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Police Chief Urges Officers to Load Up — on Empathy

Kevin Killeen
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St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson (KMOX file photo)

St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson (KMOX file photo)

ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – Police are undergoing sensitivity training to get more in touch with the feelings of crime victims and witnesses, and also with their own feelings.

It’s a common problem for police to come upon the scene of a shooting and have difficulty establishing rapport and trust with the people they are trying to serve.

“Some of the reactions they’re seeing could be grief and trauma reactions,” said Jessica Meyers with the Victim Advocacy Center, “It’s not just people who are trying to be difficult. And that sensitivity to grief and trauma can increase cooperation with them.”

Meyers says while police are used to approaching a crime scene in a “matter of fact” state of mind, crime victims or witnesses may be experiencing strong emotions that cause them to resent the detachment of officers.

Police Chief Sam Dotson talks sensitivity training with commanders

Police Chief Sam Dotson talks sensitivity training with commanders

“If you’re sensitive to what someone’s going through, if you try to understand the difficulties that they’re having, then you’re better able to communicate and they’re more likely to communicate with you,” Meyers said.

Police Chief Sam Dotson spoke to commanders about the importance of absorbing the lessons of sensitivity training and encouraging officers to show more empathy.

“It addresses the ‘no snitching’ mentality. When you have an interaction with the police, why it is important to communicate with the police,” Dotson said, “And really it tries to get the community involved and realize that we can’t police our way out of this problem. It takes an entire community to do it and a variety of different approaches.”

The seminar is also urging police to face their own feelings – perhaps repressed – about the violence and bloodshed they see on the job to avoid long term burnout, depression and suicide.

“Police officers, even though they don’t always want to admit it, do suffer grief and trauma reactions because of what they see,” Meyers said, “And for the police department to realize that’s something that needs to be addressed, I think shows that they don’t want people who just shut off those emotions.”

Copyright KMOX

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