ptsd and cops

Cop Killer: PTSD and its effect on police officers

The American Cop is at War

On a regular basis my officers are sent to calls with individuals suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. It only makes sense with many returning soldiers from our decade long wars on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We have come a long way in understanding and treating those military members suffering from PTSD.

The stigma that comes with this condition has also slowly eroded. PTSD is more accepted and is better understood by the American public.

The same cannot be said for the American Cop.

PTSD has become increasingly more common in police officers.  Not unlike our front line troops serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, the American Cop serves in what some would consider the most violent country on Earth.

It has become accepted that soldiers returning from combat would need time to readjust after the conflict and that some would experience PTSD.

This is not necessarily the case for cops.  Police officers, in many ways, must deal with the same atrocities and horrors that befall their military counterparts.

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Cops See Bad Shit

Law enforcement is a highly stressful and dangerous occupation.  New cops arrive in this profession with an eagerness that is almost unrivaled in any other job.

The seduction of becoming a cop and serving the greater good enables the rookie patrolman to overlook the inherent dangers that he or she may face.

Over time, the same rookie cop begins to change as he or she encounters and manages crisis after crisis on the streets.  They become readily accepted by the senior and veteran officers and slowly develop an “us against the world” mentality.

As they become fully immersed in the police culture, the old life they had prior to becoming a police officer begins to fade away.


PTSD isn’t like catching the flu or a virus that comes on quickly. It sneaks up on cops over time. Each fight, pursuit, rape, stabbing, shooting, murder, suicide, dead baby call that a cop deals with over their career takes a toll on the officer. Some cops are better at forgetting these calls and moving on.

Over the course of a career, cops are exposed to horrific events that are not easily forgotten or just ignored.

Cops Are Tough

Many police officers fear that admitting to PTSD will make them appear weak. That isn’t the only reason they avoid talking about it.  They also fear getting fired or passed over for promotion and labeled as a “weak” officer by their peers.

By their very nature, cops view themselves as tough minded individuals.

They have to.

Street survival and officer safety are priority one and are instilled at every level of the cops training. To survive is to be tough. Nothing beats a tough guy.

Why PTSD is Killing Cops

There is a certain level of bravado and “old school” ideology that refuses to recognize the disorder.

Cops are masters at hiding their emotions.

They will often bury that side of their psyche that may have been damaged by a particular event.  An officer need not be involved in a deadly force incident to develop PTSD.

I know this all too well.


Several years ago I was assigned to investigate the death of a six year old girl. Like the professional cop that I was, I was all business. I went through all of the typical investigative steps and determined that their was no foul play involved.

The girl had recently fallen ill and had been taken to her primary doctor the previous day. Tests revealed that she had the Flu. The parents were told to give her plenty of fluids and let the virus run its course.

That evening they kissed their daughter good night and told her she would start feeling better soon.

The next morning she was found unresponsive by her mother.depressed-cop

She was dead.

The autopsy showed the cause of death to be the Influenza Virus.

To understand PTSD, one must be careful not to presume that traumatic events and stress effect everyone the same. I always prided myself as the cop who could take anything. The blood, guts, brains. Anything.

For some reason, this case got to me. Real bad. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I obsessed over it. She was a beautiful little girl who died- from- the- Flu! I struggled to square her death with my view of justice and whats right with the world. It was eating me up inside.

And nobody knew about it.

I would eventually stop obsessing over this case. It took some time but I finally did make my peace with God. Some officers are still stuck in their obsession over an event or series of atrocities they have witnessed over a career.

Some officers may have even thought of ending their own life.

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What Can Be Done To Help Cops Who May Suffer From PTSD

What can law enforcement professionals do to support those cops at risk for PTSD?

Some agencies have taken a proactive approach and have initiated training early in the officers career. The new cops, along with their family members, are made aware of the psychological toll that the job can bring.

I have seen an upward trend in police agencies making an effort to recognize the problem. Most have mandatory critical incident debriefs following a traumatic event.

We still need to do more.

My sister-in-law, a former psychologist for the the AFP (Australian Federal Police), is appalled at the level of care that American Cops receive. Australia and other European countries provide on-going, systematic psychological services for their cops.


I also need to do a better job .

If one of my cops feels uncomfortable talking to me about a problem, or needs help, then I have failed. I believe we can all start by being less self absorbed and more in tuned to our brothers and sisters.

Another thing we can do is educate ourselves on the problem and stop pretending that cops are not affected by the calls they respond to.


Some of you have reached out and want to share your story with others. A blog like this one is a great way to reach those who could benefit from your experience and interests. Blogging has changed my perspective and my life.

It could do the same for you.

I recommend HostGatorwhich in my opinion is the simplest and fastest way to get you started on your blogging journey. If you have any questions about starting a blog or a website, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or email me directly at bart@familysafefirst.com.


This is one of the better videos I have found on the topic. Although not from America, it becomes clear early on that cops generally experience the same events worldwide.


A 23-year veteran police officer, Bart spent time as a patrolmen and a violent crimes detective (specialized in strategic intelligence and research analysis). Aside from this experience in high profile case investigations, he has received training from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security in Advanced Intelligence Analysis. Bart also holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice and Strategic Intelligence (Magna Cum Laude) from Liberty University. As a father of four, husband and law enforcement officer, he wants to share his knowledge on safety with you. Bart is also a contributing writer for Law Enforcement Today.

8 Comments

  • Dennis F VanCamp December 12, 2016 at 4:03 pm

    Great article Bart!

    Reply
    • Bart Proctor December 12, 2016 at 9:32 pm

      Thanks Dennis!

      Reply
  • Carol Ann December 12, 2016 at 9:48 pm

    Great article Bart! Enjoyed reading it! Keep them coming.

    Reply
  • dujaa74 December 13, 2016 at 7:57 am

    LEO #PTSD – I don’t know what’s worse murderous criminals on the streets or #corrupt management officials sitting behind their big desks? Just saying … seen a lot of good honest people ruined.

    Reply
  • Elihu December 22, 2016 at 8:10 am

    Thank you for highlighting this issue.

    Cops with PTSD are ignored to their peril. My spouse has severe PTSD from an Officer-involved shooting (they called it a combat shooting because of their sheer number of officers involved and the amount of bullets flying) and was encouraged to continue being a cop in spite of the recommendation of his psychologist. My spouse made the decision to retire because the liability issues were too great, particularly in this litigation-happy anti-cop environment. If another justified shooting occurred, prosecution would have been inevitable. I think my spouse made the right choice, but far too many cops feel cajoled/shamed into continuing in a situation that is unsafe for them and the public. We need better support for our law enforcement personnel. I was disgusted by the attitude of the command and fellow officers. The support was lip service; it didn’t actually exist.

    Reply
    • Bart Proctor December 22, 2016 at 8:23 am

      Thank you ELIHU for your thoughtful and engaging comment to this issue. It sounds like the right decision was made by you and your spouse. Please let him know that he is not alone and that he will eventually make it through. My goal for the article is to bring awareness so the very things that happened to your spouse and lessen the stigma of PTSD. Have a great day and Merry Christmas!

      Reply
  • Marilyn Woodall January 29, 2017 at 7:24 pm

    Your bringing these issues to the front is going to help a lot of people. It has been kept in the dark far too long and spoke of very little. Thank you for developing this site Bart. As it gains more recognition more Officers and their families will chime in and have a voice.

    Reply
    • Bart Proctor January 30, 2017 at 6:37 am

      Thanks Marilyn. I know that a lot of officers struggle in silence over trauma they have experienced on the job. I also thought that the video I provided at the end of the article does an excellent job of quantifying and illustrating the similarities that cops and soldiers share in regards to PTSD.

      Reply

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