by Matthew Kail
When I started my law enforcement career twenty-three years ago, I did what every officer fresh out of the academy did, handled your calls for service, was the first on scene to witness horrific incidents, and tried to solve people’s problems in twenty minutes, before the next “hot” call was dispatched. Officer wellness wasn’t even a thought, besides maybe a critical incident stress debriefing involving a high-profile case.
Fast forward to 2019 and after a decade of investigating child exploitation cases and serving as a state ICAC Commander, you realize what is really important; your personnel and your own well-being. Without healthy, well focused personnel, your mission, your personnel, and you are at risk for a multitude of potential issues. Some issues could be identified as trauma related to long term exposure of content, inability to function for long periods of time in a investigate/digital forensic examiner role due to burnout and fatigue, and personal problems at home with loved ones due to repetive viewing of content and not knowing how to manage one’s daily emotional impact based on the evidence in these particularly disturbing investigations.
By noticing the signs and indicators of difficulties and attention to behavior, supervisors can implement strategies to effectively monitor personnel and implement the necessary resources to protect employees from the results of exposure to exploitation material. Here are a few ways to combat the challenging daily grind faced in this field:
- Watch for employee behavior changes
- Encourage a “take 15” program at the office – take 15 minutes per day and go for a walk, either as an individual, or a group, and clear your mind
- Introduce a Mental Health Professional into your ICAC Program that focuses on wellness and resiliency
- Encourage personnel to take part in the in-house ICAC Wellness program, if available
- Limit viewing content at the end of the day before going home
- Have a plan in place on what to do if you feel like the work is reaching a boiling point. Do you have a safety plan in place, that if the emotions of a case are agitating you, there is a resource to help?
Recognizing and implementing resources that can have a positive effect on personnel during the most difficult investigations in law enforcement will provide your team with the tools and abilities to function long term as a productive member. While the mission is clear to protect and rescue children from the dangers of the Internet, what are you doing to protect your most important asset?
Sergeant Matthew Kail
Matt has been the Commander of the Maryland State Police Technical Investigation Section since 2014. As a criminal investigator, Lt. Kail spent a majority of his career assigned to the FBI Baltimore Field Office investigating cyber-crime with an emphasis on child exploitation investigations.