POLICE Magazine

MAY 2019

Magazine for police and law enforcement

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There has been an increasing amount of research and attention paid to effective critical incident de- briefing. Years ago there were no such things as peer-to-peer debriefing teams, forced administrative time off, or visits with a trained psychologist as part of the long-term mental health of the po- lice officer involved in a critical incident such as a police shooting, investigation of a particularly gruesome crime scene, or even a serious car collision. Seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress dis- order (PTSD) has become much more accepted in law enforcement, although there is room to improve. We understand better today how to debrief and how to care for the long- term mental recovery and stabiliza- tion of the police officer suffering from PTSD. But what about the police dog? EFFECTS OF TRAUMA ON K-9S T here needs to be open discussion and acknowledgment that trau- matic stressful incidents also affect the police K-9 partner. I have been involved in many reviews and recommendations regarding police dogs that experienced serious and violent encounters. I have found that many dogs are affected to a lesser degree by these types of events while still others can't recover and can no longer serve. is also oen occurs with military K-9s that are involved in critical incidents such as gunfights and explosions. ere is no doubt that some police dogs will be forced to retire or be oth- erwise rendered ineffective in all or part of their trained use because of one or more critical incident exposures. For example, some dogs are traumatized af- ter being shot on duty so that for them, hearing gunfire triggers a panicked response that they never recover from. ere are some dogs that can't work next to a highway aer they have been hit by a car. Some traumatized dogs can no longer be deployed away from their handlers because they have become afraid of leaving their partner's side and the protection they perceive their han- dler to provide. EFFECTS ON HANDLERS A er experiencing trauma during a critical incident, a dog that was once the perfect tool to use at certain criminal and police deployments can sometimes become exactly the wrong tool or, worse, uncontrollable. is re- alization can be difficult for the affect- ed dog's handler to process, and they tend to blame themselves. Many K-9 handlers question whether they should have deployed the dog in the first place or if they somehow could have avoided the K-9's exposure to the critical inci- dent, whatever the situation may be. Handlers question whether they should have sent the dog aer the per- petrator when they believed the perpe- trator was armed with a gun or knife, for example. Other handlers question if there was something more they could have done to prescreen a search area so that the dog might not have become acci- dentally exposed to the dangerous drug that was lying loose on the floor. Han- dlers have even questioned themselves as to whether they could have avoided driv- ing down a certain street so perhaps the car accident that seriously injured the dog might not have happened. But it doesn't end with handlers' 16 | SP E C I A L R E P O RT | C R I T ICA L I NC I D E N T R E S P O N S E ➔ PHOTO: ACE K9 Recognizing and Treating PTSD in the Police K-9 K-9s can suffer from PTSD after experiencing trauma responding to critical incidents, and this can also deeply affect their handlers. David "Lou" Ferland

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