With thousands of veterans from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq returning home, specifically to military communities like Killeen, it’s likely law enforcement officers will face confrontations with suspects who have combat training and some kind of mental illness.
Local law enforcement agencies do not keep statistics on post-traumatic stress disorder-related incidents; however, most take measures to train officers to handle situations with suspects showing signs of mental illness.
To graduate from the police academy, officers are required to take a “Crisis Intervention Course,” which reviews how to identify the mentally ill and how to approach a suspect who shows signs of an illness.
In Killeen, officers strive to understand the military mindset. Sgt. Eric Bradley, a Killeen Police Department crisis negotiator, said the department works with Fort Hood’s Warrior Transition Brigade, learning more about challenges injured soldiers face as they integrate back to civilian life.
“We have learned a lot, and they are always willing to assist us,” he said.
Like the community it serves, KPD has plenty of Army veterans who can help in police situations involving soldiers or veterans.
“These are people who have experienced multiple deployments, and they understand a lot of those kinds of issues,” Bradley said. “That’s what you want, people with multiple kinds of experiences to bring to the table.”
Killeen police believe they are well prepared for any scenario. Assistant Chief of Police Michael Click, who oversees the North Precinct, which houses the SWAT team, said the tactics used by SWAT officers are universal and don’t change based on a suspect’s military or civilian background.
“Our tactics are designed to deal with some of the most violent offenders out there,” said Click, noting the department faced situations with barricaded suspects since 1984. “It’s not a new phenomenon.”
A suspect’s history, including experience as current or former military, can play into the negotiations. Background information could include whether or not the soldier is suffering from physical or mental health conditions.
“There’s different classes of PTSD, and it can be defined in many ways,” Bradley said. “What we look at are the symptoms of PTSD.”
Other local law enforcement agencies reportedly have no training methods for dealing specifically with PTSD. However, officers are trained to deal with violent situations involving alcohol, drugs and mental disorders, which can sometimes be indicators of PTSD.
The Gatesville Police Department trains officers to assess individual situations, but officers who are combat veterans often play crucial roles in negotiating with suspects, said Gatesville Police Chief Nathan Gohl.
“There have been a few instances where officers acted as counselors with those who have self-proclaimed PTSD.”
The Harker Heights Police Department chose to take a proactive approach to dealing with potentially violent situations when the Healthy Homes program was implemented 18 months ago.
When police officers come across situations where mental health issues and abuse are identified, they refer the individuals to a Healthy Homes social worker for therapeutic intervention, Police Chief Mike Gentry said.
“The idea is we are trying to be proactive and provide hope and solutions to people’s problems before a situation manifests itself into a more desperate or criminal one.”