Officials hard-hit by Ethan Stacy's death / Meetings this week to help heal, support

May 17 2010 - 11:49pm

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(NICHOLAS DRANEY/Standard-Examiner) Layton Police Lt. Garret Atkin, seen here speaking to the media last Tuesday in Layton, says 4-year-old Ethan Stacy's death has been hard on officers, investigators, dispatchers and other police staff.
(NICHOLAS DRANEY/Standard-Examiner) Layton Police Lt. Garret Atkin, seen here speaking to the media last Tuesday in Layton, says 4-year-old Ethan Stacy's death has been hard on officers, investigators, dispatchers and other police staff.

LAYTON -- One week ago, officers from Layton and Weber County dug up the body of 4-year-old Ethan Stacy.

Critical incident stress debriefing sessions will be held later this week to help officers, investigators, dispatchers and other police staff cope with what they saw and heard during the search and investigation, officials said.

Layton Police Lt. Garret Atkin said Ethan's death has been difficult on officers, dispatchers and support staff at the department.

"We consider our police department as a family," Atkin said. "We went through this together and hopefully we will heal together."

Atkin said the debriefing sessions are not mandatory, but it helps to get together with peers to discuss what they are feeling.

Officers cannot or do not always want to discuss with family members what they have gone through in cases like Ethan's, Atkin said.

Cases involving children can be extra hard, not only on officers but also on dispatchers and support personnel who are behind the scenes and do not always know what is going on during the investigation, he said.

Dispatchers are the ones who receive the 911 calls of a missing child, Atkin said. Then, as the investigation goes on, they are the ones who handle the hundreds of calls from people who want to help or to complain.

"They also see the officers who come in and are struggling a little bit with what is going on," Atkin said.

Layton, like other agencies, offers employee assistance so an officer or other employee struggling with the incident can receive one-on-one counseling without a report going to city officials, he said.

Law enforcement "officers do not see the horrors of war, but they see a lot of cruelty imposed on humanity, and it takes its toll," said Jack Rickards, director of the Weber State University Law Enforcement Academy.

Rickards said he knows military personnel go through a lot of stress, but law enforcement officials do, too, and it is rarely recognized.

Trained public-safety personnel, communications officials, medical officials and mental health workers will be on hand during the debriefing sessions to help those involved discuss the emotions they are experiencing.

Weber County Sheriff's Capt. Klint Anderson said if officers do not get help they can become like a pressure cooker, with emotions and images they do not know how to handle.

"Everyone copes differently, so we let them know it's OK to vent," Anderson said.

Also, officers keep an eye on each other in case someone is not coping well, officials said.

Davis County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Bob Yeaman said supervisors at the jail where Stephanie and Nathan Sloop are booked are watching corrections officers to make sure they are coping well.

The Sloops are accused of the murder of 4-year-old Ethan. Formal charges have not been filed.

The state medical examiner's office is still finishing the tests done on the boy to determine the cause of death so Rawlings' office can file the appropriate charges against the Sloops.

The jail has two professionals on hand from Davis Behavioral Health Inc., who talk, when requested, to deputies who are in charge of the Sloop case about what they are going through emotionally and mentally, Yeaman said.

Also, deputies who work in the jail are told during briefing sessions before their shift begins to remember to be professional, Yeaman said.

"Sometimes it's hard to be professional, but we force ourselves to do it," he said.

"We talk about thinking about what you're going to say and what you do before you do it.

"And, if you need guidance, to talk to your supervisor -- we'll get you help."

Officers receive basic training either at WSU's law enforcement academy or at the state's Police Officer Standards Training on how to cope with stress.

Staying physically fit is one way to cope with stress, instead of grabbing "a fifth of Jack Daniels," said Lt. Wade Breur, with POST.

Those going into law enforcement know they will see mangled bodies and horrific crime scenes, but nothing really prepares them for the reality, Breur said.

"So when you're stressed out, it's good to hit the gym."

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