Police psychologists helping law enforcement families during clashes

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DENVER (KDVR) — Over the past week, police officers have been injured and even killed across the country during protests and riots. Some officers have been targeted. Now, police psychologists say they are seeing an increase in visits from concerned family members.

Dr. John Nicoletti, with Nicoletti-Flater and Associates said, “As far as it relates to families, we’re getting what I call ‘guilt by occupation.’ So this event happens from a rogue cop from Minneapolis but every officer around the country gets drug into it. You’re getting a lot of anticipatory anxiety how do you kind of monitor that. Spouses and partners are feeling what about me. What if they know if I’m married to an officer? There are concerns about that.”

Families are worried about their officers and their kids.

“Stress and trauma is contagious, so parents think they hide things from children, but when we see kids in counseling, the kids know it. When you see all that stuff, kids get scared. If they are old enough, they start worrying about, ‘is this going to happen to us? Is this going to happen to Mommy or Daddy on the job?'” Nicoletti said.

Jennifer Witkowski runs the Facebook page Blue Lives Matter Colorado. Her significant other and her daughter are both Denver police officers.

“Having a young child on the street, barely 25 years old, two years as a law enforcement officer, this has been scary… it’s been scary. I’ve been trying to utilize resources that we have, chat rooms, friends because I don’t want to put any more unnecessary burden on my partner or daughter because of what they are already going through. But it is hard not to talk to them about how they are doing. We do that, but we don’t get too in depth with them because you can see the stress on their face already. They are burdened, saddened, over-worked so I don’t want to add anything to that,” Witkowski said.

She said there have been many sleepless nights this week, but she has a strong support system.

“Don’t keep it inside because that stress will go to (your) child or significant other, and you don’t want that. Reach out, you have to talk about this.”

Nicoletti agreed, “If you’re struggling, don’t worry alone. Take advantage of psych services, peer support. No sense in keeping it inside. It only haunts you.”

His best advice for police families: “One of the biggest things we push first is talk with each other. And then develop what we call rules of engagement. How should we handle this? what would you like me to do when you start getting anxious?”

Another thing law enforcement families are worried about is they don’t feel they can publicly show their support right now, for fear of being targeted themselves. But Witkowski said she will continue to show her support.

“I am very proud of the men and women wearing badge, trying to protect the safety of those exercising First Amendment rights. I am proud to be part of the family.”

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