In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, a few Newton cops are suffering from severe emotional distress and are unable to return to work. About 15 police officers have been “critically affected” by the horror they witnessed as first responders, and a handful of them have been taking sick leave to try to recover from the trauma.
That sick leave is about to run out though, and the officers will be left without a paycheck. The union, Council 15 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, is advocating for lawmakers for expanded workers’ compensation benefits for witnesses of horrific crime scenes. Currently, employees are only covered for mental impairment “as the result of using or being subjected to deadly force -- but not for those who witness crime scenes with mass casualties.”
On December 14, Adam Lanza walked into two first grade classrooms and repeatedly shot and killed 20 children and six adults, before turning the gun on himself. The children were shot between two and eleven times each, and most died on scene. There is no known motivation for shooting.
This is probably the worst crime scene that a cop will ever walk into. By the time the first responders got there, it was over. There was no adrenaline of walking into a live gunfight to distract from the dead children and the terrified faces of the survivors. There’s no sense, no reason, and nothing to be done but sweep the area and notify families. 20 families that each have to be told that their precious child has been murdered by a mad man.
I don’t blame the cops for not wanting to jump back into work after witnessing that kind of slaughter. When the names and ages of the victims were released, I felt sick to my stomach just seeing the letters and numbers in print -- I can’t imagine what those officers felt when they walked into Sandy Hook and saw what they saw.
Eric Brown, an attorney for the union, says that outside agencies have been providing counseling services, but officers taking time off to recover could use up their sick leave by early January. Providing an emotional trauma benefit provision for the cops would allow them to take more time to recover.
The issue will probably be debated and discussed in the next legislative session, when lawmakers will weigh the cost and potential for abuse against the need for such a measure in extreme cases. State Rep. Stephen Dargan, Democrat and co-chairman of the legislature’s public safety committee says, “We don’t want it to be used in an abusive way, but the circumstances are so horrific in Newtown. We need to protect those first-responders and give them all the help we can give them.”
Do you think the first-responder officers should be given time off for emotional trauma?
Photo via bill85704/Flickr