Author Archives: marksthilaire

About marksthilaire

"THE GREATEST ASSET IN PUBLIC SERVICE ARE YOUR PEOPLE, PLEASE TAKE CARE OF THEM" - Mark St.Hilaire Police Sergeant Mark St.Hilaire is a 28 year police veteran working in a busy Metro-west suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. He is a volunteer peer to a regional C.I.S.M. Team. He is passionate about public safety health and emotional wellness. He teaches and mentors public safety professionals about rebuilding and maintaining a healthy lifestyle as an Emergency Responder. He maintains contacts with various professionals world-wide to share the latest information and resources to individuals in need of confidential assistance. Mark is a wellness writer for www.lawenforcementtoday.com; www.copsalive.com and the New England Police Benevolent Association: Beyond the Badge newsletter. REMEMBER: WE ARE AN HONORABLE PROFESSION!

Archie Bunker and Edith photo

ROAD TRIP CHATTING AND TRAVELING

By Mark St.Hilaire

Here we are approaching Memorial Day weekend, the start of the summer time vacation season here in New England.

My bride and I are on a road trip to the Hudson Valley in New York State this weekend.  I know…I know you’re thinking: Sarge, how do you manage to get one of the busiest holiday weekends off?  Well, you could say some work schedule luck and taking advantage of our earned benefit: vacation days.

My wife and I watched a movie recently during one of our date nights, Hyde Park on the Hudson, a movie about President Franklin D. Roosevelt at his family summer retreat located in the Hudson Valley of New York.  This stirred our curiosity to check out this location which is now open to the public and allow us the time to spend together on another road trip.

My wife and I have been blessed with many opportunities over the past several years of driving many road trips (kid free) to beautiful places such as the Canadian Maritimes, the Mid Atlantic coast, Northern New England, New York City (o.k. we did the Greyhound bus for this one). These trips gave us a chance to relax and open up to the real deep art of open and intimate communication.  Road trips are great for our relationship building.

RELAXNEWS reported on a recent survey titled “Love on the Road” by yourtango.com and Ford which discovered:

90% of the surveyed claimed taking a road trip with their partner had proved that it was beneficial.

77% of these couples claim they look forward to spending time together when driving.

44% of the couples claim that a road trip is a great way of ensuring quality time together.

65% of these couples state that some of the best, intimate conversations and discussions were during the road trips.

This gives us the opportunity to plan out our leisure time with our loved ones.  We work hard as LEOs and First Responders, taking care of our families and our communities.  We need to take advantage of down time that we have earned.  Yes, I have kids too.  Some trips are great as a family (with lots of patience) but sometimes we need to our alone time with our spouse, honey, loved one and partner.  Get creative with your extended family, co-workers and friends by planning and swapping off child care even if it is for a day or two.  This really works.  Plan a trip to “get out of Dodge” to help clear your head from the work stress and daily responsibilities.

Let us also remember this weekend our departed military and war veterans. GOD BLESS YOU and THANK YOU!

To my brothers and sisters who are working this weekend, STAY ALERT and STAY SAFE!

REMEMBER: WE ARE THE HONORABLE PROFESSION!

Stay safe and be well!

Panel 61 W:10 Charles W. Mathews

POLICE WEEK 2013

REMEMBERING EVERYONE IN OUR LAW ENFORCEMENT FAMILY 

by Mark St.Hilaire

Peace Officer Memorial Day celebrated on May 15 was first designated in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy.  In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed legislation which requires the America flag to be lower to half-mast on May 15. The tradition of honoring our Law Enforcement who have died in the line of duty has grown over the past 50 years. 

This year, thousands of LEO’s, supporters including many of the surviving families will descent on Washington, D.C. to honor the 19,000 LEO’s who died in the line of duty and support their loved ones.

In the past 13 months, I’ve visited this sacred place which is located in Judiciary Square twice.  It is an emotional visit observing the names and the remembrance gifts decorating many of the fallen officers.

I want you to consider and join me for a few moments to also remember many more LEO’s whose names are not on this blessed wall.

LET US REMEMBER:

LEO’s who have retired from our profession.

LEO’s who have died of natural causes during their career and in retirement.

LEO’s who have died accidentally outside of work or in retirement.

LEO’s who are injured every day performing this job.

LEO’s who have died as a result of their injuries on this job.

LEO’s who took their own lives while suffering from some self-perceived pain that they felt they could not escape.

 

LET US REMEMBER:

The families, loved ones and co-workers of our fallen brother and sisters whether in the line of duty or another situation.

The families who suffered from the sudden, tragic and senseless deaths of their loved ones associated with this profession.

Our supporters such as Concerns of Police Survivors, 100 Club and many groups who are committed to supporting the families and co-workers of our fallen.

We are all part of the Law Enforcement Family.  This is the week we come together to remember the sacrifices made by everyone in our honorable profession. We need to honor each other with love and respect. We need to take care of each other.

REMEMBER: WE ARE THE HONORABLE PROFESSION!

Stay safe and be well!

WHAT YOU DO MATTERS

PHOTO thin blue line bracelets

WHAT YOU DO MATTERS 

Recently, I sat on a Public Safety Suicide Prevention Panel at the annual Massachusetts Department of Public Health Suicide Prevention Conference.  It was a great workshop hosted by Riverside Trauma Center and I was joined by a retiring Springfield, Mass. Fire Captain and a Deputy Sheriff of the Middlesex County (Mass.) House of Correction.  It was well attended by various public safety personnel, clinicians, military and government officials. 

Following our presentation, I was greeted by many of our public safety peers and clinicians who were amazed and saddened at this serious issue, suicide by our own public safety personnel.

A woman who works for a Sheriff’s office in Western Massachusetts and I were discussing the lack of In-Service Training currently in our state.  She stated that the 16 hours of In-service training her agency offered in the past year, only a small amount of training time was offered for preventing a prisoner suicide but there was nothing offered for the benefit of the corrections personnel.

The next morning, I ran into this woman again as I was entering a workshop.  We exchanged pleasantries and she stopped me, asking if she could give me something.

She took off a blue silicone wrist bracelet and she handed it to me.

The bracelet was engraved: WHAT YOU DO MATTERS

She thanked me again for my participation in the previous day’s workshop and that someone else is recognizing the pressures facing all public safety, first responders and corrections personnel.  I acknowledged her gift and her words with sincere gratitude as I was overwhelmed with my own appreciation towards her.  Someone else was listening to our discussion.

I made an offer to come to her agency to discuss wellness and suicide prevention at their In-Service Training.

I have been wearing this bracelet for the past few weeks as a reminder to me that I am making a difference.  Whether on the job, teaching, mentoring others, writing and advocating that LEOs are not discard able items.  We are human beings dealing with the unthinkable day in and day out. When tragedies strike anywhere, Law Enforcement is the first ones in and usually the last ones to leave. Some of us deal with the stress of station house politics, dealing with a demanding public, being constantly accountable for our behavior (on-off duty) or witnessing the trauma and the misery of our modern society, LEOs pay the emotional price for every moment.

There are many stand up people who recognize what we do and they thank us.  I want to take a moment to share with my fellow LEOs, First Responders, our families and our supporters and say: WHAT YOU DO MATTERS!

To everyone who gets frustrated and disheartened by the negative environment filled with constant conflicts within our honorable profession, I want to thank you.

Thank you for taking care of our own personal needs and self-care.  Thank you for standing up to the chaos, dysfunction and the misguided individuals in our communities.

Thank you for your commitment to training and improving your skills both as a law enforcement and as an emotional warrior.  We live with the spirit of gentle kindness toward the good citizens who need it.  Don’t mistake our kindness for weakness when dealing with danger for we are always prepared to protect ourselves and others.

An instructor in my recruit academy said it best many years ago: THE LITTLEST THINGS YOU DO ON THIS JOB WILL MAKE A SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCE IN SOMEONE ELSE’S LIFE!

This has been my personal mission statement as a police officer for the past 25 years.

My Brothers and Sisters: WHAT YOU DO MATTERS!

REMEMBER: WE ARE THE HONORABLE PROFESSION!

STAY SAFE AND BE WELL!

 

 

 

 

 


 

A Police Officers Perspective of Law Enforcement Suicide Prevention in Massachusetts by Mark St.Hilaire

PHOTO police cruiser blue lights images

On Tuesday April 2, 2013, I was invited by Riverside Trauma Center to participate on a Public Safety Panel Discussion at the 2013 Massachusetts Suicide Prevention Conference in Framingham, Massachusetts.  The Conference is hosted by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Suicide Prevention Program and various other Social Service Providers and Veterans Support Programs.

I was honored join this panel with:

Springfield Fire Department Captain Stan Skarzynski, Director of Training who discussed the Firefighters and E.M.S. perspective.

Middlesex Sheriff Office Deputy Paul Meehan, Coordinator of their Employee Peer program from a Corrections perspective.

I discussed Law Enforcement view of perspective.

We discussed what the issues, roadblocks and the future of suicide awareness in public safety professions in Massachusetts.

Clinicians Sarah Gaer and Larry Berkowitz of Riverside Trauma  Center who are currently working with the Springfield, Mass. Fire Department on Suicide Awareness Prevention Education Program made a presentation of the mental health issues facing public safety professionals.  They were the facilitators for the panel and the 65+ participants atteding the workshop. 

Due to the limited speaking time, the following are my comments I presented:

The 2013 Massachusetts Suicide Prevention Conference

Public Safety Panel Discussion

Suicides from the Law Enforcement Perspective

By Natick Police Sgt. Mark St.Hilaire

I want to first thank Larry Berkowitz and Sarah Gaer for asking me to sit on this panel today representing law enforcement officers here in Massachusetts to discuss this difficult and emotional subject.  I am humbled to be asked to participate.

I am honored to sit on this panel today with Stan and Paul as members of Public Safety agencies and representing our professions where thousands of men and women stand ready around the clock to serve our citizens and visitors to the Commonwealth.

I am very grateful to everyone in this audience today who is attending this workshop.  I hope to briefly share my experience and observations as a police officer over the past 28 years on the subject of law enforcement suicides.

I am grateful that public safety personnel suicides are being recognized. It is a difficult subject to follow statistically, to discuss within our professions, eliminate the fear of stigma, job sanctions and more importantly recognizing and accepting trauma as a line of duty injury in public safety. 

 More Law Enforcement Officers die every year from self-inflicted deaths than in Line of Duty deaths.

I corresponded with Bob Douglas, the founding Director of the Police Suicide Foundation in early March requesting the latest statistics on police suicides in the U.S.

Bob replied: This opportunity to discuss this serious issue of Police Suicide is wonderful!

At the present time THERE IS NO OFFICIAL DATA COLLECTION ON THE ANNUAL RATE OF POLICE RELATED SUICIDES IN THE U.S. 

Bob stated that THERE HAS BEEN RESEARCH DONE OVER THE PAST 25 YEARS WHICH HAS SHOWN THAT POLICE OFFICERS COMMIT SUICIDE ANNUALLY BUT STATISTICALLY, AT WHAT RATE IS NOT OFFICIALLY KNOWN.

SINCE THE ISSUE OF POLICE SUICIDE PREVENTION AT THE PRESENT TIME DOES NOT SEEM TO BE A MAJOR PRIORITY WITHIN OUR LAW ENFORCEMENT LEADERSHIP. THERE IS NO MANDATED TRAINING WITHIN OUR 18,000 LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES IN THE U.S.

In June 2012, Bob Douglas sent a letter to President Obama requesting a DEPARTMENT OF POLICE SUICIDE PREVENTION be established by his Administration.  The Police Suicide Foundation feels this a major OFFICER WELLNESS ISSUE with our Law Enforcement personnel across the U.S.

IT IS THE PROFESSIONAL OPINION OF THE POLICE SUICIDE FOUNDATION THAT A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER WILL COMMIT SUICIDE EVERY 17-21 HOURS (ONE PER DAY) IN THE U.S.  THE FOUNDATION HAS FORMED THIS OPINION BASED ON THEIR EXPERIENCE TRAVELING ACROSS THE U.S. OVER THE PAST 25 YEARS.

The Police Suicide Foundation is committed to the service of Law Enforcement families and they will continue to do so aggressively and with great passion each day.

Bob Douglas and the Police Suicide Foundation thanks you for this opportunity today.  

The cover of TIME MAGAZINE on July 23, 2012 ONE a DAY which reported about the increase of military suicides.

Since this conference met last year, since May 2012:

4 Law Enforcement Officers have committed suicide in Massachusetts. 

A suicide is more devastating to a to any public safety agency than a Line of Duty death.

Bob Douglas brings up a point about no mandated officer suicide awareness-prevention training across the Law Enforcement community. It’s hit or miss.

Let’s look at training for police officers in Massachusetts today:

Massachusetts General Law mandates that all police officers will attend a minimum of 40 hours in-service training every year.  This was historically hosted at the regional police academies and some larger agencies conducted it in house.

In the last 2 years, the state funding for police officer veteran in-service training has been reduced to an average of $189.00 per police officer.  Vermont spends an average $1,500.00 per officer.  We were ranked 49 out of 50 states.

Guess how much is (estimated) budgeted for FY 2014:    0

So traditionally the 40 hour veteran in-service training have consistently been:

  •        Legal and motor vehicle law updates
  •        Defensive Tactics
  •        C.P.R. and First Responder First Aid
  •        Specialized Crimes

Without the proper funding or a commitment for proper training consistently across Massachusetts. The question is: “where are we going to have the opportunity to discuss the biggest risk in law enforcement today: Suicide through Awareness and Prevention Education?”

So as many agencies are scrambling to either provide some on-line training which is not effective or conducting their own in-service training programs like my department has done for several years.  There is in-consistency.

Suicides may have many factors to which a person may be in such emotional pain that they would decide to end their own life to stop this pain.

As a profession, we know there is a problem with suicides within our ranks.

  •    Some Police Leaders are addressing it. (FEW)
  •     Some Police Leaders don’t know how to address it (MANY)
  •    Some Police Leaders are still living in the dark ages (FEW) 

I believe that many personnel problems today in law enforcement are a result of UNTREATED TRAUMA that many of our personnel witness first hand every day.

We do not have the proper services available statewide to help our personnel address the effects of trauma and other emotional issues facing our law enforcement personnel.

Thank goodness we are very fortunate to have many volunteer C.I.S.M. teams across the state.  Boston Police Peer Unit, the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts, for example provide services but there is no consistent sanctioned mandate for first responder agencies to follow.  The Statewide C.I.S.M. Network has a protocol and an established call out system staffed by dedicated volunteers under the supervision of the Fire Marshal and the Department of Fire Services Division.

From my experience working in the law enforcement profession for the past 28 years, untreated trauma along with daily job stress, facing unknown violence which creates a hyper-vigilant officer on and off duty, media and public scrutiny is constantly changing because we as a profession are held to a higher standard.

We are very accountable as a profession and we are constantly questioned about our actions and behavior (on-off duty), we live under a microscope or the fishbowl.

As we have seen in the area of mental health like a lot of traditional services which have been reduced in our communities, when something happens and when all else fails it is the cops, our law enforcement officers who are called.  The police are the first in and the last to leave in many tragic events.  We do the dirty work in our free society.

Putting this all together, policing like the fire services, E.M.S., Corrections professions change people.  We work day in, day out in a negative environment which is challenged every day dealing with untruthful people and witnessing the misery of people in our community.  Add the pressure of the public’s high expectations (There is no room for error) on top of issues mentioned and this gives you an idea of why the public complains about perceived rudeness, gruff and in-sensitive behavior.  This may lead to further problems as our people descend into dysfunctional behavior such as substance abuse (alcohol is glorified as part of our culture).  We decline into committing stupid behavior which creates more problems at home and in the department.

UNTREATED TRAUMA is one of the issues creating the perceived Malcontents and Discipline Problems in our departments.  It speeds up BURNOUT, COMPASSION FATIGUE, UNMOTIVATED PERSONNEL WHICH MAY DECLINE FURTHER INTO SICK TIME ABUSE AND USE OF FORCE ISSUES.

This decline may eventually lead to suicidal thoughts or the act.

Many police suicides are (estimated 90%) committed by a firearm.  

We are observing a scary trend of officers committing suicide while they are on duty.

The major obstacle for law enforcement seeking help is about trust if they seek professional mental health assistance.

  • ·        Fear of job loss
  • ·        Fear of being labeled- the stigma
  • ·        Fear of be penalized professionally-loss of career advancement
  • ·        Fear of losing their own sense of control- being vulnerable
  • ·        Fear of recognizing they have lost their own individual identity as a human being  

We are blessed in Massachusetts to have some professional clinicians who understand the first responder culture and profession.  We have some who understand cops. 

We are blessed with the various volunteer C.I.S.M. teams working across the state which follow the guidelines of the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation which utilizes the Mitchell model.  The Department of Fire Services have been providing most of the funding to help train these volunteer peers.

Boston Police Peer Unit is constantly contacted for assistance and they are seeking more police peer volunteers to help out for service requests across the state.

My vision for providing assistance to Law Enforcement in suicide prevention in Massachusetts:

1.   Educate L.E. Leaders and our Government Officials, Board of Selectmen, Mayors, Town Administrators that first responder trauma is a line of duty injury.  A first responder suicide is a line of duty death.  

2.  Coordinate all Resources: C.I.S.M, Hotlines (Safe Call Now) and provide good wellness and suicide awareness training across the Commonwealth. Don’t penalize the first responder when they need help. We need to educate our Cops: From the Recruitment stage through retirement.  In the recruit training and veteran in-service.

  •         AWARENESS: Prevention-Intervention Education
  •         RECOGNIZE: Refer our peers to get the professional help without penalty or stigma.
  •        AFTERCARE: Counseling services without the stigma or penalties.

 

Develop an expectation mind set: This may happen to you, how you can get assistance and this is part of job and our work culture.  This is our new sense of normal,

3.   Support and pass House Bill 2205 and Senate Bill 834 which is legislation to provide confidentiality to first responders and the volunteer C.I.S.M. members.  To legally protect peers, chaplains and clinicians who volunteer to assist our people from legal action to disclose client information.

This legislation would be a great way to honor Retired Massachusetts State Trooper Gil Bernard who was the stress officer who stood up in the courts maintaining the confidentiality of another officer he was assisting.  In 1995, the Mass. Supreme Judicial Court ruling became an honored case law across most of the U.S. that a full time stress officer has confidentiality protection similar to a licensed social worker.

Today 30+ states have this legislation to protect the confidentiality of first responders.  It is time for Massachusetts to provide this protection.

Thank you.

 

 

 

 

BILL MAY: A RETIRED POLICE CHIEF DISCUSSES HIS CAREER AND POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER

William May

WILLIAM MAY

A RETIRED POLICE CHIEF DISCUSSES HIS CAREER AND POSTTRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER

By Mark St.Hilaire

Earlier this year, I was driving home one evening listening to Dan Rea who hosts a radio program, NIGHTSIDE on WBZ RADIO 1030AM in Boston. What caught my attention as he was discussing that evening’s line up when he announced that his guest will be Bill May, a retired Police Chief discussing trauma and PTSD in Emergency Services.  My first thought was WHOA….! I went straight home and I prepared to listen for this interview.  I sent a few tweets and emails out to many of my peers who work with public safety personnel to encourage them to listen.  This is a topic in policing that rarely is discussed among our ranks never mind a live radio broadcast.

Bill May is the retired Police Chief of Townsend, Massachusetts.  It is a small New England town of 9,000 people on the border to New Hampshire.

Bill May has written a book entitled: ONCE UPON A CRISIS: A LOOK AT POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS IN EMERGENCY SERVICES FROM THE INSIDE OUT.

Bill May discussed with Dan over the radio his 30 year experience starting as a patrol officer into his role as the Police Chief.  His original intent was to write a book about the funny stories about his career.  His topic changed within days as he realized that he faced many situations, witnessed tragedies and trauma that had a profound effect on him personally and professionally.  He briefly discussed how trauma had such an effect on him that he finally went to seek professional assistance.

WBZ Radio has a powerful signal as many (38 states and many provinces of Canada) people listen to the station during the night.  During the interview, the calls came in from a police officer in Ohio and another retired police officer in southeastern Mass.  The theme was our public safety personnel face unimaginable situations and trauma.  The resources to assist our personnel are rare or they do not exist. Trauma and PTSD have a serious effect on our emergency responders.

I ordered the book on-line to read.  I sent an email to the Chief thanking him for the radio interview and the courage as a Chief to acknowledge his experience with trauma and PTSD.  Finally a Chief is discussing the effects of trauma and he is advocating professional assistance for our people.

Our cordial emails turned into a couple of telephone calls between us which lead to a recent lunch get-together.

Bill is a humble and genuine man. A man who loved serving as a police officer in his boyhood hometown.  In his book, Bill highlights enough details of some very stressful and traumatic incidents he encountered as a cop and a working Chief.  He points out that he had so many emotional triggers in his hometown that eventually he had to move out of town.

Bill has many humorous tales of some local characters and the unknown behind the scene details about people in our communities that many LEO’s can each identify with.  This is the frustrating part of our job as we know real facts about individuals but as professionals we each maintain the discipline of discretion. We are very discrete discussing information which could damage someone’s reputation.  It is a lot of power and trust we as LEOs are given in our free society.

As a young officer working in my own hometown close to Townsend, I remember a very traumatic and high profile murder which Bill investigated. A murder of a mother and her two children inside their own home.  Bill does not go deeply into the whole story but his description of his duties, questions he had to ask to a despondent husband who comes home to find his family murdered, the questions and innuendos from other cops questioning their investigation and second guessing if the Townsend Police got the right suspect.  This took an emotional toll on Bill. Bill May will tell you today, the Police sent the right man to jail.

What I really enjoy about this book is Bill ends each of his stories with a section called AFTERMATH.  Bill discusses what happened to the people, families and the community following their incidents.  We read how some people succumb to the trauma and disappear but Bill brings out many great stories of resiliency and he describes how lives rebound into a positive experience.

 We sat at the table following lunch and Bill tossed this question out to me, “Have you ever followed up with people following a trauma or stressful situation?”

As Bill describes in his book and now he was sharing with me that afternoon how this action has helped him bring some emotional closure for him.  Many doubts that he had were removed as he still connects with many victims, the families and others he dealt with during his career.

Many of us as LEOs can understand and many of us work hard to find closure in the traumas we have experienced and witnessed in our daily work.

I described briefly to Bill some of the actions I have personally taken over the years to find closure, acceptance and peace of mind to help me emotionally rebound from 28 years of policing. My own experience with peer counseling (someone listening to me), receiving several CISM diffusing and a clinician supervised debriefing, seeking professional follow up care and my continuing education along with mentoring my peers today have allowed me to rebound from the emotional and physical abyss that claims many public safety professionals.

Bill May has been retired for the past 10 years and he will tell you that he now believes that policing and all public safety personnel need to have resources available for their staff.  He visits many of the people he hired years ago and he sees first-hand how the day in, day out of our job and trauma has changed them today as they struggle to do this job.

It was a great afternoon for two cops getting together to respect and appreciate our experiences while realizing that no one was judging us.  The fear of judgement is what keeps our peers who are hurting emotionally silent.

I would recommend this book for anyone in public safety and the public to understand the emotional pain many emergency responders face while protecting our communities and saving lives. This book encourages our responders to get the proper help necessary to build our resiliency to trauma.

To learn more about Bill May and his book: www.crisisbook.net 

                                              

 Once Upon A Crisis Book by William May

 

 

REMEMBER: WE ARE THE HONORABLE PROFESSION!

Stay safe and be well!