Many of those enrolled in Central Christian College of Kansas’ online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice degree program hope to commit their careers to helping others and keeping their community safe in the role of law enforcement officer.
It is reinforced early on in this degree path’s curriculum that the impact police officers can have begins with the very first interaction between the officer and a perpetrator, victim, or witness.
Many police departments across the country have come to realize that encouraging police officers to better understand trauma can have a beneficial impact on their law enforcement abilities.
This realization has contributed to the practice of trauma-informed policing. This article explores this practice and highlights the benefits it can present to law enforcement professionals.
What is Trauma-Informed Policing?
The principle behind trauma-informed policing is that a law enforcement officer will be better able to facilitate interactions with the various players in a criminal investigation if she has an understanding of trauma and the impact it has on the human psyche.
The key paradigm shift that occurs using this method is that police officers should approach a victim or a perpetrator not by asking “what is wrong with you?” but rather “what has happened to you?”
By approaching these scenarios with this perspective, police officers can adjust the ways in which they react and respond to the various people involved in a case and potentially can transform the outcome for the better.
The Various Facets of Trauma
As professionals in the law enforcement field, police officers can be exposed to challenging scenarios every day and might even experience trauma of their own. Accordingly, they might come to recognize that different types of trauma can have long-term effects.
There might be cases of chronic trauma, for example, where an individual is repeatedly exposed to traumatic events, such as neglect. There might also be cases of complex trauma, like homelessness, where several factors contribute to the distress; or system-induced trauma brought on by the stressors of incarceration, severe poverty, or separation of families within the foster care system.
Each type of trauma can have a different impact on the individual forced to endure it, so a police officer's ability to recognize the various facets and respond accordingly can make a big difference.
Police can use their understanding of trauma to better understand the point of view of others, and, in many cases, deescalate situations that could otherwise become tense. As an example: imagine a law enforcement officer arrives on the scene at a convenience store where there’s been a reported break-in.
The perpetrator is still in the store and is very aggressive toward the officer upon arrival. A police officer officer unaware of the perpetrator’s past trauma might read this behavior as hostile or adversarial and might assume a defensive stance. A trauma-informed officer, however, might recognize this behavior as typical of someone who has experienced past trauma.
Instead of becoming defensive, a trauma-informed police response might include opening a dialogue with the perpetrator and working to identify and acknowledge the perpetrator’s needs. This might take the form of simply allowing the individual to share her anger or frustration, or it might assume the form of a more supportive conversation wherein the officer outlines the next steps in their interaction together.
The Beneficial Impacts
One of the key benefits of this trauma-informed approach to policing is that it builds trust in the police force and underlines the idea that law enforcement officers are compassionate human beings.
At the same time, trauma-informed policing can help to reduce the number of escalated or violent confrontations and can save an already- traumatized person from suffering further traumatic encounters.
In the long run, trauma-informed police response can also reduce the number of repeat offenses and may help to streamline the investigation process, making for more closed cases.
Being a law enforcement officer means putting yourself on the line for your community every day. This means that for police officers to adopt a trauma-informed approach, they also need to be aware of and care for themselves.
One of the ways to do this is to find your own nurturing community, like the one fostered at Central Christian College of Kansas. The care for the individual – and thereby the care for the community – is a facet of every course in Central Christian College of Kansas’ online Criminal Justice degree program.
Law enforcement of the future will undoubtedly call more and more on trauma-informed police response, and Central Christian College of Kansas helps you build this skill set.