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©1999 - 2005
Edward D. Reuss
All rights reserved. Including the right of reproduction in whole or part in any form

 

CRITICAL INCIDENT STRESS - WHEN THE WORKPLACE IS THE STREET

On a dark, cold and rainy night, three anxious men, part of a tight knit, committed team, respond to a secret location for a pre-planned operation. They have planned the strategy, tactics and roles they will play over the past several days. Rehearsals are hard as each member of the team has a full time job that has nothing to do with tonight's secret MISSION.

Pete "Doc" Pinto spends 10 hours a day on the streets of the 46th precinct in the South Bronx with street gangs in a high drug traffic area. On any given day he may begin his day interviewing a member of the Latin Kings on Riker's Island or on the street trying to "chill-out" a "beef" between rival gangs. This morning he is driving a gang member's mother to a detox program in return for the youth's help in keeping crack off the block of the vocational center on 175th street. Later he will be helping a 16 year old member of the "Bloods" get a visit with his unwed, pregnant girlfriend at a home for pregnant teenage girls in return for a promise that the youth will enroll in the GED program on 175th Street.

 The second member of the team, Tim O'Neill begins his day at the home of Manhattan Robbery/Crime Prevention at 0600 hours.  On any given day he may receive orders ranging from providing physical security to Heads of State at the United Nations to teaching crime victims how to avoid robbery. Today, he attends CompStat to review crime patterns and statistics in various precincts.

The third member of the team, Tom Lowney, begins his day at the Community Affairs Bureau, where his duties can range from providing support and security for the families of Flight TWA-800 at a Kennedy Airport Hotel to being on hand at large demonstrations. This day he is at a scene of a protest and a potentially violent situation to provide timely, vital information to the Deputy Commissioner of Community Affairs so that a dangerous confrontation between protesters and police can be avoided. At the end of their regular work hours their MISSION begins.

In a church basement, officers of an elite undercover narcotics team of the Bronx Task Force slowly arrive and are identified to the team, the undercover team vouching for the credentials and identity of each other.  Because of the highly confidential nature of their job and of this meeting and the need for absolute safety and security of all participants, no service records or participant lists are prepared; no notes will be taken during the intense three-hour meeting. It is agreed that participants may not reveal anything spoken by any participant other than themselves at the end of the meeting.


 Tim introduces our team and credentials to the peer support officer who is known to either the narcotics team leader or us. When the question is asked, "Is there anyone in this room who believes there is anyone here who should not be here?" and it is determined that only those members of service who were involved in or validly effected by the incident are there, the meeting begins. Tommy strategically places himself at the exit. He is to follow anyone who finds the debriefing too powerful to stay in the room to insure that they have every opportunity to vent privately and, with a little encouragement, reenter the room. He is also there to keep anyone else out! Doc reviews the "ground rules" for participating and gets agreement from the team to follow the rules.

Tim begins the process by telling the group "Look, we weren't there, could you go around the room and tell us what happened, how the incident evolved from the beginning." The story that emerges is a tragic tale as each member describes how, what started as a routine buy-and-bust went sour. Each member of the team described the cascade of events in the seconds and several minutes after the buy from their vantage point. What comes together are the events that lead to one member of a long term partnered duo, shot to death by a dealer with an automatic weapon while his partner, helpless to assist, watches as he struggles to open a Plexiglas and steel door that wasn't supposed to be locked. The rest of the story involves the whole team, the struggle to gain entrance, the deadly firefight that erupts between the dealer and the surviving partner only ten feet apart. The rush to get the dying partner to a hospital and the identification of the dead. The actual events which took place happened in a matter of 120 seconds followed by a ten minute ride to the hospital emerge in slow motion, as if it is reoccurring over the course of hours.

Having done debriefings together dozens of times, Doc recognizes the feelings of his partner, Tim. As if on cue, Doc takes the lead to give Tim that precious few minutes to pull his own feelings about being shot at in and back into the focus on debriefing. At any time, a description of a noise, scent or event may trigger the memory of a traumatic event or feeling in a member of the debriefing team. Doc himself had a vivid memory of a traumatic event he experienced at work in a city emergency room by a knife wielding EDP in a previous debriefing several months before. Tom took the lead in that debriefing and was followed by Tim until Doc signaled he was ready to resume. The group being debriefed rarely notices these subtle team interactions, but the team has a job to do and has long since given up letting their egos push them on when they are not being productive. They pass the ball like an All Star basketball team, making it seem effortless. By the time the group is halfway through stage two, Tim is back, and Doc falls back while Tim again assumes the lead. Tom, as planned, takes the group into stage three. Tom is placed so that he can have eye contact with both Doc and Tim. Signals in the form of reading each others eyes and body language are the tools that get the debriefing team to stay on track, keep the focus, and move smoothly from stage to stage over the three hour debriefing. At the end of the debriefing, the narcotics strike team leaves, one by one.

Tim, Tom and Doc go for coffee at an obscure Queens location, review the debriefing, giving an honest critique of what they did and how to do it better the next time. Like any military or emergency service team it is important for this team to get continuous training, real-time experience and keep a bond that facilitates trust enough to sacrifice individual ego for the good of the MISSION.

In the Air Force, the Special Operations Group is called "The First Team".
Their motto is "First in...That Others May Live". The story you have just read is an actual account of a Critical Incident Stress Debriefing that was performed by the first team of the MAP programs Critical Incident Support Team. Over the years the NYPD/ MAP program had many such MISSIONS. Some included the debriefing of some of the dive team members who worked the TWA-800 crash, a select group of team members from NYPD's Urban Search and Rescue element after the Oklahoma City Bombing and many line of duty deaths, the aftermath of stress related suicides of members of service and other critical incidents. There are now over 160 members of service trained in CISM work and over 30 mental health professionals trained to assist them. We were proud to be the first team. "First there, that others May Live....." .We kinda like that. 

Cops have a special workplace, it is the vestibule of a project building in a buy-and-bust, it is the street where the routine traffic stop goes ugly, it is the stairwell or fire-escape from which the burglar or domestic violence suspect pulls a knife or draws a gun. It is everywhere on the beat, at any time, in any sector, in any precinct. The violence is almost always sudden, unpredictable and sometimes, deadly. The cop who lives in that workplace day-in and day-out has a higher divorce rate, higher rate of coronary disease and is more likely to suffer from any one of sixteen stress related physical illnesses than the people they are there to serve and protect. Cops, next to paramedics, have the second highest rate of suicide for any profession. The MISSION of the Critical Incident Support Team is to reduce the stress, make sense out of the events for the participants and help prevent Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Dr. Peter Pinto, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist who specializes in psychological wellness for emergency service personnel. He now has a small private practice in Winter Park, Florida. In addition, Dr. Pinto is a veteran of hundreds of hours of air search and rescue operations as an emergency medical technician and senior ground team and aircrew member, a former emergency room/ambulance crisis team member and has experience in narcotics law enforcement. Currently he is a volunteer SARTECH with Search and Rescue of Central Florida. Dr. Pinto is the Director of the Phoenix Rising Consulting Group, a private entity specializing in research and evaluation, specialized training in critical incident intervention and management, stress inoculation training and psychological profiling for rescue and law enforcement.

Police Officer Timothy O'Neill is a seventeen year veteran of the New York City Police Department. He has served in many positions including ten years of patrol time on the streets of Harlem, worked on a tactical narcotics team on the Queens Narcotics Task Force and in Manhattan Crime Prevention and the Police Counseling Unit. Officer O'Neill is often detailed to the Officer Screening Unit at NYPD to screen applicants to the Police Academy. Officer O'Neill also works in the Executive Protection field in the private sector and is a certified counselor specializing in emergency service workers. Officer O'Neill is a trainer and research consultant for Phoenix Rising Consulting Group based in Orlando, Florida.

Police Officer Thomas Lowney, a ten year veteran of the New York City Police Department, works as an assistant to the Deputy Commissioner of Community Affairs and has recently been appointed the Assistant Coordinator of the MAP/ Critical Incident Support Team. 

       Honorary members of the original team are Special Agent Liz Prial, Ph.D of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's New York Office and Lt. Col. David Niles, Ed.D. United States Army (Ret).

Copyright © 2000 Timothy O'Neill and Peter Pinto


EDITOR'S NOTE:

Police Officer Timothy O'Neill and Dr. Peter Pinto will give a Critical Incident Stress Debriefing talk to the Combating Workplace Violence Seminar at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Participants in the seminar will be made aware of the availability of Critical Incident Stress Teams in the New York City area and the need for such awareness by corporate and government executives.  The seminar will be conducted on Friday, January 26, 2001, 9 AM to 4 PM.  The seminar is based on the "Combating Workplace Violence, Guidelines for Employers and Law Enforcement", a report provided by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Private Liaison Committee.

To obtain a brochure or register for the seminar:
Call: 212-237-8638   Fax: 212-237-8637   OR
E-mail:  cjcsmitr@jjay.cuny.edu

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