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
REMEMBER: WE ARE THE HONORABLE PROFESSION!
Stay safe and be well!