Const. Kris Greffard has been a part of the Victoria Police Department for 10 years. (Arnold Lim/BLACK PRESS)

Cops are people too: looking at the heart and head behind the badge

VicPD officer opens up about the realities of managing a uniquely stressful job

Victoria Police Department officers face stress and potential danger on an almost daily basis dealing with calls involving violence or threats. Victoria News multimedia journalist Nicole Crescenzi, who participated in a version of the Reality Based Training (RBT) given to VicPD officers, talks to veteran Const. Kris Greffard on the subject.

The average day in the life of a police officer isn’t all guns and Tasers and high-speed chases, as TV might purport it to be. It is, however, filled with stress.

Victoria Police Department statistics show that in 2017, approximately 99 per cent of the time, when Victoria Police Department officers made an arrest, they did so using nothing more than words.

Of the one per cent, OC spray – more commonly known as pepper spray – was used 13 times; batons were used six times and batons displayed with no action, seven times. Tasers were brought out a total of 39 times and used in eight instances.

It’s a job that can be vastly different every day. And it’s one that comes with potential perils.

By the halfway point of the year in 2018, nine VicPD officers had been injured or assaulted and sent to hospital, after situations ranging from someone spitting in their faces, to violent physical assaults.

And those are just the cases that have been officially reported.

“We’re dealing with hands-on people,” said Const. Kris Greffard, a 10-year VicPD vet. Her role as the department’s control tactics co-ordinator sees her put fellow officers through various potential scenarios. “It’s not only physical, but [people use] improvised weapons … one officer went down when a kickstand was hit across his forehead.”

Police receive public scrutiny if any weapons such as OC spray, bean bag guns or batons are used, even though less damage would likely result if a suspect could be stopped quickly using such tactics, Greffard noted.

While statistically speaking police aren’t facing violent situations all the time, but they need to mentally be prepared for the times when they do.

“We don’t have the ability to freeze in uniform,” Greffard said. “We have to protect the public and ourselves.”

So, the department conducts high-stress, reality-based training, which places a large emphasis on the officers’ number one weapon: communication.

Members are drilled in de-escalating potentially bad scenarios and are trained to deal with trauma when situations go sideways.

RELATED: Reality-based training with the Victoria Police

Police also partake in peer-to-peer training to try and recognize stress in one another.

“Maybe they’re on edge, maybe they’re not sleeping at night … that’s when we need to consider that maybe it’s PTSD,” Greffard said. “After a while, you start to become somewhat desensitized to it yourself, so this training is allowing us to see it in each other.”

The peer-to-peer training is coupled with a Critical Incident Stress Management team, which includes some police officers specially trained to help officers work through critical incidences.

Greffard said she’s never used the team’s services, but has watched her peers make use of it after working on such traumatic cases as violent car accidents or child abuse scenarios.

A huge factor for all officers is balancing their personal and work lives.

“A big asset is we’re humans, too. We are susceptible to pain and to bad days, but when we come to work we have to be unbiased, and put our personal conflicts aside,” she said. “If I have a personal argument with my husband that morning, I can’t take it out on [someone] at a road stop.”

In a similar fashion, most officers feel like they can’t take their work home with them.

“I’ve been married for 13 years and have two children,” Greffard said. “For our kitchen table dinner talk … there’s some things my family just doesn’t need to go through.”

RELATED: React fast, react smart: police officers hold lives in their hands

The best way to deal with stress, she said, can be as simple as grabbing a beer with a trusted co-worker and talking about the week, working out together, or checking in with each other throughout a shift by grabbing a coffee between calls.

“We experience the same emotional responses as the average person does to fear and stress,” Greffard said. “It’s just that we train to prepare ourselves to deal with the situations that the average person shouldn’t face.”

When asked how additional messages of public resentment towards police officers – from Facebook comments to street calls – affect officers’ stress, she was clear:

“Most people don’t hate the police and that’s who we fight for. We put on our uniform to protect the public; it doesn’t matter if they like us. That’s what we’re born to do.”

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com

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