Junk Science on the Beat

Many police psychologists believe that if you don’t feel bad, something is wrong with you.

Dave Smith Headshot

Years ago I worked for a captain who was a huge fan of management best-sellers. It was great for keeping us all current on the latest trend in manipulating employees. Following any meeting with this fellow all of us sergeants and lieutenants would get together and guess which new management techniques had just been used on us.

For example, when "One Minute" managing was hot, our meetings were short and sweet. So we just laughed and went back to work.

Others, like "Management by Wandering Around," got to be quite annoying as the commandant would suddenly appear in a training session and disrupt it and then leave...this is when I started to really despise management "experts" and their shallow writings.

Unfortunately, it isn't just in management theory that my beloved profession tends to follow trends. Over the decades I have found a lot of policy that came from politics and not legal or practical foundations.

One sad example is how we treat our brothers and sisters when they win an armed confrontation. I have talked to many officers over the years who told me the real trauma to them was not winning a gunfight but the way the agency and its "mental health professional" dealt with them afterward.

One poor guy I talked to had been through five years of therapy because he said he felt good after killing a hostage taker and saving the hostage. Because he felt good for stopping evil, saving the innocent, and doing his job he was thought sick. But there's nothing wrong with feeling good about destroying an evil and ending a threat.

The highly readable book "One Nation Under Therapy" describes how post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) became a politicized syndrome and how the hard science about this condition has been largely ignored. Consequently, the traditional healing venues of faith, camaraderie, and family that had worked for centuries for soldiers, cops, and disaster victims have been replaced by "The Therapist."

I remember when all of a sudden there were these people called "police psychologists" everywhere and some I met were so touchy-feely I wondered if they were selling health or illness. Post Shooting Trauma was the rage and if you didn't get it, there was something wrong with you.

As it turns out, real PTSD is relatively rare and most folks will heal if given support and they don't feel separated from their brothers- and sisters-in-arms. So we need to rethink sending people home and enhancing their fear of separation.

And the one thing we absolutely don't need to do is treat an officer who is involved in a shooting like some perp being sweated in an "NYPD Blue" interrogation scene. Yet, this is essentially what is being advocated as a "best practice" (more management-by-bestseller speak) by some "police oversight" organizations.

This is politics turned policy. And when you combine it with the junk science that is already applied to law enforcement psychology, you get a terrible double whammy on the emotional health of officers.

We exist in a system that already expects officers to become ill after they've won a gunfight, and now we are in danger of ending up with a system that treats these brave and selfless warriors like suspects, not the heroes that they really are. I hope that real science can save us from this terrible trend because unlike my captain's love of new management techniques, there is nothing funny about it.

Dave Smith is the creator of the "Buck Savage" series and a former law enforcement officer from Arizona. Currently, he is the Lead Instructor for Calibre Press' Street Survival seminar.

About the Author
Dave Smith Headshot
Officer (Ret.)
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