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Riots taking an emotional toll on police officers

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DENVER (KDVR) — Night after night of riots are taking a physical and emotional toll on police officers. Psychologist Dr. Sara Metz, owner of Code 4 Counseling, said officers have a right to feel frustrated and angry but they cannot let their emotions get the best of them.

She said they have shown a lot of restraint the past four nights not letting that anger turn into hate or violence.

“It’s completely drained their batteries. They are feeling so under attack and when anyone is under attack, as we see from both sides, they get really angry. Both sides, we are seeing a very angry response, they are exhausted. There is no opportunity right now for folks to recharge which means they’re coming home, getting a couple hours of sleep and going right back into it, which is really dangerous for them and it’s dangerous for them to really understand how to take care of themselves during all of this,” said Metz, who is married to retired Aurora police Chief Nick Metz.

She encourages officers to find someone to talk to — a family member, coworker — and seek mental health help when things calm down.

“We want people to take a break, take a breath when they can and identify this is something specific they will need to address. That is why firms like Code 4 Counseling exist to give them space when they have the energy to do so, throw this on the table and say, ‘I need to figure out what this experience meant to me, what it did to me, how do I recover from it?'”

Metz said there will be long-term stress from this.

“They need to recognize what they are going through, these are skills we are trying to teach police culture across the board. Recognize your emotion, label your emotion. You get to be angry. Understand where that comes from and understand the other perspectives as well. Take the time to understand that and really try to figure out how you express that emotion in a way that is healthy. What does that dialogue look? How do you speak a language where anger does not have to equal hate?” Metz said. “What’s heartbreaking is through COVID, we saw a decrease in suicides. Through the last week, we’ve seen suicides skyrocket again. There’s still a lot of research that needs to be done why did things slow down during COVID and why are things escalating. There will need to be research done to explain this, but one of the first hypothesis is during COVID, our responders were being thanked and loved on and there was a lot of gratitude show to the culture. Unfortunately, that has turned to hate and anger and that is taking a toll.”

Nick Metz said, “I worry for their safety every single moment. I worry about their emotional safety. I know how it feels to be ostracized, under attack. I’ve been there I could not be prouder of how I’ve seen the cops here in Denver, Aurora, Arapahoe, I could not be prouder of what they’ve done and restraint they’ve shown.”

In his 36-year career, he has served on the front lines of many demonstrations and civil unrest movements.

“They’re feeling angry, under attack, saying to themselves, ‘I’m not the one who killed Mr. Floyd, yet I am taking the brunt of it, getting assaulted,'” He went on, “I was a young officer when Rodney King happened in Los Angeles. We watched as this young man was beaten to within an inch of his life for six or seven minutes. What is heartening today, what I didn’t hear back then, is officers who said back then ‘Video doesn’t tell you everything. I’m sure there’s a reason why they had to beat him.’ What’s different today is there are so many officers who are denouncing the death of Mr. Floyd, saying there needs to be a change, and they are making themselves public. They are putting their message on social media for their peers to hear and see. That takes a hell of a lot of courage. It’s important for those officers to be accepted, so for those officers who are speaking out, it’s not like anything I’ve ever seen before.”

But Nick and Sara worry that when this ends, things will go back to the way it was before unless people come together and make major changes.

“We need everyone across the board to be willing to reset and give permission to experience anger, have that done in a healthy way. Anger, like stress, is a reasonable healthy emotion. Conflict is a reasonable, healthy conduit to change. We want those things to occur. We need people to do that and talking, expressing openly with people who can help guide that conversation to make sure its healthy is going to be the next step on both sides,” Sara said.

Nick added, “Community policing to me is truly involving the community in helping the department determine its values, mission, policies — having the community directly involved in those discussions. Aurora was the first department in the state to create a Citizens Advisory Team that is still up and running today. If you say you are policing the community, then the community has to be part of helping to determine what type of training you should have, who should be selected to major leadership positions and those types of things,” adding, “I think it’s going to be really interesting to see after everything is said and done how many choose to stay in the profession and I really hope, I really hope, those who really truly believe in what they are doing and for the most noble of reasons stick it out.”

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