Law enforcement learns de-escalation tactics for military veterans in crisis

Veterans can suffer physical and psychological aftereffects from traumatic experiences that can culminate in injury to themselves, their families and public safety/law enforcement personnel.

Retired Minnesota State Command Sgt. Maj. Bob Boone, chair of Isanti County Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, was one of the instructors for the course, “Public Safety De-escalation Tactics for Military Veterans in Crisis” held May 7 in Cambridge. Photo by Shawna Carpentier
Retired Minnesota State Command Sgt. Maj. Bob Boone, chair of Isanti County Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, was one of the instructors for the course, “Public Safety De-escalation Tactics for Military Veterans in Crisis” held May 7 in Cambridge. Photo by Shawna Carpentier

When law enforcement officers and first responders respond to a veteran’s crisis call, they need to be able to demonstrate a set of specific skills and de-escalation strategies.

The Upper Midwest Community Policing Institute held an eight-hour training May 7 for approximately 40 law enforcement personnel and emergency responders from all across the state at the Armed Forces Reserve and Community Center in Cambridge. The event was hosted by the Isanti County Sheriff’s Office with lunch provided by Isanti County Beyond the Yellow Ribbon.

Representatives from the Isanti County Sheriff’s Office, Cambridge Police Department, Isanti Police Department, Isanti Fire District, Isanti County Safety and Rescue, Braham Police Department, Isanti County Jail, Isanti County Dispatch, Allina Ambulance and Minnesota State Patrol attended. Officers from the following sheriff’s departments also attended: Scott, Benton, Wright, Olmstead, Chisago and Crow Wing counties.

Training content included:

• Identification of wartime stressors.

• The effects of multiple deployments.

• Understanding the emotional impact of both wartime stressors and converging conditions which place returning veterans at risk.

• The definition of post traumatic stress disorder and other mental health disorders effecting military veterans.

• Challenges of veterans with reintegration into society and their families.

• Verbal de-escalation tactics to defuse critical incidents.

• Resources available to veterans and their families.

“I thought it was a very good training that reminded us that veterans shouldn’t receive special treatment when it comes to crisis situations, but may need to be treated differently than the average citizen,” said Brian Rickey, programs coordinator for the Isanti County Jail. “We have to remember going into a crisis call involving a veteran they may be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder or some other mental illness. This class taught us how to develop a rapport with them. It also taught us signs to watch for when identifying if someone is a veteran.”

Isanti County Chief Deputy Chris Caulk first attended the training in St. Cloud and felt it would be beneficial to offer it in Cambridge.

“The intent is to get the veteran the help they need and keep them safe, as well as keeping the responding officers safe,” Caulk said.

Rickey served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1993 to 1997 and feels being a veteran helps him better understand crisis situations involving veterans.

“Veterans usually don’t like to talk about their experiences that much,” Rickey said. “But once I share some of my experiences, they’ll begin to open up and trust me. Veterans will usually talk to other veterans, and hopefully this leads to a peaceful resolution.”

Cambridge Police Officer Jesse Peck was in the U.S. Army for three years out of high school and was in during Desert Storm in 1989. Peck learned some basic symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.

“Some vets have a very hard time transitioning back into the civilian world,” Peck said. “They feel isolated, depressed, suicidal, rage, paranoid from noises and people, have a hard time sleeping; home life is more stressful dealing with these issue, they feel useless, the loss of limbs, and things seem hopeless. With this, some vets turn to drugs, alcohol and other controlled substances to ‘escape’ the situations. Divorce rate is rising among vets.

“In a Post-Deployment Health Reassessment, data shows in 2007, 38 percent of soldiers, 31 percent of Marines and 49 percent of National Guard soldiers report psychological symptoms. These percentages increase with multi-deployments. Most vets have been deployed to direct deadly combat situations. When they come back to their home lives, that training and experience cannot always be shut off. We also talked about traumatic brain injury. Statistics show 18.5 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan vets have post traumatic stress disorder and 20 percent have traumatic brain injury,” Peck added.

Peck said he has a better understanding of vets as a result of the training.

“Like our instructors said, ‘We’re not doing this training to give vets breaks,’ but for law enforcement to better understand the symptoms and better deal with them,” Peck said. “This may be talking to that person a little more, getting some background information, relating to them — basically communicating with them.  Some of these vets are expert marksmen, trained in hand-to-hand combat and are experts in their field. All in all, we want them to go home and we want to go home safely. I wanted to attend this training because it only makes sense to better understand what the vets are going through.”

Peck said it’s hard for the average citizen to understand what a veteran may be going through.

“Imagine seeing people and friends blown up and shot, yourself shooting another person — war is not ‘pretty.’ Not just psychological effects, but physical effects … the loss of a limb or multiple limbs,” Peck said. “Now fast forward yourself in the future and you are at home and you keep having violent reoccurring dreams and flashbacks of your history at war. This is a very hard thing for people to deal with. Now you can see why nice people turn to driving recklessly, hurting and killing people.”

Isanti County Deputy Dave Matchinsky was a MP in Operation Desert Storm and served in the Minnesota Army National Guard 1990-2000.

“I learned about the different issues facing returning vets, to be able to recognize the symptoms of post traumatic stress and ways to build rapport with the vet in crisis,” Matchinsky said. “I will definitely be more prepared to handle veterans in crisis, along with other people in crisis, after this training. I would recommend this training to all officers and first responders.”

The training discussed factors that affect a veteran’s ability to reintegrate into the communities and provided verbal tactical tools to effectively diffuse life-threatening situations.

“It’s important for people in public safety to understand  what returning vets are going through; because of the change in mission of the National Guard, and multiple deployments, these vets are returning to our neighborhoods and not military instillations,” Matchinsky said. “They may feel that they don’t have as much access to assistance and are no longer immersed in military life. Public safety officers can recognize that the veteran is in crisis, and can get the vet the help they need.”