Post-traumatic stress disorder among police officers is a serious issue. For the third straight year in 2018 , more officers died from suicide, which is often caused by PTSD, than deaths than in the line of duty. Yet it’s an issue many in law enforcement avoid talking about.
Everything changed for now retired Wethersfield police officer Justin Lord when he pulled someone over February 1, 2011.
Lord told NBC Connecticut Investigates on that date he fatally shot a suspect. It gave him post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, to the point he could not carry his gun and badge anymore.
Lord said the suspect appeared to be intoxicated and driving under the influence. He also believed he was in possession of narcotics. Soon after Lord began field sobriety tests with the suspect, the suspect took off and got back in his car. Lord followed him, and the suspect grabbed for Lord’s gun.
A struggle ensued, that continued outside the suspect’s car. It moved just outside the view of the dashcam video Lord shared with NBC Connecticut Investigates. That’s when Lord shot the suspect multiple times, according to investigators.
Lord explained, “He was behind me, choking me from behind. So I reached back under my left armpit and fired several shots.”
He said the PTSD from the incident lasted years.
“It’s a tie between the incident itself and my visit to the attorney’s office, where I was told, pending the investigation I could be arrested for manslaughter. And that I was potentially, the perpetrator, in this situation.”
Lord was cleared of wrongdoing by an outside agency.
He said he has PTSD under control, in part because the Wethersfield Police Department forced him to get counseling. “The resources that were directed my way, really saved my life.
Wethersfield Police Chief James Cetran confirmed that it is department policy following a critical stress incident to get counseling. Cetran said he had high hopes Lord would return. “We really wanted to help him and get him back on the job because he was such a good police officer.”
A survey of almost 8,000 officers on PTSD by the Fraternal Order of Police and NBC owned stations, which included Connecticut officers, took a deeper look at the issues officers reported experiencing after stressful calls.
Eighty percent believe they experienced critical stress on the job.
A majority said they dealt with:
- recurring/unwanted memories
- being easily angered or withdrawn
- plus sleep, and family relationship problems
“It took a very large amount of energy to put that uniform on every day, following the shooting, go out and to do my job effectively, and still have something left in the tank, when I got home,” Lord explained.
Sixty-five percent of the officers surveyed believe there are not adequate mental health services available.
Phyllis DiGioia founded Honor Wellness Center in Connecticut, which is focused on first responders.
She said there’s a lack of any inpatient facilities for officers.
“An inpatient program is something that can go five to seven days a week, eight to ten hours a day, and you go from that, to one to two hours a week, the odds of relapse, for many, were very high.”
Enfield police officer Sherri Martin, wellness chair for the Fraternal Order of Police, said there’s a stigma about police seeking help for mental health issues. Ninety percent of officers surveyed agree.
“Right now, officers have to be concerned about losing their gun, if they end up needing mental health help. And that’s a career ender.”
Justin Lord hopes becoming a peer counselor for Honor Wellness, will make it easier for officers to come forward.
“So although I may not be in the cruiser taking calls, and running around light and sirens, I think I can still make a very positive impact.”
Seventy-three percent of officers surveyed by the FOP said peer counseling was the most helpful treatment.