By: Janice Ayers
Since the death of 15-year old Jordan Edwards, several new details have emerged regarding the background of Balch Springs police officer, Roy Oliver, including his diagnosis of PTSD. According to several reports, Olivers' PTSD diagnosis stems from his prior military experience in Iraq and the effects of his diagnosis have yielded to several incidents of erratic behavior, including the incident that resulted in the death of Jordan Edwards. It must be noted, that it is highly problematic that an individual with PTSD has a career as a police officer due to the emergency situations that they are required to de-escalate because these types of situations can directly yield to unfavorable situations as in the Jordan Edwards incident.
Officers who have severe PTSD are more likely to experience a startle response that could yield an inappropriate response while in the law enforcement field. Diagnosing PTSD an essential component in ceasing law enforcement brutality because if an officer is in contact with a civilian, suffers from severe PTSD; an inappropriate course of action could lead to physical harm or death of a civilian. The above scenario is statistically proven via a display of significant “emotional and physiologic responses” when study participants were “confronted with the actual threat of imminent electric shock” which correlates to on the job fears of law enforcement officials (Pole, Neylan, Best, Orr, &Marmar, 2003). This data provides vital corresponding statistics especially when the prominent subjection of emotions, including fear, is taken into account. If emotions such as fear are on display inappropriately while law enforcement executives are on duty, they risk being subject to “unseen consequences.” These emotions raise the risk of each interaction that law enforcement officials have with civilians because at any point it can become dangerous and alter the state of an officer’s emotional stability from pleasant to “filled with aggression” (Kury, Mesko, Mitar, &Fields, 2009).
One particular study of the effects of PTSD on law enforcement executives examines the relationship from “PTSD under three levels of contextual threats including an emotional response scale, eyeblink electromyogram, and skin conductance level” (Pole, Neylan, Best, Orr, &Marmar, 2003) Fifty- five police officers were tested to determine their level of PTSD or fear and how it affects their personal responses. The major findings of this study included the fact that “lower levels of contextual threat were most effective in eliciting exaggerated responses to startling sounds in officers with high PTSD symptoms. Laboratory-based startle response measures obtained under these decreased risk conditions added significantly to the assessment of PTSD symptom severity above and beyond” what is self- reported (Pole, Neylan, Best, Orr, &Marmar, 2003). Thus, an individual with PTSD is more likely to exaggerate the response needed for a particular situation, which can yield to force being applied excessively.
The above is particularly the case if the law enforcement executive in question exhibits symptoms of severe PTSD because they are more likely to engage in courses of action resulting in the severe injury or death of a civilian. Therefore, if an officer exhibits symptoms of PTSD and interacts with a civilian whom they share different norms with, including race, that particular civilian is an increased risk of becoming a victim of law enforcement brutality. Thus, because African American males are synonymous with the characterization of factors that increase their likelihood of law enforcement brutality, police officer PTSD affects their interactions the most, and yields to the high probability that their law enforcement interactions will yield to law enforcement brutality.
Kury, H., Mesko, G., Mitar, M. & Fields, C. (2009).Slovenian police officers' attitudes towards contemporary security threats and punishment, Policing.An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 32,(3),415 - 430 doi:10.1108/13639510910981581
Pole, N., Neylan, T., Best, S., Orr, S., & Marmar. (2003). Fear-potentiated startle and posttraumatic stress symptoms in urban police officers. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 16, (5), 471-479