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Exclusive Interview with
Dell Hackett, B.A., B.C.E.T.S.

BIO: Dell Hackett is a 28 year law enforcement veteran. Mr. Hackett has served as a patrol deputy sheriff, shift supervisor, watch commander, and traffic unit supervisor. He was most recently assigned as the middle manager in charge of the departments Special Operations Unit. Dell has eight years of past SWAT experience. He has been certified as an emergency vehicle operations (EVOC) instructor, and a senior firearms instructor. Mr. Hackett is a graduate of the FBI National Academy, session 182. He is a board certified expert in traumatic stress and a Diplomate member of the National Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress and the American Board of Law Enforcement Experts. Dell was heavily involved in the formation of his departments critical incident de-briefing team and the peer support unit. He has spoken on a national and international basis on topics relating to law enforcement stress, police suicide, and leadership issues. Mr. Hackett has been a requested speaker for several groups, both law enforcement and civilian, from around the nation. He was recently invited to present on police suicide prevention and intervention at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. Dell has published articles on SWAT topics, law enforcement air operations, and law enforcement peer support.

Dell> Hi Folks, My name is Dell Hackett from The Law Enforcement Wellness Association.

TOAC> I want to thank you Dell for coming here tonight. Be warned that this is our first *real* chat !

TOAC> Dell, your organization offers many different programs. Are any programs designed to help the LEO survivors of suicide?

Dell> Our group is currently in a training only mode. We plan to expand greatly when I retire. Our focus right now is law enforcement peer support and law enforcement suicide prevention. I am really excited about our faculty and the LE peer support training has been outstanding so far. We train officers in PTSD recognition, etc. I have handled a number of individual situations that came in over our website. It was very gratifying. Also we will be expanding into law enforcement family issues training.

AskT8> how has the training been going, Dell? Has it been received well?

Dell> I can tell you after almost 29 years in law enforcement, the training we have done so far is the highlight of my life. I know we are making a difference.

Dell> I should say the highlight of my "career life" my family is the highlight of my life.

AskT8> Glad to see that your priorities are in the right order

AskT8> Where/what departments are scheduled for future training?

Dell> We just did Bureau of Indian affairs Police in Aberdeen SD, We've done two in the Portland oregon area, and we're slated for tampa Fl. with you folks.

TOAC> What do you suggest for LEO's looking for unconventional therapy?

Dell> I have found that one of the best things in (at least officers with PTSD ) is a group get together (and not over beer) and to just talk about what's going on, how they feel, and what's really going on in the ol' boiler room. It normalizes feelings and really helps. It is always the best if a trained law enforcement MHP runs these sessions or at least a trained law enforcement peer support person.

AskT8> that is good suggestion, Dell. Kind of like a support group atmosphere

Dell> It is a support group in every sense of the word. I know. I was involved with a group like this in 1987 after a diagnosis of severe PTSD as a result of three particularly brutal incidents within a three month period.

TOAC> Dell, is there a handbook-manual that can help guide someone in creating a peer-support group?

Dell> We have a very complete manual we use for our training. We give it to students of our classes. It was written by Dr. Nancy Bohl, my co-instructor in Peer Support.

TOAC> Do you sell them??

Dell> Not yet but we will...either that one or another version. I retire in September and there are some very exciting things on the horizon for the Law Enforcement Wellness Assoc.

GUEST2> Dell- who needs to contact your group for classes? or does your group solicite the police departments?

Dell> We have done both. BIA solicited us as have other Tribal Police Depts. We have put on Peer training with other agencies as co-sponsors. Whatever works to get the training out.

TOAC> and how much does it cost..?

Dell> the training is $295 (3-days) or $275 for two or more, same agency.

GUEST1> Dell-have you any requests from the Navajo Tribe?

Dell> Not yet, but there were several BIA Tribal Police from Sioux reservations in Aberdeen.

AskT8> What has your dept. done to implement training programs on police stress and suicide?

Dell> We have a 12 member peer support unit and critical incident de-briefing team. All are trained in suicide prevention and intervention. As part of our new hire training (pre-academy) we give each recruit a block of instruction on critical incidents, law enforcement suicide awareness training, and cummulative stress issues in law enforcement. In their state academy training they get another 4 hours of the same, different format. Then I trained at least 500 s

AskT8> is that average for most p.d.'s?

Dell> I don't think it's anywhere near the average, but it should be.

AskT8> is management supportive of an officer who needs counseling either due to a line of duty incident or personal issue? (in your experience)

Dell> Our management is extremly supportive from the Sheriff on down.

AskT8> including for personal issues? meaning what.....gun and badge kept by officer while undergoing counseling and or medication?

Dell> The gun and badge issue... It's so very much a case by case type of thing.

TOAC> Dell, I always thought that a LEO suicide awareness package should be given at the acadamy and made mandatory to be given to that recruit's family (signed). I know it sounds childess... but I feel strongly that if the family was aware of the signs and symptoms a lot of LEO suicides could be prevented. Do you think something like that could ever be implemented?

Dell> It should be and Dr. Bohl and I are working on a significant-other training and LE suicide awareness is part of that. Signs and symptoms , etc.

TOAC> good -- I'm glad to hear that!

AskT8> Dell, does your dept. have a program for the families? (Knowing who to turn to for help, ie: Chaplain, EAP, etc.)

Dell> No, we don't have a structured family support system in place yet. We are working on our Chaplains program now. In traumatic situations, our peer support team has done a masterful job with our families.

GUEST> In a case such as mine, the family as well as the LEO is indoctrinated that you talk to no one and there is nowhere to turn for help. Agencies should provide the family with outreach info, if nothing else than the name and contact info of the supervisor.

Dell> There should NEVER be a situation where an officer, no matter what his assignment, is denied help with psychological problems. NEVER.

AskT8> denied help, no....NEVER....but repercussion......you know it happens

Dell> The only thing we can do is change the culture, and train the supervisors, managers, and peers. If that doesn't work, they (the managers) should find other occupations.

TOAC> Can the Law Enforcement Wellness Association train law enforcement agencies in Peer Support and how to develop a program?

Dell> Yes we can and we do it on a regular basis. We provide what I believe to be the finest peer training available. Dr. Nancy Bohl of our faculty is the lead instructor and has designed an outstanding curriculum. I CO-teach with her. The three day course covers how to develop and start a program, how to select officers for a peer support team, peer support techniques, crisis intervention, family issues, suicide prevention and intervention, law enforcement substance abuse, and model policy and procedure for law enforcement peer support units. The course evaluations form the over 150 officers we have trained so far this year have been outstanding. Peer support and trusted mental health services is a very viable and effective way to address the sometimes overwhelming stress of modern law enforcement work. I have seen, first hand, many times over, the benefits of viable law enforcement peer support programs.

TOAC> Do you feel Cops are more stressed than 28 years ago when you joined the Sheriff's Office?

Dell> This is hard to answer. I think stress reduction programs in law enforcement are more available and accepted today than they were when I started my career but we are nowhere near where we need to be yet. The stresses are the same and the impact on families are the same. I think we are finally starting to realize that the psychological dangers in law enforcement have the ability to destroy careers, families and lives, just as the physical (maybe more so) hazards in law enforcement can. It's a culture change we need to work on and a start is for law enforcement leaders and administrators to realize that compassion and caring for the fine officers of our nation is a sign of strength, not weakness. As law enforcement administrators we are asking the front line officers and supervisors to daily complete one of the most demanding and difficult jobs in the world. We need to give them all the tools to get through a law enforcement career mentally sound and physically healthy.

TOAC> What do you see as the most common symptoms of traumatic stress in law enforcement?

Dell> In my experience it starts with mental pictures of a particular incident or scene that you just can't shake after the incident is over. This may be as a result of any number of critical incidents that law enforcement is exposed to. Then the ability to not sleep kicks in (a very common complaint). When you are not sleeping well it leads to a whole host of physical and psychological problems. Throw shift work into the mix, a hectic court schedule, supervisors and peers that may not be understanding, and a feeling of not knowing where to turn for assistance and you have a recipe for potential disaster. In a nutshell, something is really bothering you that you can't shake no matter how hard you try and you attempt to lock it away in your mind. Many physical symptoms such as headache, nausea, tremors, the onset of any number of physical and psychological reactions are possible. You will soon find out you can lock it away in your mind for a time but the incident, until it gets resolved, can come back and literally eat you up. Substance abuse, family issues including verbal and physical abuse, sick leave, and whole host of problems can surface. Those of us that have been in the profession for a time have seen all of this at one time or another. Either in ourselves or in coworkers. The fact is, no law enforcement officer is immune. It's a long road to retirement and you never know when a particular exposure or incident will be the one that triggers symptoms of post traumatic stress. The good news is that through the work of a lot of fine trauma specialists and understanding peers and administrators, we know we can intervene early and make a difference by assisting and getting officers back on track. Peer support, critical incident debriefing, qualified and trusted MHP assistance and family support are all components of a system that needs to be in place for officers.

TOAC> Where should an Officer go that is having problems, even thoughts of suicide, if the department offers nothing?

Dell> That is a tough question but a good one. In an ideal world all officers should first be trained in the signs and symptoms of excessive stress that is going unresolved and getting out of hand..... then what to do about it. Then all agencies would have trusted, confidential, and competent MHP service available. But, that not being the case, I feel the first thing I would do is confide in my significant other, a trusted peer, a trusted supervisor (if you have one of those) that I'm having some major problems and need some help. No one can or should face trauma alone. Officers then need to realize they are not alone and that thousands if not millions of other officers have faced similar situations, feelings, and internal conflicts. The feelings they are experiencing are normal reactions to terribly abnormal situations. It is critical that competent, trained mental health professionals be identified. This is where the "trusted other" can really help. I'm talking mental health professionals trained in the law enforcement culture, trained in PTSD recognition and treatment, trauma recovery AND the affects of law enforcement cumulative and organizational stress issues. I can't state it enough....Officers experiencing the first signs of distress need to find someone they trust to help them take that first step. It is so difficult to go it alone. After the first step, competent mental health services have got to be available. All officers and supervisors have got to be trained in the signs of distress and potential suicidal behavior in their coworkers. Suicide by a law enforcement officer is a permanent solution to a situation that is usually temporary. We have got to make them understand that. Officers experiencing problems also need to understand they are not "weak" and that full recovery and return to duty and a fulfilling life is very much possible and attainable. The old saying of "That which does not kill us makes us stronger" is very true in this case. Some of the finest officers I know have been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder. It was not their fault and they were not "weak." They received treatment and have come back into the profession stronger and better officers than ever before and have served as real examples and beacons in the areas we have been discussing. Because they were so well respected by their peers, they have served as great examples. They are fine, strong, police officers that had the courage to take that first step. As a police lieutenant in a fairly large agency, I'm proud of them.

TOAC> How does someone with symptoms of PTSD or suicidal thoughts find competent and confidential mental health services that is experienced in the treatment of law enforcement?

Dell> Wow! You know how to ask the tough questions. Law Enforcement psychology is truly a buyers beware market. Unfortunately, in my opinion and the opinion of many officers nationwide, there are not enough of the truly effective law enforcement MHP's to go around. When you know of one or have one, hang on to them!! There are some great ones but I know some that attempted treatment of officers and wouldn't admit they lacked the training to be good at what they were attempting to do. More damage than good can sometimes occur. Law Enforcement officers generally have a distrust of mental health professionals for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the "How can he/she understand what I'm going through when they haven't been there." Again, as I stated earlier, when searching for a mental health professional familiar with law enforcement treatment and issues you have to ask the tough questions. For example, Have you treated law enforcement before? Are you familiar and trained in PTSD treatment? What is your training in suicidal issues and crisis intervention? Are you familiar with law enforcement family issues?

Dell> I am in no way saying that MHP's not trained in all the before mentioned areas cannot assist those officers in crisis. It is always good to get into treatment and take that first step. Many MHP's can refer their clients to others that are better trained in a specific area. Much like a family physician would refer to a specialist when necessary.

AskT8> Dell, do you have plans to do training in the Phoenix area?

Dell> Not yet. You know we did one in Arizona in December.

GUEST> The training you did in Prescott for the statewide LECC Conference probably reached many in the Phoenix area, Dell.

Dell> I think a lot of folks from Phoenix were there.

AskT8> I have found that holding on to anger will only hurt yourself. What has worked for me is speaking out, trying to make changes within the departments, education officers

Dell> You are so right!!

GUEST> It's so critical for LEOs to get the training -- not only to prevent suicide for them, but also so they can recognize the indicators in their fellow officers and help.

Dell> You are right, That's why established, trained peer support is so critical.

Dell> We have a lot of work to do folks. A culture change and caring supervisors are #1. I can feel it coming. The new supervisors I train are more approachable and compassionate.

GUEST> I'm hoping out of our training in Florida in July that we will be able to set up a statewide networking system for prevention education, post critical incident debriefing, peer support, EAP, and LE education of management/supervisory and institutional issues..

Dell> AND a state statute offering trained peer support personnal privlidged communications. Without trust and confidentiality law enforcement peer support programs are doomed.

GUEST> A very clear understanding of the difference between privacy, privileged communication, and confidentiality.

GUEST2> Dell- instead of having to try and implement these programs in all the departments individually, is it possible to do something nationally, as a whole?

GUEST> That's what we're working on. From our statewide efforts, which California and Louisiana already have, we hope to take the training regionally across the nation under the support of the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and then, hopefully, come up with a national network.

AskT8> GREAT!

AskT8> Dell, do you have any stats on police suicide?

Dell> John V. and I are working on that. As you know the stats. given out are somewhat flawed. John feels that in the studies he has done it will be somewhere between 17-22 per 100,000. We have SO much work to do on the stats.

AskT8> ok.. in simple math, that means.. higher or lower than previously stated

GUEST> The FBI has talked about starting to keep stats, but has not to this date begun to do so. Part of that could be because the FBI's own stats are quite high.

Dell> John and I talked today (we'll talk more in Tampa) about this but somewhere between 130-150 per year NOT counting the mis-reported AND this doesn't include corrections officers.

GUEST> Mis-reported includes not only "accidental gun cleanings" but also automobile accidents, among others.

Dell> We need a national clearing house for this like LOD. FBI told us they would like to do that. We even designed a reporting form.

AskT8> Did you know that 1999, more police officers died in auto accidents than by shootings?

Dell> Yes, I did know that.

GUEST> The "accident" reports not only protect the agencies from the stigma of suicide, but also often allow the families to collect on insurance, which they desperately need when left in this horrific situation.

Dell> Yes - How many graveyard vehicle pusuits that end in single vehicle crashes are suicide?

TOAC Which is why it's so very hard to get actual suicide statistics...

TOAC> When is the tampa training again?

GUEST> Tampa training is July 25, 26, 27. The venue has been changed to Fletcher Auditorium and the University of Tampa on Kennedy Avenue because we already have such a large number of registrants -- 70 and we're still 2 mos. away. LEOs are notorious for signing up at the last minute. To have this many registrants already really points to the timely need for this training!.

TOAC> Dell can you give us the phone number of the Wellness Association?

Dell> (541) 935-2594.....In beautiful downtown Elmira , Or.

AskT8> What kind of things is the Wellness Association planning for the upcoming year?

Dell> In September, after I retire, we'll be planning training monthly, somewhere. We're in Portland In October for 3 day basic and 2 day advanced peer support. Jim Horn is joining us to teach the Advanced LE Peer Support. I'm excited!

GUEST> Jim is one of the original creators of the BSU and PCIS at Quantico. He'll be great.

AskT8> excellent

AskT8> where is that training going to be held?

Dell> The training is in Portland.

AskT8> What is your opinion about survivors of suicide attending the seminars at police week?

Dell> I believe grief, tradgedy and mourning are the same for all of us that lose loved ones in law enforcement. If training and grief seminars are available, we shouldn't turn anyone away.

AskT8> I did hear that a workshop was held at police week where there were survivors of suicide, cancer, and other types of deaths - perhaps everyone is getting educated so that opinions are changing

AskT8> It has been a slow road to getting here, but I have definitely seen the change in the past 6 years

Dell> It's about time. Divorce, substance abuse, suicide, spousal abuse... all our silent partners. Times gotta change.

AskT8> there are many people in this room who are willing and have made a difference

Dell> The motto should be to Never forget the mission and never give up!

TOAC> That's a great motto - and we should all try to remember that when we feel the deck is stacked against us. I want to thank you, Dell, for taking the time to answer our questions tonight. Before we wrap-up, is there anything else you would like to add?

Dell> Thanks for the opportunity to participate in this chat. I would like to acknowledge the fine work of SOLES and encourage all of you to march on and keep up the fight. It's seems difficult and uphill at times but You are making a difference.

TOAC> Tell us again -- How can your organization be reached for training information?

Dell> We are on the web at: WWW.COPHEALTH.COM the telephone is: (541) 935-2594 my e-mail is: COPHEALTH@aol.com


(*Please note that "Guest>" is a generic name we issued for various visitor's questions in the chat room. We have also edited this log to exclude many other questions for privacy as well as to retain interview consistency.)