Worley, Idaho – Law enforcement agencies and fire departments from area tribal reservations recently met at the Coeur d’Alene Casino to participate in a two day workshop put on by Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.).
This was the fourth and final such training conducted around the country this year aimed specifically at Indian tribes and is the eighth workshop conducted over the past two years. The title was “The Traumas of Law Enforcement in Tribal Law Enforcement Agencies.”
C.O.P.S. is a national organization designed to assist officers and their families in rebuilding their lives and emotional well being following tragedies that have involved them personally.
Their Web site (www.national cops.org) states that between 140 and 160 officers are killed in the line of duty annually and it’s the goal of the group to help the families and co-workers deal with the tragic loss. Help often extends well beyond those parameters to others involved with tragedies having to deal with emotional problems.
C.O.P.S. will celebrate its 25th anniversary next May and has a current enrollment of more than 15,000.
Carol Botts, enrolled Southern Arapaho from Oklahoma, has served on the national board of the organization the past four years as the plains region trustee covering 10 states, the only American Indian to serve on the board although others also participate in the program. Her term expired this spring and she is now president of the Oklahoma chapter to assist with survivors of tragedies in Oklahoma.
Botts explained about the eight workshops conducted over the past two years: “We were approached to do trauma enforcement training. These eight training sessions all over the country were specifically for tribes. We averaged about 40 people per session. We’ve had very good reception and good reviews. This is the final one for this grant.”
She explained she had been involved with these particular workshops because she is an American Indian. The actual instruction is conducted primarily by three other speakers. Ed Sulzbach, retired FBI agent, led the discussion at the Coeur d’Alene workshop. He normally works those workshops east of the Mississippi and closer to his home but has done all the tribal training. “We specifically asked him to come here,” Botts explained. “It’s worked very well.”
Botts explained that C.O.P.S. holds three-day workshop training every year from January through March throughout the country. “This Coeur d’Alene workshop is exactly the same we present at the three-day training except suicide discussion wasn’t covered under this grant. Those usually involve from 65 to 150 officers from any law enforcement agency, federal, state, tribal, etc.”
Sulzbach, was a long-time agent with a wealth of involvement and knowledge about law enforcement from undercover work among some of the worst, most depraved people in the country to a later period where he worked largely in helping others recover from the emotional trauma of tragedies. He holds little back in describing events he’s seen and participated in and holds the attention of all in attendance.
Some information pertained to critical incidents and surviving a career in enforcement. “The key to surviving this journey is perceptive,” he said. “Don’t blow up little things and make them big. I once heard a Marine sergeant say, ‘Is this the hill I want to die on?’ I realized during my life I had died on a lot of cheap-ass hills. Save your ammo and the fire in the belly for the big battles.”
“Make sure you stay in close communication with your children and grandchildren. It’s very important to do. In the life we lead. Our families suffer so much because of our choice of profession.”
“The most grievous blow is the loss of a child,” he remarks, and tells of finding bubblegum clenched in the hand of an 8-year-old girl who had been sexually abused and killed. “I have gargoyles at night and they still return after 20 years,” because of the emotional trauma it caused him.
He urged that everyone involved in a tragedy, not only the immediate officers but dispatchers, office photographers and others, be offered psychological counseling. “Everyone involved should be debriefed within 48 hours. Agencies are full of hard-asses who won’t admit they need help so it must be mandatory. Inside they’re bleeding. We all have this John Wayne look at life that real men suck it up. That’s B.S.”
Departments have a moral obligation to help their people recover when they put them in harm’s way. Sulzback said that two-thirds of the people having a personal tragedy or losing a colleague are going to be traumatized and need help.
He added, “Despite the gargoyles I have no regrets. I got to spend my life with wonderful people on a wonderful mission.”