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Police officers, local military members taught how to cope with traumatic stress

TAMPA — They sat silently in the comfortable, air-conditioned room.

Far away from the crime scene where their friends were killed, the gruesome car crash or the battlefield where they felt like someone's target practice.

Far away, but still close.

"When an earthquake hits, there's an epicenter," said Bob Delaney, a former New Jersey cop turned NBA referee who wrote a book on post-traumatic stress after years as an undercover officer. "But hours, months, even years later, there are tremors. The tremors seek out. The tremors can impact you."

In two joint training sessions Wednesday, Delaney spoke to members of the Tampa Police Department and Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, local military men and women, and injured veterans about the importance of addressing psychological strains by sharing experiences with their peers.

With three officers shot dead, a sheriff's deputy killed in a car crash, several others injured and thousands killed or wounded overseas, it's been a tough few years for this crowd.

Delaney told his story — how he'd act tough at an accident scene and then sob in the office bathroom, his struggle with paranoia and guilt after three years infiltrating the mafia in New Jersey.

In the audience, Tampa police Capt. Brian Dugan thought about his 11-year-old daughter, he said later. She won't let him leave for work until she walks him to the door and says goodbye. It could be the last time, she tells him.

Tampa police Lt. Ruben Delgado said he thought about last year, when his close-knit squad lost officers Jeff Kocab and David Curtis.

Hillsborough County sheriff's Deputy Lisa Noland remembered responding to the shooting and car crash that killed Sgt. Ron Harrison in 2007. He died in Noland's arms as she gave him CPR.

William Ward, who spent a year each in Iraq and Afghanistan, said he's still shaken up by crowds and loud noises even after two years at home.

As Delaney spoke, many more around the room nodded their heads. A few people took notes.

"This isn't something that cannot be helped," Delaney told the group. "It's a lifelong journey, but you learn to deal with it."

Tampa police Chief Jane Castor waited until most everyone was gone before heading toward the door. She spoke softly for a moment about an incident that still sticks with her — a fatality involving a child on a bike. How she went to the family's house and saw the boy's school books sitting on a counter. How she imagined the parents waking up the next day, thinking it was all a dream.

"I often say that police have the greatest job. We get to see things other people don't get to see," Castor said. "But we also have to see things other people don't have to see."

Police officers, local military members taught how to cope with traumatic stress 01/19/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 10:56pm]
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