By Rick Pusiak
Sunday, Feb. 3, 2002
Four members of Sudbury's Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) team are heading to New York City in less than a week to offer emotional first aid to police officers affected by the terror of Sept. 11.
Making the trip are Sudbury police Sgt. Jordan Buchanan, Const. J.P. Lacasse, Const. Grant Howard and police service psychologist Dr. Denis Lapalme.
The four team members fly out Feb. 9 and are expected to talk to between 300 and 500 of New York's finest during a week-long series of group debriefings.
A specially developed seven step approach will be used to help police department members deal with the aftermath of the terror attacks.
"We help people understand that a lot of their symptoms are normal reactions to an abnormal situation," said Lapalme.
"We walk them through it so that they can then return to work more fit."
First-response personnel who have been traumatized exhibit symptoms ranging from sleeplessness and flashbacks to startled responses and building mechanisms to avoid certain things or thoughts, said Lapalme.
The local CISM team was formed in the early 1990s following a shooting in Copper Cliff involving police.
There was no local CISM unit at the time and a team had to be brought in from Toronto.
That didn't sit well with top brass within Sudbury's police department and two officers were sent for training. The CISM team grew from there and now includes representatives from the city's other frontline services.
Buchanan, a 12-and-half year veteran of the local police service, said there's a great deal of satisfaction in helping people.
"It's almost like a giving back," he explained. "Because in all our careers at some point we've needed a little hand from our peers and other people. It's a lot easier for a police officer or a fireman to relate to someone in your own profession then a mental health person. It's nice to have them there but it's nice if they're with a peer."
Lacasse has been a cop for almost 29 years.
He is also with the team because he wants to give something back.
"I suffered traumatic injuries early on in my career," said Lacasse. "If I can help one person then I'm a success."
"We help other officers," explained Howard, a local CISM team member from day one and a 29-year veteran of the police service.
"We've had other shootings and we see the traumatic stress that's happened to our other officers. We don't want anybody off sick. We want them healthy and back at work."
A team from North Bay Police has already gone to New York City and visited various precincts to offer debriefings.
The New York Police Department (NYPD) has identified around 5,000 officers who need some kind of help before they can return to their normal duties.
NYPD put out a request in police circles for some 90 debriefing teams.
The Sudbury contingent will be the 30th North America team so far to make the trip.
NYPD also requested the teams be made up of three sworn police officers trained in critical incidents and one health worker, preferably a psychologist who is familiar with police.
"If the officer (still) has more problems (after the debriefing) then we can identify them and refer him to somebody for more specialized help,Â? said Lapalme, who has a private practice in Sudbury.
Members of the CISM team get their own debriefing at the end of each day just in case they've been affected by the stories and emotion of the officers.
The local police service paid for two of the flights to New York City and Sudbury CISM covered the other two.
Team members also had special brightly coloured jackets donated to them by Sudbury CISM. The colour was selected on purpose so CISM members can be clearly and quickly identified at areas in New York City like ground zero.
Food and lodging have been donated by the Police Organization Providing Peer Assistance (POPPA), part of NYPD.