Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Line of Duty

Detective Mark DiNardo died this morning at 9:35 AM.  He was a 10 year veteran of the Jersey City Police Department in New Jersey, and tomorrow would have been his 38th birthday.  He leaves behind a wife and three small children.  He was promoted to Detective just this past week, but he didn't know it.  He was in a coma on life support after he and four of his colleagues were shot while trying to arrest a robbery suspect on Thursday.

There are five types of critical incidents that require a CISM team with special expertise.  In fact, there's a whole extra class on them.  Death in the line of duty is one of them.  Death of a colleague is always hard.  Traumatic death of a colleague is worse.  But death of a colleague in the line of duty introduces a whole new layer of complexity, both for the surviving colleagues and for the team supporting them.

I started to write this post about what was different about line of duty deaths, but as I reflect upon it, they aren't really different, they are just the usual traumatic themes only moreso.  Here are some issues that come up:
  • Survivor's Guilt:  If I had been [fill in name of circumstance] it would have been me.  If I hadn't stopped to tie my shoe.  If I had gone in first.  If I hadn't called off sick.  It should have been me, because my wound was worse, he was a better cop, etc.
  • Self-Blame:  My job is to protect and serve, but I could do neither for my colleague.  If we can't do it for each other, what makes us think we can do it for anyone else?
  • Familiarity:  I see death and destruction every day.  Usually bad guys do it to each other.  But this was one of us.
  • Anger at the Brass:  If we weren't working long hours, if we were properly equipped, if they hadn't let this guy out on bail this wouldn't have happened.
  • Identification:  What will happen to my wife or husband if this happens to me?
  • Self-Doubt:  Now I go out on the street and everything makes me jump.  What if I can't do my job?
  • Keeping it In:  If I talk about how this has affected me, they will take me off the street.  Besides, cops don't cry.
  • Suicide Risk:  I can't handle this, and I have a lethal suicide method on my hip all day every day.
Is it any wonder that CISM was developed initially for first responders?  Cops need a way to talk about this with people who have been there, understand the life and will not tell your superior officers what you say.

In many departments CISM has become required for certain kinds of incidents, usually officer involved shootings and line of duty deaths.  There are problems with this -- requirements build resentment, and some people really will do better on their own.  But by making it part of what is expected, departments create a way for officers to get the help they need without losing face, and without specifically deciding they need it.

My thoughts are with the men and women of the Jersey City Police Department tonight.  Good luck on the journey ahead.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at www.SchoolCrisisConsultant.com
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