Saturday, September 02, 2000

'Gray cloud' over District 5

Fallen comrade is fourth to die since late '97

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It's never easy for police to bury one of their own, but Cincinnati Police Department District 5 has been especially battered by grief.

        Not only did the 138-member unit lose Officer Kevin Crayon on Friday, it lost Officer Daniel Pope and Specialist Ronald Jeter in a 1997 shooting. And just three months ago, District 5 Officer William Estes was killed in an off-duty motorcycle crash.

RELATED archives of recent killings and attacks on Tristate officers:
  • Daniel Pope and Ronald Jeter
  • Mike Partin
  • Kathleen Conway
        “It seems as though there's a gray cloud over District 5,” said Cincinnati Police Chief Thomas Streicher. “I'm sure they are very upset.”

        In fact, police and crisis psychologists say the sheer number of losses makes the grieving process that much more intense and complicat ed.

        “Four officers in a 130-member unit? That's heavy,” said Dan Goldfarb, a police psychologist with the Suffolk County (N.Y.) Police Benevolent Association and managing editor of a journal published by the Society for Police and Criminal Psychology.

        “We have a 2,500-man force in Suffolk County and we haven't lost anyone in a number of years,” Dr. Goldfarb said.

        The clinical term often used for the situation facing District 5 officers is “critical incident stress,” said Gerald Lewis, a psychologist in Framingham, Mass., who has provided crisis consulting services for years to police, fire and medical organizations.

        “The people put in charge of taking care of the rest of us in times of crisis are especially vulnerable to this kind of stress,” Dr. Lewis said.

        “A death in the line of duty is one of the highest kinds of events that can cause reactions in the de partment,” Dr. Lewis said. “And losing more than one officer can have a cumulative effect.”

        Beyond the grief of losing a friend and co-worker, the death of a police officer and the death of a person at the hands of an officer always brings the stress of an investigation.

        “There's always a little bit of blaming the victim. Did they make a mistake? Did they follow all the proper protocols?” Dr. Lewis said.

        Individual officers will react to Officer Crayon's death in their own ways.

        Some will be fine. They will mark the event as part of the job and move on.

        But especially during the next few days, others may be edgy and hyper-vigilant on the job. The harsh reminder that death can come from even seemingly innocuous situations such as Officer Crayon asking a youngster for proof of a driver's license may make it hard for some officers to sleep or eat.

        “In others, it goes underground and simmers there for a while,” Dr. Lewis said. “They may become more irritable, have more problems at home. Some might even drink more as a form of self-medication.”

        Working through this kind of workplace grief takes time and typically occurs in stages, psychologists say.

        Cincinnati police offer the immediate step — providing psychologists, clergy and trained peers to conduct what Dr. Lewis called a “debriefing.”

        “It's not a critique or an investigation. It's a way to allow people an opportunity to sit together, talk about the incident and react. It's often a good way of getting rid of the rumor mill,” he said.

        The deepest grief actually may take several weeks to hit, Dr. Lewis said. That's when employee assistance programs and other forms of support will be needed most.

        “It's usually not until after the funeral and all the media attention dies down that people say, "Whoa, this person is really dead,'” Dr. Lewis said.

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