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'Stress' teams offer comfort to officers


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 21, 1998

A blank stare. A glazed look. Arms folded. Head buried.

Won't stand still. Trying to do everything at once. Scampering around. Hyper.

These are the signs of severe stress and specially trained law enforcement officers are trained to detect these among their own after serious incidents like the shooting deaths of three officers Tuesday.

"You've got to want to do this because it's a lot of stress," said Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Allan Carter, who heads the Tampa-based FHP troop's Critical Stress Incident Debriefing team. "You give out a lot of personal feelings whenever you're doing this."

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• 'Stress' teams offer comfort to officers

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The officers who serve on these teams volunteer to comfort their comrades, pat them on the back, embrace them or just stand in front of them -- eye to eye -- to let them know it's okay to talk about it.

National, state and local law enforcement agencies train their officers to support each other after devastating incidents that involve police officers, whether they have shot someone or have been shot themselves.

The Orlando Police Department has 13 sworn officers and civilians and two chaplains on its team. The debriefing team was started in 1989.

"They're there to help fellow officers in time of need," Orlando Sgt. Jeff Goltz said.

The stress-relieving officials report to the scene and do not interfere with the investigation, but help investigators who may get overwhelmed by what has happened.

A day or two after a major incident, for example, FHP will hold a debriefing for all of those involved. Mental health counselors and psychologists also are on hand.

"We're concerned for our people," said FHP Lt. Gary Howze, who said the troopers must go through a two-day course to become certified. FHP began its statewide debriefing team in 1995. "One of the leading killers in the country is heart attack and stress-related type incidents."

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