With the recent spike in violence, Philadelphia officials monitor trauma in cops

Kristen Johanson
November 29, 2019 - 11:01 am
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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Police departments have the highest number of suicide deaths out of any profession nationwide, and this year the number is at an all-time high nationwide. As violence continues to ravage Philadelphia with a record-breaking homicide rate and about a dozen kids shot over the last few weeks, officials are monitoring how first responders handle trauma and urging cops to seek help if they feel it.

Philadelphia police Sgt. Andy Callaghan has been involved in two different shootings over his career.

“I lost 50 pounds in a short amount of time,” he said. “I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I remember telling my lieutenant that ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me, boss, but I just want it to be fixed, so I can go back to work.’”

He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. 

“And I just felt like I was coming unglued,” he said.

He got help, and started to educate and research into how the department could adapt in assisting other cops with similar trauma.

“When a police officer really gets shocked, its when an abnormal event happens. And for a police officer, an abnormal event is a co-worker getting shot or killed or a child getting shot or killed, or severely injured,” Callaghan said.

He works with the police department and the police union to develop educational programs for top brass.

“We are natural crisis interveners,” Callaghan said. “So, we go out everyday into peoples’ homes and help solve their problems, but we often don’t do it in our own workplace because of the emotional attachment.”

The Philadelphia Police Department implemented crisis intervention training after a national study showed it could dramatically decrease police officer suicides.

“They become aware of the fact that they are worn down and they need some help,” he said.

Callaghan encourages peers and supervisors to pay close attention to colleagues who may have witnessed something traumatic — such as a child being shot shot — and to reach out if someone doesn’t seem like themselves. 

“It really shows in what we are doing, because other police departments are struggling with health and wellness issues. and I think we are ahead of the curve.”

There are also different programs to help officers with various issues including addiction, family stress and instances when a cop shoots someone.

“So, if we provide treatment for officers who are leaving a traumatic scene, we can often stop that from becoming post-traumatic stress disorder,” he said.