- Associated Press - Saturday, June 20, 2015

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - The nightmares lasted a year after a Kansas City police officer rushed to help a 4-year-old girl who accidentally shot herself in the head.

Officer Melanie A. Madonia, who saw her daughter’s face each time she saw the girl’s face, knew she needed help coping after the 2008 call but didn’t reach out.

Now, a new program at the police academy is helping officers like her, as well as dispatchers, crime scene technicians and others cope with the trauma of the job, the Kansas City Star (https://bit.ly/1CftTgK ) reported. For Madonia, the training “wasn’t a fix but it was an awareness and it opened doors to other things,” she said.

Truman Medical Center officials approached several law enforcement agencies last August about participating in the training, but only Kansas City accepted. Organizers used a $65,000 grant from the Jackson County mental health levy to design the training model.

Organizers said the four-hour sessions help police department employees improve their home lives as well as their ability to relate with the community.

“We have been caregivers and protectors of everyone else but we haven’t done a great job of taking care of ourselves,” Police Chief Darryl Forté said. “But if we’re not OK psychologically and emotionally and physically then we are not going to be able to provide the best services.”

Capt. Darren Ivey, who helped develop the training, said some officers deal with job-related stress by working out excessively, he said. Others gain weight or pick up unhealthy habits like smoking or chewing tobacco.

“The way cops deal with that is we push it aside, we joke around it and after a while, we begin to lose compassion,” Ivey said.

Police departments in other cities are asking for the program, during which participants learn techniques and strategies to address trauma. They are taught muscle relaxation exercises, breathing techniques and other calming methods that can be performed at home or work.

“I was thinking that these people are going to laugh us off the stage,” Ivey said. “The biggest thing was that they were very open to it.”

Participants also are instructed to pen promises to change or improve specific areas of their personal lives, which class organizers check in about two weeks and two months after the training.

So far, 120 officers and civilian employees have gone through the sessions, which are voluntary for now. Forté said he plans to make them mandatory for all department employees.


Information from: The Kansas City Star, https://www.kcstar.com

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