Tactical officer gives context of law enforcement stressors

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WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Many have questioned the thought process behind a Wichita Police officer’s decision to shoot an unarmed man in last week’s swatting death of 28 year old Andrew Finch.

While we cannot point out what was right and wrong about the officer’s actions, KSN looked into more context surrounding officer reactions in high-stress situations.

“There is no doubt, and studies have shown that officers who are involved in critical incidents such as this, and just the every day stuff of seeing death and the horrible things that people do to one another. It has an impact on police officers and the cumulative affect of the trauma that they see, effects them in many different ways psychologically,” Chief Gordon Ramsay said.

KSN spoke with the executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association, which is one of three organizations that Wichita Police draws its policies on, like hostage negotiation and personnel response to SWAT calls, etc.

“We’re not robots, contrary to belief or maybe even hope, but we are human,” executive director Thor Eells said.

Eells is aware of the officer-involved shooting that killed Andrew Finch. He talks about the operating level of stress which is a common term for the stress officers feel from their experiences dealing with rough situations and how it impacts their mind and body.

“Our baseline emotion lies at a different level, so if you imagine yourself being scared when someone sneaks up behind you and scares you and the emotion that generates. Sometimes it’s anger, sometimes it’s a combination of anger and relief…that type of physiological and psychological response, imagine that being your baseline for 8 hours or 10 hours or whatever the length of that shift may be,” Eells said.

Imagine that, he said, coupled with information of hostages, like WPD was led to believe.

Officers can experience tunnel vision, diminished hearing and increased heart rate as the body responds to stress, along with worrying about their safety, fellow officer’s safety and the safety of others.

“That responsibility is tremendous and it generates a great deal of stress,” Eells said.

Eells said that’s where you hope that experience and training can lessen the physiological response and have less impact on the officer.

“Often we forget there are laws against false reporting for a reason and this is exactly the reason,” Eells said.

WPD draws their policies from recommendations by NTOA, PERF and IACP.

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