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Cambridge Police Introduce First-of-Its-Kind Trauma Training for Officers

caution sign The information on this page may be outdated as it was published 7 years ago.

CPD Trauma Training 1

By Jeremy Warnick, Director of Communications, Cambridge Police Department

Everyone in the room knew that policing is not an easy profession, whether it was the more than 20 Cambridge Police officers living it out as a career or the more than 15 representatives from collaborating local service providers sitting in a MIT Sidney-Pacific building conference room. However, what really reinforced that notion and struck everyone on a recent summer day was a profound statistic mentioned by retired Lieutenant Richard Goerling of the Hillsboro, Oregon Police Department: "The average police officer loses seven years of their life just by becoming a cop." 

That startling statistic set the stage for an intensive five-day Trauma Informed Law Enforcement Training Program that was spearheaded by retired Police Commissioner Robert Haas, current Police Commissioner Christopher Burke, Deputy Superintendent Paul Ames, Liz Speakman (Executive Director of the Cambridge Domestic and Gender-Based Violence Prevention Initiative), Cathy Pemberton (Social Worker at the Cambridge Police Department), Jacquelyn Rose (former Director of Outreach and Programs at the Cambridge Police Department) and Alyssa Donovan (Domestic Violence Liaison for the Cambridge Police Department). 

As Commissioner Burke stated at the outset of the training, “Officers may experience more trauma in the course of an incident or several incidents than an individual may experience over the course of their lifetime. While it’s important to understand trauma as it relates to a victim, it’s just as important to help officers understand and manage their own trauma.”

Each of the five days started with a 5-20-minute mindfulness exercise. Admittedly, the practice was uncomfortable for many in the room, as some had yet to participate in a meditation or “body scan” before. However, as the days proceeded, and those in the room became more comfortable with each other, you could sense the anxieties fleeing and officers benefiting from each practice. Lt. Goerling stated, “officers need to be equipped with the skills in order to succeed as it relates to their well-being.” Later in the training, it was noted that when you fly on an airplane, the flight attendant instructs you to put your oxygen mask on first, before helping others. This sentiment was echoed throughout the trauma training to ensure that the officers recognized that if they can’t or aren’t taking care of themselves, they won’t be able to take care of others.  

The other half of the training emphasized being healthy, compassionate and understanding, while recognizing how everyone suffers trauma, albeit not necessarily in the same way. In addition to Lt. Goerling, several nationally-regarded subject matter experts led trauma informed sessions:  

• Erin Miller, MPS, MDV, CTSS, CASAC-T and Manager of the Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Program, Newton-Wellesley Hospital
• Jim Hopper, Ph. D, Independent Consultant and Harvard Medical School
• Donna Kelly, Utah Prosecution Council, Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Prosecutor
• Detective Justin Boardman, West Valley City Police Department (Utah) 
• Nicole Del Castillo, MD, MPH

Miller’s presentation highlighted the varying degrees of trauma (war, death, prolonged abuse, neglect) and how we are all affected and how we process it in the short and long-term. She noted that one particular incident could be life-altering and how adverse childhood experiences can have a life-long impact. Miller also discussed the cumulative impact of trauma and the analogy of every traumatic experience being like a brick one carries. People can only manage to carry so many bricks at a time and officers were encouraged to keep that perspective in mind to help provide a deeper sense of compassion for victims and themselves.   

Hopper emphasized the science behind the brain, trauma and the various triggers that prompt trauma following a sexual assault experience. Along with extensive research and data, he provided case studies and videos to broaden the officers’ perspective. For example, Hopper discussed the fear circuitries at work during a sexual assault and how disassociated a victim can become. Kelly and Boardman complemented Hopper and shared how and why sexual assault cases are treated differently than any other crime (the national average of successfully prosecuted sexual assault cases is between 9 and 15 percent).

From an investigative standpoint, Kelly and Boardman each highlighted that with trauma, a victim won’t necessarily recall events in order, but will remember the details most associated with their survival, emotions or sensations.  As a result, officers were encouraged to ask open-ended questions, to focus on detail elements such as the type of furniture in a room, lighting and sounds, and to provide a safe and comfortable environment to discuss non-leading questions. Boardman likened an ideal interview process with a sexual assault victim to viewing a whiteboard full of sticky notes and for a detective to make their objective one that removes as many sticky notes as possible and then determine their possible sequences (“what else happened?” versus “what happened next?”). Many officers then participated in various role-playing exercises in which they were the victim. According to one officer, “for the first time, I experienced the other side (being the victim) and noticed the officer’s body language and techniques. I also was more aware of how empathetic and judgmental they were (or weren’t).”
Boardman concluded his session by saying, “over time, these (sexual assault case) interviews are heavy and will wear on you. Self-care is absolutely critical.” 

At the conclusion of the training, officers and participants debriefed and acknowledged that this was radical and cutting-edge training that will help bring the department to a new area, particularly with trauma and resiliency. One of the trainers stated, “You guys are extremely progressive… nobody has gotten to this point.”  Overall, 21 officers graduated from this inaugural Trauma-Informed Training, which according to one “took away my own skepticism, bias’ and helped me be more compassionate.” Another said that “if this can save one officer’s life, then this program will be a success.” It certainly helped build a broader foundation that the Cambridge Police Department will use going forward, roll out to all of its officers and help evolve the culture into one that is even more compassionate and resilient.    

Page was posted on 5/8/2018 6:53 PM
Page was last modified on 7/24/2023 9:54 PM
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