Mental, emotional support needed for law enforcement involved in traumatic situations

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A standoff that ended after hours of failed negotiations along I-26 Wednesday afternoon provided a glimpse of raw emotions overtaking those who've taken the pledge to protect and serve.

WIS cameras were rolling moments after deputies fired shots at 29-year-old Robert Shaw and captured several law enforcement officers coming to grips with the reality of the situation.

The county's tactical team can be seen gathering by the median of the highway, consoling each other after the deadly encounter. Another man can be seen trying to rip off his ballistic vest out of apparent frustration, later to be consoled by a fellow officer.

"They're really exposing themselves to the worst of the worst in human experiences for the sake of public safety and the sake of justice," Eric Skidmore, program director of SC LEAP, said.

SC LEAP is part of the state's law enforcement division, offering training and support to law enforcement officers across the state.

"We've found the tip of the spear for us is peer to peer interaction," Skidmore said. "They'll talk with members of the department and the chaplain, but who they really want to talk to is someone who can understand."

SC LEAP offers seminars several times a year for law enforcement who have gone through a traumatic experience.

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One of those seminars, the post-critical incident seminar, is an idea borrowed from the FBI and adapted to work with state law enforcement officials.

"It's a three-day seminar offered four times a year in which those officers can meet with others from around the state and talk and share about their experiences together," Skidmore said.

Without the proper channels of support, some officers may see the effects of a traumatic event spill over into their daily lives.

"For some, but not all, it can mean problems with relationships, anger issues, they can arrive at a decision to end their career prematurely, everybody is different," he said.

Thanks to money allocated by the state legislature, SC LEAP has funding available to help cover any out-of-pocket expenses encountered by law enforcement officers in the state if they seek out emotional or mental health support.

For more information on the program, along with the seminars, click here.

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