DENVER – The Denver Police Department has a unique new program to help officers get back on the streets after being involved in a critical incident, such as an officer-involved shooting.
Sgt. Bobby Waidler helped develop the Reintegration Program.
"It’s simply just to help the officers reset their nervous systems and give them the level of support we feel over time in policing really hasn’t been addressed. Basically, this reintegration process is a tactical pause. It’s a chance to reset your nervous system and work on your self-care. We want to make sure the officers are feeling supported mentally, physically and emotionally. Officers usually get a lot of tactical training, but we want to make sure they get some of the mental and emotional training as well," Waidler said.
Officer Steve Gameroz knows the importance. He and Officer Richard Jaramillo were shot and critically injured responding to a call of shots fired in January.
“I’m going through the roller coaster of emotions now that I’m getting ready to go back to the streets -- nervous, anxious, excited, a little bit of everything. This is a refresher of several things, just to get back into the loop," Gameroz said.
The officers go through arrest control techniques, driving courses, scenarios in the virtual reality simulator as well as classes on stress management. It is tailor-made for each officer.
“We have very flexible minimum time frames built in because every officer is different. We can slow things down, we will never speed it up. You will do a minimum time at the academy, minimum set time of decompression at the station, then a minimum set time with a partner in a car just so you have that extra level of emotional support. We’re trying to find out if there’s any emotional over reactivity or under reactivity so that’s another piece of it, the officers go through these scenarios as long as they handle it appropriately and feel confident and capable and comfortable then we will move on to the next step," Waidler said.
Peer support counselors help the officers through the program.
“The whole experience has been amazing. Going from being active to being hurt and incapacitated, it puts you in some dark places mentally. To know the department is like, ‘Once you heal up, come out to the academy to work on you, work on making you feel better. We will guide you with some things but we want you to work on who you really are,' that really helped me get over the hurdle and come out with such a positive attitude at the end of it. The reintegration process is just a genius program. I wish every department had something like that," Jaramillo said. "The most important thing personally for me was to go back to the scene where I was injured at and be able to process be in an environment where I felt safe to talk about it. And that would not have happened if it was not for this reintegration process. I was able to understand why I did what I did. It made more sense to me now. It would be beautiful if no other officer had to do the reintegration process. Obviously, it is the result of a traumatic event, but it’s one of those things for the officers -- it’s a blessing.”
Gameroz said he is also grateful for the program.
"It’s an honor to be part of this department because they truly care. It’s been nine months since the incident. The program offers refreshers in everything and I can focus on my physical and mental health and make sure I am in a good place before I get back out there," he said.
Waidler said the mission of the program is to support the officer from the moment a shooting occurs.
“Right from there, we walk side by side with that officer for eight weeks, 10 weeks or the rest of their career -- as long as they need it -- so we can help them process this very abnormal incident," he said.
Waidler said he is very proud of Jaramillo and Gameroz.
“I think we all agree as a department to see that is just a sense of relief, like, 'OK, they’re good'," Waidler said.
DPD will be presenting the model to the Chiefs of Police convention later this month.