in air strikes, fired thousands of artillery rounds, and killed, wounded, and captured dozens of terrorists.” Exactly. For the police officer, while having to make a deadly force decision is quite common (police officers are amazingly restrained in that regard – I know, the reader will not believe that the studies are quite clear on that matter), the exercise of that power is quite rare and, in the context of all the police/citizen contacts that occur, a statistical anomaly.
French states that “Good officers, like good soldiers, know that each encounter takes place against the background of a much larger context, with multiple factors influencing the outcome” and does so in the context of probabilities. He denies that officers should think that a deadly encounter is as likely in one situation as in another, that they should play the odds.
This thinking, which I understand is reasonable from the non-police citizen’s base of experience, does not reflect the police officer’s reality. When we hear that a suspect shot by police was mentally ill, only had a cell phone, was just a trespasser, etc, that belies the totality of circumstances faced by the officer. A barking dog complaint can be an indicator of a burglary in progress. A 911 hang-up can be a prelude to a murder. Worse case scenario thinking? Yes. When you buy a lottery ticket you have a one in a million chance of making the big score, but you have the same chance as anybody else.
Anecdotally I know a trooper who was shot by a man who he had contacted for urinating in public. I was knocked unconscious by a traffic violator, and struck by a vehicle whose driver was fleeing a vandalism. When 911 callers say they see a man with a gun, is the officer supposed to think “Ahh, it’s probably just a toy?” Making a deadly force decision is predicated on the circumstances at the moment of the fatal shot, not on whether your suspect is a misdemeanant or felon. French’s statement “Pursuit of an armed robber is different from the pursuit of a vandal, and both are dramatically different from rolling up on an actual firefight” isn’t true as it plays out in the real world of murky and fluid changes.
So, Mr. French, we don’t have the license that war allows. Our mission, as you point out, is largely service and investigation oriented. But the old Marine concept of being polite to everyone you meet and have a plan to kill them is not as ridiculous as you imply. It might be a good time to visit my article posted recently here, regarding California’s proposal to redefine the rules of engagement for deadly force: https://aztroopers.org/enews/4-reasons-californias-deadly-force-proposal-deserves-to-die
Now, Mr. French reminds us “it’s important to understand that the mission must come before personal safety.” Are we then to conclude that when the question of “is that person trying to kill me?” comes to an officer’s mind that her response should be “well, let’s see if he shoots me or not?” I won’t go into all of the micro-facts that go through the brain – many of them at a less than conscious awareness level – that telegraph a lethal intent, but those can be articulated and, when juries understand them, deadly force decisions that seem outrageous become quite rational. Of course, there are “bad” shootings, but not very many. And the list of shootings spouted by the average commentator always includes cases that have been critically examined and found lawful.
The idea that officers are set free from responsibility because they claim they were afraid isn’t as cowardly as French makes it sound. First of all there is a high ethical call for survival that includes the ability to continue to serve, continue to intervene, avoid being an impediment to other first responders, and completing the mission in which they were engaged. Secondly, the fear standard is not subjective, it is objective. The fear must be reasonable and articulated to meet the legal standard, not merely claimed. French disingenuously misappropriated an officer’s statement that French quoted in speaking about the Castile shooting to conclude that the officer shot a man because the man was exposing a child to second-hand smoke. Please, Mr. French, if you have to do those kinds of contortions, you reduce your credibility.
On a related note, French claims that “policing is of the most dangerous jobs”. This is being recently challenged by closer studies of officer injury and death. And even if police work isn’t all that dangerous, as French implies and I vigorously reject, that’s not relevant to Officer A’s individual decision to employ deadly force in a given situation. French implies, in commenting on a recent shooting in Sacramento, California, that the fact no officer has been killed in the line of duty for a long time should somehow enter into the calculation of the officer who decided to shoot. (In a case that has not been fully examined forensically – but lack of facts never stopped an opinion).
French began on a weak premise and concluded with weak presumptions predicated on few facts. Being a soldier and being a police officer are not equivalents.
Posted by Dr. Joel F. Shults at 12:52 PM
Tuesday, April 3, 2018
Historically, American law enforcement began largely as a patronage job – something you got because you knew someone with political power who could appoint you. Law enforcement agencies were composed of people who looked like the people who were elected or gained office by political power – white males. This was the template for what a police officer looked like. Any deviation came with suspicions from within the police culture as well as the public. With the arrival of civil service in policing, candidates were chosen by merit. The screening process still managed to filter out almost all but white males.
But change was inevitable. According to the Office of Community Policing, the first black police officer was, surprisingly, in Selma, Alabama circa 1867. An article from the National Law Enforcement Museum chronicles New York City’s first black police officer, Samuel Battle, appointed in 1911. Alice Stebbins Wells is regarded as the first American female police officer, serving Los Angeles in 1910.
In mid-century America, government became the petri dish in the era of renewed interest in civil rights. More women and more minorities were hired by law enforcement, even if only to avoid lawsuits. The first police department that I served added its first female two years after I started. The police station, built in the early 1970s, had no locker room for females. In 1981, Patrolman Woody Tennant became the first openly gay police officer in San Francisco. Transgender cops used to make headlines and get interviews in the media. Not such a big deal now.
Added to race, gender, and sexual orientation, the most recent debates became about bodies and physical capacity. With the advent of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, the physical abilities required to pass an entrance exam or police academy came into question. Doing pull-ups, being a minimum height, and other standard physical tasks now generated lawsuits demanding proof that standards were relevant to actual law enforcement tasks. A 1993 issue of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin debated vision requirements for recruits. Fast forward to March of last year when Matias Ferreira, a 28 year old double amputee, graduated as a police officer with the Suffolk County, NY police department. Also last year, Wendy Caldwell was sworn in as Houston Police Department’s oldest academy graduate at age 53.
This week we find this headline: “Texas PD hires first deaf female officer. Officer Erica Trevino became the first female deaf commissioned officer in the department’s history.” Dalhart, Texas, population 8,307, is stepping into the brave new world of non-discrimination by disability.
Where will it end? That’s not a slap-your-forehead with an exasperated sigh question. It’s legit. What are the outer limits of acceptability of police recruits? Given the concern about finding enough cops to fill our ranks now, the challenge is not just to obtain bodies, but what kinds of bodies can we – or must we – accept?
The human brain’s template is wired early on to respond with either acceptance or suspicion in determining what is normal and what is a threat. Our law enforcement culture is no different. A black cop in a police department that has always been all white is not normal. A college-educated cop in a blue-collar GED world is not normal. A female with a badge isn’t normal where it has never happened before. Black officers historically were prohibited from arresting white offenders. Women officers had to wear skirts and could only arrest if a male officer were also present. Many were immediately assigned to juvenile work for the presumed maternal instincts.
Every mold-breaking first-generation of a new type of officer has faced the loneliness of proving themselves. It was not only sink or swim, it was often sink or swim with a weight around your neck. Waiting for back up when your shift has conspired to not give you any help is no fun.
Officer Trevino, I would have advised you as strongly as possible to find another profession. If I were on patrol with you at DPD, I’d be nervous. And I give you the same advice I’d give a cross-fit ex-Seal Team Six recruit: When it’s not for you, get out when you can.
It seems that the only barrier to being a cop is intelligence. Yes, Robert Jordan tested so high on his application for the New London, Connecticut police department that his application was tossed out. He sued for discrimination, but a federal appeals court in 2000 said that being too smart is an allowable disqualifier.
But I’ve worked with obese cops, old cops, arthritic cops, dumb cops, and Coke bottle lens wearing cops, and I’ve worked myself when I was too sick and weak to put up a fight but I suited up anyway. I managed to retire in one piece. The profession owes you, Officer Trevino, your Chief, and your co-workers gratitude for being the Chuck Yeagar of deaf police officers. You may break the no sound barrier. If you don’t make it, it will have been a worthy experiment anyway. And we hope no one gets hurt because you couldn’t hear what you needed to hear. Good luck, sister.
Posted by Dr. Joel F. Shults at 7:20 PM
Monday, March 26, 2018
I can’t be too cynical about the activism of the loudest and most media magnetized of the Parkland protestors. I can only vaguely imagine their experience, and realize that I, too, center my advocacy on matters that have personally affected me. We choose the color of our ribbon by what malady has touched us. So no one can blame those who were previously untouched by violence and, therefore, unconcerned about violence until they faced it.
We are instinctive in our desire to fight or flee, or be frozen in silent immobility by, those things that we perceive to be an attack on our corpus, security, or sense of self. Having violent and sudden death stalk your hallways can do that.
I also am wary of blaming activists for concentrating on things that are disproportionate to other important issues. Yes, I agree that drunk driving, texting while driving, abortions, and swimming pool accidents each kill more people every year than die in mass shootings or school shootings, but these don’t result in a virulent call to end backyard swimming pools, trips to the beach, or kids in boats because those are all deaths we are quite comfortable with, especially when they only happen one or two at a time.
But the rest of us – the attentive, news-watching public – should be expected to exercise rationality and discernment, even as we sympathetically feel support for the young people raising their voices.
So, I must ask the question of us – why do we only get lathered up about white middle-class kids getting shot? In trying to develop some perspective among my readers in various venues as a journalist and expert in violence I calculated that if stacked on top of each other horizontally, the number of black Americans murdered every year would reach the top levels of the Empire State Building. School shooting victims every year would about equal the number of people struck by lightening every year.
A look at FBI and other crime statistics will show that violent crime is down but for select urban areas, mostly with higher populations of black citizens. And, with few exceptions, their killers were also black. (And, oh, by the way, half of mass shooters are a racial minority, for what it’s worth). Now, some readers will immediately accuse this writer of racism because ALL LIVES MATTER and why should we be so hung up on race?!
But I’m accusing you, reader, of being racist, because you aren’t scanning the headlines of CNN or Fox News looking at the number of black children murdered. Because it is rarely newsworthy.
Believe me, I do not discount in any way the lives lost at Sandy Hook, or Columbine, or Parkland. But part of why we cared so much about those events and how to prevent them is because they weren’t urban black kids.
Now, none of that means we should not discuss crime control, school safety, the 2nd Amendment, or mental health. But as we do, we might want to look over our shoulders and ask “Am I missing something?”
Posted by Dr. Joel F. Shults at 10:09 AM
Thursday, June 22, 2017
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. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/all-about-sex/200910/marital-infidelity-how-common-is-it)
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 psychcentral.com (https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/03/22/how-common-is-cheating-infidelity-really/), 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. (http://www.ptsdspirituality.com/2015/11/28/ptsd-spirituality-cheating-spouses-infidelity-and-ptsd/) You can find it at joelshults.blogspot.com or follow the blog link from my website joelshults.com. 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 joelshults.com. You’ll also find a link to policeofficersvoice.com, 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 email@example.com, check out my website at joelshults.com 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.
Posted by Dr. Joel F. Shults at 7:03 PM