Detroit police use peer program to cope with traumatic experiences

Detroit police use a peer program to cope with the traumatic events they experience while on the job.

- Police risk their lives and come face-to-face with our worst nightmares daily. The murders, rapes, deadly accidents, and much more take a serious emotional toll on our men and women in blue. But there is help.

"I remember the wife screaming, running towards the door screaming ... her whole family was murdered," said Sgt. Kimberly Gabriel of the Detroit police.

Gabriel has been working for the department for 21 years, now in sex crimes. It's a quadruple murder on Easter morning in 1999 when she was working as an evidence technician that stays with her.

"Two people, we observed, had beads in their hands. They were praying before they were executed," Gabriel said.

Now 17 years later, she vividly recalls details of that scene so bloody, she had to put on protective gear.

Gabriel says she still sees the image of an 11-year-old boy at the scene that she didn't realize at the time was a child who had been murdered.

"The person I thought was a little man was a little boy," she said. "My brain just couldn't process that that was a boy."

With moments like these that never leave, Detroit police are working to get more officers involved in its peer support program.

It was launched in May of 2015 and now has roughly 19 officers, a chaplain and a psychologist.

The program matches officers with others who've gone through similar traumas. Peers are ready to help 24/7, ready to talk and can even meet those in need at crime scenes.

"We don't have to say anything. Sometimes we're just there standing, just being a comfort. They like the fact to know that someone is there," said Lt. Pastella Williams of the Detroit police.

Williams says as research shows, police officers have higher a higher risk of suicide and stress-related deaths. The program also assists officers with their home life and medical issues.

"Unless you're there and you witness it, you can't describe it," she said.

The program is completely confidential.

"If they're depressed, they can come to us and tell us they're depressed, without any negative stigma attached to it," Gabriel said.

They know not showing emotion and staying strong is part of the job, but it can be hard.

"We are human. We have emotions. We have feelings just like everyone else and that we need support too," Williams said.

A peer support program fundraiser and meet-and-greet will be held from 6 p.m. to midnight on Friday at the Gaelic League, 2068 Michigan Ave. in Detroit.

The price is $10 a ticket. Food and soft drinks are included. There will also be a cash bar, 50/50 drawer, and a DJ.

Police Chief James Craig will be speaking at the event.

Donations to the program can also be made at detroitpublicsafety.org.


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