In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, a few Newton cops are suffering from severe emotional distress and are unable to return to work. About 15 police officers have been “critically affected” by the horror they witnessed as first responders, and a handful of them have been taking sick leave to try to recover from the trauma.
That sick leave is about to run out though, and the officers will be left without a paycheck. The union, Council 15 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, is advocating for lawmakers for expanded workers’ compensation benefits for witnesses of horrific crime scenes. Currently, employees are only covered for mental impairment “as the result of using or being subjected to deadly force -- but not for those who witness crime scenes with mass casualties.”
On December 14, Adam Lanza walked into two first grade classrooms and repeatedly shot and killed 20 children and six adults, before turning the gun on himself. The children were shot between two and eleven times each, and most died on scene. There is no known motivation for shooting.
This is probably the worst crime scene that a cop will ever walk into. By the time the first responders got there, it was over. There was no adrenaline of walking into a live gunfight to distract from the dead children and the terrified faces of the survivors. There’s no sense, no reason, and nothing to be done but sweep the area and notify families. 20 families that each have to be told that their precious child has been murdered by a mad man.
I don’t blame the cops for not wanting to jump back into work after witnessing that kind of slaughter. When the names and ages of the victims were released, I felt sick to my stomach just seeing the letters and numbers in print -- I can’t imagine what those officers felt when they walked into Sandy Hook and saw what they saw.
Eric Brown, an attorney for the union, says that outside agencies have been providing counseling services, but officers taking time off to recover could use up their sick leave by early January. Providing an emotional trauma benefit provision for the cops would allow them to take more time to recover.
The issue will probably be debated and discussed in the next legislative session, when lawmakers will weigh the cost and potential for abuse against the need for such a measure in extreme cases. State Rep. Stephen Dargan, Democrat and co-chairman of the legislature’s public safety committee says, “We don’t want it to be used in an abusive way, but the circumstances are so horrific in Newtown. We need to protect those first-responders and give them all the help we can give them.”
Do you think the first-responder officers should be given time off for emotional trauma?
by blues_paganDecember 28, 2012 at 12:17 PM
Absolutely! I have many friends who are or were first responders. The emotional stress and trauma they go through is unreal. And it should be PAID time off.
by Jers.December 28, 2012 at 12:37 PM
For situations like Sandy Hook, yes I agree they should.
December 28, 2012 at 2:46 PM
A reasonable amount of paid time off should be given, yes. Aside from any sick leave they have.
Yes, absolutely they should. They need to take time to work through their emotional distress. i cannot even imagine what it must have been like to arrive at that scene, and if they don't take time to heal, the emotional turmoil could affect their families, and their ability do their job in the future.
by trebelcleffDecember 28, 2012 at 5:10 PM
As a first responder I think SOME time should be given (outside of sick leave) assuming they are also receiving counseling services (which are generally offered through the department), but I think it should be on a case by case basis and really should be minimal. I hate to say it, but seeing brutality, even when it involves multiple children, is an unfortunate part of the job. In this case, because it was mass casualties, there should be at least a few weeks of paid leave on top of their sick days and counseling given to allow them extra time to recover from seeing that, especially if the individuals had never before seen a deceased child, but other than that, they should continue to take their sick days and stay in counseling. If they need more time, they should be allowed to take unpaid time off without risk of losing their job. I definitely think that 20 dead children is far worse than one or two, and the way in which they passed was extremely heart-wrenching, but it comes with the territory when you are in a first responder job.
This isn't just about the First Responder's mental health and welfare, although that is very important too, it is about them being able to do the best job they can. My son works on a NICU special transport ambulance and there are times when it is extremely difficult. Because he works for a private company they do not have the same resources; counseling, time off, etc, and at times such things would be helpful. We need to recognize that these workers do the work they do on behalf of all of us and that work, being so vital, demands certain benefits for them.
December 28, 2012 at 7:03 PM
yes, I know from experience that any trauma involving kids hits them pretty hard, and with something like this, seeing so many children, would be emotionally scarring. They need time off to deal with it.