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Training helps officers better handle situations involving PTSD

Published: Wednesday, May 9 2012 5:09 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Most veterans who come home make the transition without any troubles, but some have a hard time adjusting to civilian life. 

A small percentage of veterans who return home from war with psychological problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder, end up in violent showdowns with police. Officers across the state have been training for those encounters. 

Monday, police arrested a 40-year-old Gulf War veteran who fired shots in his Pleasant Grove home and held off police for three hours. Police said he suffered from PTSD and was taken to a mental health facility.

On April 30, a similar standoff ended when an Iraq War veteran committed suicide after a 10-hour standoff in Riverton. It isn’t known whether he suffered from PTSD, but police said he fired a shot at his wife and made threats against police and himself.

PTSD is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a traumatic event that involves the threat of injury or death, including war, assault or disaster. People who suffer from PTSD can relive the traumatic event, which causes problems in day-to-day living. Some feel emotionally detached, while others have trouble concentrating, have exaggerated responses to things that startle them, feel irritable or have outburst of anger.

There is no test for PTSD. Diagnosis is made based on certain symptoms.

Salt Lake police detective Ron Bruno trains Crisis Intervention Teams statewide. They train officers to identify mental health issues, de-escalate volatile situations and find resources to help the person in crisis.

“It's not necessarily that we're going to handle a returning vet differently than we're going to deal with any other type of person," Bruno said. "The idea is that we're going to identify whether we're dealing with somebody who is emotionally charged, whether it's PTSD or some type of other mental disorder."

They'll calm the person down, try to reason with them and give them options for help.

Studies show that 1 in 5 military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan has PTSD. The FBI has compiled statistics on thousands of barricaded stand-offs with police over the past 16 years. In 6 percent of those stand-offs, the person involved was a veteran or active-duty member of the military. So, police prepare for those kinds of situations.

"Do they work every time? Absolutely not," Bruno said. "There are still times when I have to utilize physical restraints. There are times when I have to look at tactical options. But many times I'm able to de-escalate the situation with verbal tactics and then find the resources to find those permanent solutions."

Right now, 14 percent of law enforcement in the state has CIT training. The goal is to get many more in each department prepared for those situations.

Contributing:  Viviane Vo-Duc

E-mail: jboal@ksl.com

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