Safeguarding Officer Mental Health after Mass Casualty Events

In response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) requested that NAMI assist the Newtown Police Department with officer mental health concerns.

Newtown Chief Michael Kehoe identified the urgent need for a lessons learned document that could provide police chiefs with guidance on two issues: what to do now, before a tragedy occurs, to prepare for an event like Sandy Hook, and what to do and what to expect after a mass casualty incident in your community.

Protecting Officer Mental Health

With Chief Kehoe’s leadership, NAMI has developed a guide for police chiefs on what they can do to safeguard officer mental health before and after a mass casualty incident. The guide includes:

  • What you need to know about trauma and resiliency.
  • The latest science on appropriate mental health interventions in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic incident.
  • Steps chiefs can take to build resiliency in their agencies now.
  • How to navigate a mass casualty incident: immediate incident response, the first weeks, the first months, and the long haul.
  • Information about challenges for the agency and community, stressors and challenges for officers, supporting officer mental health, and the chief’s leadership role.
  • A checklist for immediate incident response.
  • Guidance for managing the media response.
  • Resources for educating officers about mental wellness.

The Chief’s Role in Safeguarding Officer Mental Health After A Mass Casualty Event was released in the spring of 2016.

Who Is Involved in the Project?

To gather lessons learned, NAMI hosted a small expert advisory group meeting in February 2015. The experts included:

  • Chief Michael Kehoe, of Newtown, Conn., who oversaw the response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting
  • Chief Daniel Oates of Miami Beach, Fla. (formerly police chief in Aurora, CO) who oversaw the response to the Aurora Cinemark Theater shooting in 2012
  • Chief John Edwards of Oak Creek, Wis., who oversaw the response to the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin shooting in 2012
  • Chief Marc Montminy, of Manchester, Conn., who oversaw the response to the workplace shooting at Hartford Distributors in 2010
  • James Rascati, LCSW, whose company, Behavioral Health Consultants, LLC supported Chief Montminy after the Hartford Distributors shooting and Chief Kehoe in responding to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting
  • John Nicoletti, PhD police psychologist with Nicoletti-Flater Associates, LPPL, who was involved in the response to the Columbine High School Shooting in 1999, Aurora Cinemark Theater shooting in 2012 and several other incidents
  • James Baker, Director, Law Enforcement Operation and Support at IACP
  • Amanda Burstein, Manager, Center for Officer Safety and Wellness at IACP 

In addition, NAMI consulted with numerous law enforcement leaders and officers, mental health clinicians, trauma experts and an expert on media to ensure we were capturing the experiences of chiefs and officers and the latest research.

Opportunities to Learn More

NAMI has planned two webinars in early 2016 to provide opportunities to learn more about the guide:

  • Officer Mental Health: Personal Perspectives
  • The Chief’s Role in Safeguarding Officer Mental Health After A Mass Casualty Event: A Sneak Peak

NAMI and expert advisors on the project will also be presenting at numerous conferences. Please contact Laura Usher, project director, for more information.