POLICE Magazine

JUL 2019

Magazine for police and law enforcement

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26 POLICE JULY 2019 "Towards the end of my career as a supervisor, I had dreams of my guys getting shot while I was being held back by an unknown force. I was a sergeant and was getting pressure to discipline a cop for excessive force even though he was with- in policy. I also had the dreams of bullets not penetrating the target or just dropping out of the barrel." YOU'RE NOT ALONE ound familiar? You aren't alone. In 35 years of being in or around law enforcement and writing about police is- sues, this is one that hits closest to home for many cops. And the reality of police dreams is we all have them, in various degrees of intensity, but we rare- ly talk about them with our peers or families. Many of the current and former officers I reached out to about their police-related dreams told me they were re- lieved to hear others had visions of the same scenarios. "I thought I was crazy; I thought I was the only one; I never told anyone, even my partners, about them" were common themes. According to the two psychol- ogists I interviewed for this article, the creation of these dreams starts with the anxiety that gets built into us about being killed while doing this job, from the Academy for- ward. It's all about feeling anxious about your pending per- formance in the field and asking yourself, "Will I have the right stuff to do the job?" Even though we have been successful many times before, our mind puts us into this worry state. We don't think about these things when we're awake, because we are being good at our jobs. It's only at night where the doubts creep in. Our dreams are just a collection of weird, unrelated stuff that we gather while we are awake and it gets dumped out as we sleep, into our dreams as unconnected, odd, dis- couraging, and too many times repetitive field problems. Sometimes we only get peace from these dreams when we retire or leave law enforcement. Other times they just fade away over time. FEAR OF FAILURE he dreams about finding dead people or responding to suicides or fatal accidents don't often dominate police dreams. Even cops who have been involved in shoot- ings and other traumatizing critical incidents tend not to dream about those events on a repetitive basis over long spans of time. e fear of failure, of not having the equip- ment or it won't work, are much more common. I'm amazed and not amazed by how many current and former cops have the same dreams. It's normal and healthy (because it reminds us to be vigilant and continue to train for officer safety and survival), but that doesn't make them easier to understand. "My police dreams are almost never about being tactically unprepared; those are rare. Mine are always about being un- prepared to go to work. I'm in the police station and everyone around me is busy getting ready to go out in the field or work- ing at their desks. I'm in my uniform but I can't find the lineup room. I have this horrible feeling I'm going to be late for lineup or miss it. "A variation of that theme is that I'm in the locker room and everyone is getting dressed and putting on their gear but me. I'm standing there and I can't find my locker. I know it's in the room but I just don't know which one it is. If I do find it, I can't remember my locker com- bination. I just stare and stare at it while the room empties of cops and I'm left alone. And a variation on that one is that I'm wearing the wrong uniform. In my career, we switched from khaki uniforms to blue. In my dream, I'm wearing the old tans and everyone else is in blue and I feel really anxious as to why I'm wearing the wrong colored clothes and I'm expected to go into the field." For help with all this, I turned to David M. Eisenberg, Ph.D., LCSW, a retired sergeant from the Chula Vista (CA) Police Department and a longtime counselor and licensed clinician who has provided services to both police officers and mili- tary veterans. He is currently a psychotherapist for Lancaster General Health in Pennsylvania. While many cops talk about their fears connected to these dreams, Dr. Eisenberg says it's really more about anxiety. "Fear is different than anxiety. Human beings are wired for anxiety as being normal; it's what keeps us safe. ere is a foundational anxiety that cops live with. We manage those anxieties with our officer safety training and ex- perience and by being successful in our jobs. If you have dreams about not having your equipment or it fails on you, it's because your equipment is associated with your safety and if it fails or isn't there, it's equal to you not being safe. "We rise to fear because we believe we are not being capa- ble. But it's really about the anxiety that gets built into us in our training, to be told we could be killed at any moment, to remain hypervigilant at all times. We use our officer safety as a training tool for managing our anxiety. Police work is about the potential for immediate problems. We are always vigilant for those possibilities. at doesn't go away when we sleep." As cops, we like the structure, discipline, and order of our paramilitary profession. Our police–related dreams seem unstructured, outlandish, and disordered. Dr. Eisenberg says, "ere are multiple origins to our dreams. Not all of that content has meaning. Some of it is just `psychological litter.' It doesn't have meaning; it just presents itself in our unconscious." POLICE DREAMS PHOTO: GET T Y IMAGES I'm in my uniform but I can't find the lineup room. I have this horrible feeling I'm going to be late for lineup or miss it.

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