Trauma Response Profile
Chief Raymond L. Crawford
Chief of Operations
Nassau County Police Department

Joseph S. Volpe, Ph.D.
Director, Professional development, American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress

In the 30 years that Chief Raymond Crawford has been a member of the Nassau County Police Department, his experiences have been diverse and abundant. As the four star Chief of Operations and leader of a 4000 member police department, his contributions are significant. Chief Crawford has been active in the development of policy involving domestic violence and was recently appointed to the Commission on Domestic Violence Fatalities by New York State Governor George Pataki. He has overseen the rescue effort of many tragic events including the Avianca plane crash. Chief Crawford serves as an adjunct professor at Long Island University (C.W. Post) in the Criminal Justice Department. His sincerity and genuine commitment to the police department, and society in general, were most evident.

JSV: I know that you work closely with Police Commissioner Kane and County Executive Gulotta. Could you tell me about your role as Chief of Operations with the Nassau County Police Department?

RLC: To do that, first, let me give you a sense of the structure of the police department. The department is divided into three divisions - the Patrol, Detective and Support divisions. The Patrol division includes the precincts, uniformed police officers on patrol, special units such as the mounted horse patrols, bicycle patrols, helicopters, boats, motorcycles, highway patrol and traffic enforcement. The Detective division, which essentially handles investigation of crimes after the fact. Finally, there is the Support division which houses the units that carry on necessary functions which keeps the organization running. This includes training and the police academy, the Communications Bureau, 24-hour ambulance service for the county, data processing and computer experts, and building maintenance. Each of those divisions is headed by a chief. I oversee day-to-day operations and work with those chiefs as well as consult with them on various problems and issues (e.g., policy-level issues). My role is to act as a bridge between the divisions and the chiefs who are heading those divisions and the commissioner. I am also involved with some special projects that are broader-based issues such as domestic violence. Quite a few years ago, I was appointed as the coordinator for the department in the area of domestic violence and policy development, and coordinate our interaction with other agencies such as the County Executive's Task Force for Domestic Violence. Also, overseen by the Operations Department is the Planning Bureau. This bureau is involved in planning and research. They handle our grant applications as well. Currently, we are enjoying great success in getting funding for a number of programs such as in hiring of new officers and in developing partnerships with the community. Recently, I was appointed to a committee (by State Governor George Pataki) to work on policies involving domestic violence so that counties can do more to serve the victims and the issue.

JSV: There is research suggesting that work-related trauma is a major contributor to police stress. Could you comment on some of the possible factors that you see as having an impact on a police officer's overall level of emotional well-being?

RLC: I have always looked at stress in two ways - the day-to-day, life stressors that are experienced regularly by most people and the other being a critical incident or maybe a traumatic stressor that is typically more intense and perhaps, localized. (In addition to these types of stressors) I think that police experience stress that may not be solely related to the type of work that they do in this sense. Obviously, there is some risk attached to police work but, in reality, the risk is not so high that policing is the most dangerous occupation. But still, it has that image of heightened risk, maybe because when police officers get injured, it is usually in a combat situation. One form of stress that I am particularly interested involves the management of authority. Police officers, by law, have a lot of authority (e.g., to make an arrest, etc). The police in our society are one of the few occupations who are empowered to take freedom from individuals based on some standards being met. They are visible authority figures in the community. They are given great power but asked to modulate or control the use of that power carefully. They may not only have to make an arrest, but also have to use deadly physical force legitimized by law. This I think is a burden, not only one that the police officer takes seriously but also, most police departments have policies and guidelines that require a police officer to carefully assess a situation before that power is used - either the arrest power or the use of force power. The stress may come from having to be an authority figure and also be restrained at the same time. At given moments, you have to be the strong, dominant authority figure and control a situation by voice or physical control. At other times, you have to be the caring, compassionate public servant having to restrain your own personal emotions which may become tested to a great degree. Stress may also come from the amount of information that the officer has to know (regarding the law), the types of human judgments that have to be made (e.g., who was at fault in the automobile accident?), and from dealings with a bureaucratic organization. Regarding this later point, the police department has a hierarchy including ranks of authority and sometimes that could contribute to interpersonal stress. Finally, we have to consider the work schedule. The police department functions 24-hours a day, 7-days a week which requires the assignment of people to work day and night. Not only is the biological clock affected by this, but it also rotates frequently. From studies that we have looked at, this seems to have an impact on people.

With regard to traumatic stress, officers respond as part of their work to a broad spectrum of events. Some are pleasant experiences such as delivering babies (especially, after the fact). But as you know, police officers are more likely involved in situations where somebody is suffering a tragedy. This could involve a death in the street such as an auto accident or homicide. The situation could also involve notifying the family that their son, daughter or father has died some place and the family is first being told of this news by the police. That happens on a daily basis where a police officer is assigned to do that kind of thing. We have to consider auto accidents, maybe involving multiple deaths - accidental but yet innocent victims dying, dead or severely injured. The officers experience that as human beings even though we try to prepare them for it as professionals. And then we get to the higher level of critical incident such as the Avianca plane crash or the TWA crash where, not only is there a major event, but the incident itself is so big that it creates stress because of its size and scope, and because of the potential for chaos and mismanagement. Of course, then there is the reason that we are responding. There are people who are killed, injured, and/or in the midst of dying or in great pain and in need of great and quick care. The officers could spend hours or days at some incidents. My experience is that it has a human impact. I experienced it myself at Avianca even though I am aware of it and we try to make all of our people aware of the possibilities of the impact of these incidents on their lives. Sleep difficulties months after the incident were experienced by many people in the department, as well as by myself, from having been there.

JSV: Oftentimes, exposure to tragic and, at times, overwhelming events, can challenge the coping abilities of even the "strongest" individuals we know. What have your observations been regarding the manner in which police officers and detectives respond to their repeated encounters with critical incidents of death (e.g., from accidents, suicide, etc.)?

RLC: My first instinct is to say that they cope with them by closing them off. It becomes as if it is "happening in another world." This seems to be a prime coping mechanism as to not allow yourself to get emotionally involved in the incident. You might consciously be aware that there are emotions involved in the transaction or event, that is undeniable, but I think that officers tend to isolate themselves by becoming so objective that they may seem unemotional. I think that is a first impression that I would draw from experience of over 30 years. However, I think that this can be an ineffective and unrealistic coping mechanism over time. That facade of objectivity is only a facade and people are really being affected.

JSV: After involvement in a critical incident (e.g., near death experience), what provisions are made for members of the department to receive support?

RLC: Some of the mechanisms for support include training in the risks and symptoms of stress (in the aftermath of a tragic event), and in-services that are repeated throughout the officers' career. Also, for a number of years we have used a peer support program. We activate the peer support groups at the discretion of the commanding officer, or even the individual police officer, when there is an incident that has potential for traumatic effects. For example, they may be utilized after the occurrence of major auto accidents, a police shooting incident, and certainly after major disasters. Peer support involves other police officers who have been involved with critical incidents (e.g., shootings) going out and communicating with and making themselves available for advice and support. As a part of the response package, they go to the scene and conduct debriefings much like you had with the TWA disaster. Additionally, because of the apparent benefit of physical exercise in coping with many types of stress, we have established a physical fitness program in the police department. We also have an employee assistance unit that will provide officers with professional one-to-one counseling if they find themselves dealing with not only incident-related stress, but also substance abuse , marital difficulties, etc. In special applications such as hostage negotiators, SWAT team members, where potential exposure to critical incidents is considerable, we give ongoing education about the possibilities involved. There is also a drug-testing program in the department aimed at monitoring substance abuse; so far, the results are very encouraging. I think that we are human beings like all others. If the human experience is that people break-down under stress and trauma, and start to behave destructively to themselves or others, then police officers are prone to these behaviors as well. We are always looking for that in the workplace performance and in other ways that the officers may present it. We recognize that as a potential problem.

JSV: How does a police officer and/or detective receive psychological preparation for the taking of human life in the process of protecting themself, the public, and/or fellow officers? Some have suggested that this is one of the most difficult situations an officer may have to face.

RLC: One of my roles in addition to what I have described is to head our Deadly Physical Force Response Team. Whenever a police officer uses his weapon against a person, a team of people go out and, in addition to doing the criminal investigation, look over the case to see if policy guidelines have been complied with. Also, they will see if the weapons involved are authorized and operated correctly. Again, the peer support groups are utilized. There does seem to be a real reaction by police officers when called upon to use deadly physical force (i.e., shoot somebody). Even with justification, after the fact, police officers may review their actions and feel as if things may have been done differently. All of the training that we give police officers, ironically, is to help people. The main reason most of our people are out there is to help people. When you take that and contrast it with taking someone's life, I think it goes against the instinct of most of our people - even if it is justified. The reactions to the police officers who get peer support have been positive. Officers who have been involved in these situations seem to appreciate this assistance and I would, therefore, assume that they needed this type of support.

JSV: There is growing evidence that domestic violence is a highly probable cause of traumatic stress and in more severe cases, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). What do you think could help the police who respond to such calls to identify and perhaps, assist survivors of domestic violence?

RLC: I don't think that there is one specific thing. I think it is important to consider this simple word - awareness. I believe that society, and the police as a part of society, are on a learning curve about domestic violence. Within my career, we have gone from a time where domestic violence was seen as a private matter - literally. The police role was to quiet it down so the neighbors wouldn't be disturbed and to separate the combatants and let them, through their own means and devices, work out their problems. It has gone from that to a point now where we are taking an aggressive approach with arrests - but there is also some room for improvement in where we put domestic violence on the priority scale. Is it as serious as burglaries and robberies? I think that some police professions would debate that. I for one think it's as or more important because it has a causative influence on stress for the individuals directly involved in the domestic dispute and the children in those households. Studies have shown that these children are more likely to have difficulties in school and be involved with criminality in the future. Also, one other interesting finding suggests that girls who are in households where there is violence, are more likely to become involved in relationships that become violent. Apparently, ways to cope and deal with anger and (how we manage) stress in a household are learned behaviors. If you look at policing as not only arresting people but also as a way to prevent crime, the long view would suggest that if we can reduce domestic violence, then we could prevent crime and violence in the future as these children grow up in better households. Again, not to be social engineers, we are police, but I think there is an important role to be played in that arena. I think that awareness and the recognition by the police and by the greater society is probably the key to making things better. I think that more research on the long term effects of domestic violence and family dysfunction (is needed). The family is where it all starts whether it is good or bad. It is where success is rooted and it is where failure is rooted. If we could try to develop some standards for family success or effectiveness, that does a lot for our society.

JSV: I know that you were quite involved with the rescue effort of Avianca (Flight 52) that crashed in 1990. In what ways are police who respond to disasters such as TWA (Flight 800) or Avianca, prepared for what oftentimes becomes a gruesome and painful experience? Do officers receive formal training and/or education about traumatic stress and how it can affect them and their families?

RLC: They are prepared through training but I would have to admit that their training is probably not adequate for the most extreme disasters that sometimes occur. Obviously, police officers are trained to deal with death and to handle those crisis when they occur. I don't think anybody envisions deaths in the numbers that plane crashes typically present - and also the physical dismemberment and body conditions of the injured and deceased are things that are gripping experiences and certainly traumatic. Officers do receive training. They are conditioned to deal with emergencies through that training and experiences. We certainly advise them of some of the potential symptoms and effects of the stress on themselves and on their families so that they do know notice those posttraumatic symptoms (e.g., sleep problems, dietary changes, etc.). They get awareness training on these issues. In fact, the morning after the Avianca crash, the issue of peer support was discussed. We had hundreds of police officers at that crash over the first 12 or 14 hours or so. We decided to make the awareness process and peer support available to everyone on a voluntary basis. Some people voiced their opinion that "it wouldn't be necessary", "you know, it's like a big auto accident" and "what's the big deal." Well, we had almost 300 police officers on their own time voluntarily come to the peer support debriefings. To me that indicated something very real. These people, even though they are police officers and had awareness training, these people wanted that and likely needed it. That is an indication that they needed more support.

JSV: In your varied experiences with the police department over the years, which traumatic event or events would you consider as having made the most significant impact on you, personally?

RLC: Certainly, the Avianca plane crash was one that I would have to mention both by its scope as a tragedy for human beings and by its scope as a police response incident. Although, when I was a new police officer, literally two weeks on the police department, there was a head-on collision on the parkway with six people killed and cars bursted in flames. People were still alive as the first police responded. As somebody who was 21-years old and not really familiar with the realities of life, sometimes the tragic realities, that is one that still sticks in my memory. I think that these experiences have an impact on us as people. Just as (those events) are in our memory, you think of your own children, your own life and how fragile it can be. It makes you more aware of those realities in life and also the risks and uncertainties in life.

JSV: What things do you like to do to relax after leaving a particularly difficult day at Police Headquarters?

RLC: Police Headquarters is a pretty exciting and interesting place. I try to exercise regularly. I run 25 miles a week or so and try to keep somewhat fit. I have not yet found the Fountain of Youth but what are you going to do? I like to garden, read, usually nonfiction, about societal issues, politics, sociology, history, etc. I also teach at Long Island University/C.W. Post Campus where I am an Adjunct Professor in the Criminal Justice Department. I teach courses at the graduate level. I enjoy that very much and find it relaxing. I have some family interests. I have a grandson who is four years old now and I enjoy that time.

JSV: Are there any suggestions that you could give to fellow law enforcement officials - police officers, detectives, etc. - regarding the management of their own thoughts and feelings surrounding trauma and their exposure to traumatic events?

RLC: Never assume that you know it all. Always assume that you are not totally prepared, and need to explore, research and learn a little bit more, not only in individual decision-making, but in your approach to things in general. The status quo is usually way behind the times. Taking that approach may be healthy and can keep you alive - to some degree.

JSV: The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress is truly a multidisciplinary association comprised of nearly 100 different specialties. Do you see an advantage of including police officers and other emergency services personnel under the same umbrella as physicians, psychologists, dentists, etc.?

RLC: I see it as a very positive step. My experience in other groups where many disciplines are brought together is that the exchange of information avoids duplicity and misunderstanding. It allows for people to deal with the resources that are available and get advice from experts. The absence of those experts may cause people to deal with the problems intuitively and sometimes you won't always get the best results, or deal with the problem by not dealing with the problem as to avoid opening a Pandora's Box. We may not know what to do, so we would rather not do anything than do something wrong. This paralyzes the process. So I think that any time that you can bring experts together who have experiences across the board and expertise to contribute (as the Academy does), all people will benefit.

JSV: As you are aware, the Academy has recently introduced a new level of membership - Associate Member. This category aims to include professionals such as police officers, paramedics, firefighters, etc. who may not have received graduate degrees (e.g., Masters, Doctorate), but have extensive experience in working directly with survivors of traumatic events. What do you see as the benefits of including these professionals?

RLC: Certainly, awareness would be enhanced and there would be a sharing of information with people who might have a more specific expertise. I have seen in the literature that stress is being attributed as a causative factor for disease (e.g., cancer), certain emotional disorders, personality disorders and marital break-ups. Stress may not be the only factor involved, but we still see these things and more - such as immune system breakdown, etc. When our people (at the police department) are made aware and involved in an educational and/or professional experience that not only acknowledges that but works toward dealing with ways to reduce, minimize, or eliminate those stressors - to me that is all good.

©1996 by The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress, Inc.