SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — A simple day at work for some may be as easy as settling in at a desk for a few hours. Yet it’s a bit of a different tone in the life of a police officer when they get set to go out on the street.
“You may go from a hostage situation to a barricaded subject where it’s very high stress, to talking to a child at the hospital that was abused,” Springfield Police Corporal Chris Welsh explained.
“It’s just mentally preparing yourself with some guidelines,” Springfield Police Officer Jacob Boomgaardner said. “Making sure you’re safe and the people are safe.”
However, that is all easier said than done. Officer Boomgaardner has six years of experience with the SPD, and saw change happen around him quickly.
“You worry about the cost of it going in, but you do it for the right reasons,” he said about joining the force. “You learn that pretty quickly. We lose a quite a few (new recruits) through the training academy within their first year. Sometimes in their first few days in uniform, people resign because they see that this is real. People may want to hurt you. You see people in their worst, so it’s hard to wrap your head around it sometimes.”
Safety for all is the top priority for an officer. Though dealing with continual tragedy on any given shift is something not widely considered, even by the police themselves.
“The police academy does an amazing job of telling you what you’ll deal with and making sure you’re doing ride-alongs, to see what’s going on throughout the academy,” Boomgaardner explained. “The thing is until you see it, smell it, taste it, it’s hard to tell what certain things are going to be like.”
Springfield Community Mental Health Liaison Melissa Daugherty added “There are two kinds of trauma. One that happens to you, and then there’s secondary trauma or vicarious trauma. That’s what most police officers and first responders deal with. They’re being exposed to other people’s trauma.”
Treatment for such events was not commonly available for police in the past though.
“When I got out (of the police academy) in the 1990s, you just went and did your job, and you just did it,” Corporal Welsh said. “You experience suffering and misery every day, came back at the end of the shift, and went home and tried not to think about it.”
“If something bad happens, think about how many times you go to bed and it goes over and over in your head, and you can’t get over it, or it pops up in your head during the day,” Daugherty said. “Officers have this almost daily and they go out and they don’t know what to expect on the next call. They’re skilled in being ready for the worst of the worst. They’ll see that and go home.”