Today I am thrilled to welcome Emma Kavanagh to talk about the psychology of police shootings and post traumatic reactions.
Hidden will be published on 23rd April 2015 and there is a link to a chapter at the end of this post.
A gunman is stalking the wards of a local hospital. He’s unidentified and dangerous, and has to be located. Urgently.
Police Firearms Officer Aden McCarthy is tasked with tracking him down. Still troubled by the shooting of a schoolboy, Aden is determined to make amends by finding the gunman – before it’s too late.
To psychologist Imogen, hospital should be a place of healing and safety – both for her, and her young niece who’s been recently admitted. She’s heard about the gunman, but he has little to do with her. Or has he?
As time ticks down, no one knows who the gunman’s next target will be. But he’s there. Hiding in plain sight. Far closer than anyone thinks…
Psychology of Police Shootings: Post Traumatic Reactions
Being involved in a police shooting can be one of the most traumatic experiences an officer will ever be faced with. In Hidden, Aden is a firearms officer left struggling with the aftermath of a shooting. He didn’t fire, but that made little difference. The memories of that night continue to haunt him.
A shooting is a difficult thing. Even when it is utterly unavoidable and the firearms officer must act in order to protect themselves and members of the public, it is still a stark and often excruciating decision. The events themselves can often happen in the blink of an eye. Bear in mind that every day, every night, throughout the UK, thousands of armed officers go out on patrol. In 2013, police officers fired their weapons a grand total of 3 times. The number of people fatally injured? Zero.
What this means is that there is often a basic assumption – today will be like any other day. I will get my weapons from the armoury, I will go out on patrol, I will return my weapons to the armoury with exactly the same number of rounds I left with this morning.
This is a great thing about the UK, especially when you compare it to levels of gun violence in countries such as the US.
However, it does mean that officers are often ill prepared to cope with the consequences. These events are so uncommon that when they do happen there is a massive shock component to be dealt with by the officers involved. People can become fixated on the decisions they made – why did I go left instead of right? What was I thinking? The brain isn’t great at laying down memories when we are in a highly stressful situation, and so it’s pretty common for officers to report patchy recollections after a shooting. You can imagine what certain anti-police groupings in society make of this particular gem! For the record, the release of norepinephrine (a fantastically useful neurotransmitter that is associated with the formation of memories) is increased in highly stressful events, which sometimes means that our ability to lay down memories is compromised.
It is common for those involved to replay events in their own minds, over and over again, as the brain fights to find a place in which this unexpected event will fit. People may become emotional (a reaction often typified by anger, particularly in men), withdrawn and may have difficulty sleeping.
In some, more extreme, cases, officers may go on to experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s worth noting though, that these cases are the minority and often what you’ll find in such cases is that the person is simply experiencing a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. There is little to be gained (and in fact much damage to be done) by randomly flinging out diagnoses of PTSD when the officer is simply going through the normal phases of coping with a trauma.
I’ve worked with many officers who have been involved in shootings. It is an experience that never leaves them. It is something that none of them have taken lightly. They have, however, gone on to achieve much in the aftermath.
Emma Kavanagh was born and raised in South Wales. After graduating with a PhD in Psychology from Cardiff University, she spent many years working as a police and military psychologist, training firearms officers, command staff and military personnel throughout the UK and Europe. Now she is lucky enough to be able to write for a living. She lives in South Wales with her husband and young son.
You can read an extract from Hidden here: http://www.deadgoodbooks.co.uk/index.php/extract-hidden-emma-kavanagh/
My review of Hidden: https://northerncrime.wordpress.com/2015/04/12/hidden-emma-kavanagh-2/