By Susan Finarelli, Office of Communications
On December 9, the City was host to a special screening of an important documentary Code 9: Officer Needs Assistance
. Law enforcement officers from around the metropolitan region were in attendance. The film explores the darker side of law enforcement and tells the stories of police officers and their families who are suffering the mental anguish of the careers they chose, leading to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and even suicide.
"Research shows that 15 to 18 percent of law enforcement personnel in this county have PTSD," said City of Falls Church Det. Jennifer Elliott, who organized the film screening. "That’s 80,000 people, and only the ones who recognize they have it and are willing to come forward about it. It’s devastating, and we need to change the culture. We need to raise awareness for the issue within the law enforcement community and make mental health tools and resources a priority."
PTSD isn’t always brought on by just one event; according to research, the stressors of the job can have a cumulative effect on an officer. In her article, Police Suicide: Understanding grief and loss (2002) Beverly J. Anderson states:
"More than any other occupation, law enforcement is an emotionally and physically dangerous job . . . Long hours, rotating shifts and constant exposure to tragedy exacts a heavy toll on police officers and their families. The results are alarming: Alcoholism, divorce, domestic violence, heart attacks, cancer, depression and suicide . . . Research has shown [that when] stressors are prolonged and overwhelming, a person’s ability to cope becomes diminished . . . Police officers, by the very nature of their jobs are exposed to more stress and trauma in one day than most people will experience in a considerable amount of time."
The Code 9 Project is dedicated to educating and raising awareness about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder amongst our Police Officers, First Responders and their families. The mission includes eliminating the shame and stigma of asking for help.
City of Falls Church Police Chief Mary Gavin said to the attendees, "It is imperative that we come together and discuss ways to address these issues. And by doing so, many lives will be transformed and, in some cases, saved. We all are charged with the responsibility to protect those who protect our communities."
The Code 9 screening is just one way the City of Falls Church Police Department is committed to bringing education and wellness to first responders. The Wellness Program also includes therapy dogs. Therapy Dogs International
says studies have proven that through petting, touching and talking to animals, people's blood pressure is lowered, stress is relieved and depression eased. This includes "police officers ... who suffer their own emotional pain when dealing with the devastating pain of others." Each time the dogs have visited, we can see the change in our colleagues—the stress is lessened. Read more about it in the City Views blog
The City invites you to learn more about the Code 9 Project and what you can do to help law enforcement and their families manage, reduce, and eventually eliminate the stress effects of the job. Together we can help protect those who protect our communities.