The Journal Gazette
 
 
Sunday, June 13, 2021 1:00 am

Editorial

Help at hand for police in coping with brutal scenes

It's the kind of thing you don't forget. It sticks with you – a silent, dark memory that fades but won't leave.

Sgt. Chris Felton understands.

The veteran Fort Wayne police officer was one of the first to arrive in September 2016 at 3006 Holton Ave.

It was “a house of horrors,” according to another investigator called to the grisly scene.

There was blood everywhere, and people inside the home were dead or dying.

A local man would later plead guilty in the brutal slayings of four – Consuela Arrington, 37, Traeven Harris, 18, Dajahiona Arrington, 18, and the unborn son named A.J. she was carrying.

A 14-year-old girl also was shot and stabbed but survived, and the man responsible is serving a 300-year prison sentence after avoiding the death penalty by pleading guilty in the attacks.

Felton, now in charge of a Fort Wayne Police Department initiative designed to help officers who have witnessed tough scenes on the job, said in an interview last week he was “fine for a few days, maybe a week” after seeing what he saw on Holton Avenue.

He later broke down and cried in his kitchen, he said.

Coordinator of the department's Peer Support/Critical Incident Stress Management Team, Felton got through it by talking to other officers who shared the unfortunate challenge of working difficult crime scenes.

The 22-member team that can offer help such as counseling to officers didn't exist at the time.

“Historically, in law enforcement, (seeking help for) mental health has been taboo,” he said. “It's starting to be more accepted in law enforcement.”

That's good, as local police recently have investigated some particularly grim crimes.

Officers in April discovered a man's body dismembered in the back of a van that crashed through a fence near downtown.

In a separate case this month, three young children and a woman were found stabbed to death in a home on Gay Street – the city's first quadruple homicide since the Holton Avenue case five years ago.

Nothing should diminish the effects of such heinous crimes on the families of the victims or their communities, but it's also important to recognize the costs to police who often are among the first to witness what, for most of us, are unimaginable scenes.

A 2019 study published in the journal Salus, which focuses on law enforcement, showed that such work is emotionally demanding and can lead to “post-traumatic stress disorder, work dissatisfaction, depression, burnout, self-criticism and destructive coping strategies.”

Felton, also a member of the FWPD Gang and Violent Crimes Unit, said that can lead to mistakes or excessive force by police, and the Peer Support team offers “psychological first aid” such as information about the emotional effects of such difficult work or offers to meet with a psychologist.

Team members undergo special training through the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation before they begin work and attend two training sessions per year afterward, he said.

“The cumulative stress is really getting (to) officers,” Felton said.

Fortunately, there is a team that works to provide some relief.


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