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Brian Willis

Brian Willis

Brian Willis is a retired officer, trainer and author who now serves as deputy executive director for the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA).

Doug  Wyllie

Doug Wyllie

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

William Harvey

William Harvey

William "Bill" Harvey is currently serving as chief of police in south central Pennsylvania. He retired from the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department where he worked assignments in training, patrol, and CID. Harvey has more than 25 years of experience working with recruits, rookies, and FTOs.

Fears, Phobias, and the Dead

Preparing for life's little awkward moments.

September 12, 2007  |  by William Harvey - Also by this author

Rarely in the hiring process or in the academy do your fears and phobias come to the surface. Some recruits anticipate that they will encounter something will creep them out. Others feel that they can overcome and handle virtually anything that comes their way. But out there in policeland, sooner or later something will manifest itself and provide you with a dose of reality.

Recruits who have 'experience'

One question that I always ask recruits is whether they have ever been around somebody who is dead. If the only answer I get is, "I went to the funeral home once," we are in for a ride. The recruits who are exceptions to this are those who have come from another emergency services background (ambulance or volunteer fire/rescue). Hospital workers and war veterans may also have exposure in this area. But for a fresh recruit that has never seen someone who is—as we say in the South—"bad dead," well, the show will begin soon.

If you believe for one moment that looking at crime scene photos or renting horror flicks will prepare you, there are some other 'things' in store. Photos and videos are one dimensional and short lived. It is the smell that gets you the first time. I have never been able to duplicate the essence of a dead guy for scenario training but it sure would lighten up things! You can shut your eyes and cover your ears, but the smell is what lingers and shocks the system.

You will have to follow your departmental guidelines regarding what you can and cannot do on a putrid case. Some old timers used to smoke cigars feverishly; however smoking on a crime scene or in the public eye is now frowned upon. Cheap after-shave or a menthol rub in the mask or copious amounts around the nose helps. On some of the more aromatic calls it always pays to have a buddy on the fire department who can lend you a respirator.

Things that give you the willies…

I have had some trainees who have certain known phobias. Some were not crazy about heights or were claustrophobic (no wonder they did not take the fire test). A few did not like dogs or what have you. The key here is that they had some conception of what difficulties they might encounter in the future. One lad that I recall had a bugaboo about getting caught in the dark. He carried with him at least three flashlights on dayshift. It is important to compensate for your weaknesses without letting it bog you down.

Preparation for patrol

If you believe you have a misgiving about something that could inhibit your learning or work, you need to have a talk with your FTO. A good FTO will be able to 'ramp you in' as you go along and encounter whatever ails you. After the encounter you both should talk about what you have encountered and how you handled it. To be honest, nearly every recruit finds something that tugs at them during their careers. It is rarely career ending and can be overcome with training, purpose, and coping skills. Do not be afraid of your demons. Face them head on. Oh yeah, I forgot…I hate snakes.

Remember: It's one thing to be afraid of the dark, but keeping yourself or your co-workers in the dark about it something very scary, indeed.

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