The Protectors® Podcast

#445 | Justin Cotte | Raw and Real Conversations on Policing and Mental Health

August 07, 2023 Dr. Jason Piccolo Episode 445
#445 | Justin Cotte | Raw and Real Conversations on Policing and Mental Health
The Protectors® Podcast
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The Protectors® Podcast
#445 | Justin Cotte | Raw and Real Conversations on Policing and Mental Health
Aug 07, 2023 Episode 445
Dr. Jason Piccolo

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Ever wondered what the harsh realities of serving in law enforcement are? What if I told you that it’s more than just catching bad guys and maintaining peace in the neighborhood? On this episode of the Protectors Podcast, join us as we journey into the demanding world of law enforcement with Justin Cotte, who has a particularly fascinating career trajectory.  We were joined by Laura McCord.  


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Make sure to check out Jason on IG @drjasonpiccolo


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Send us a Text Message.

Ever wondered what the harsh realities of serving in law enforcement are? What if I told you that it’s more than just catching bad guys and maintaining peace in the neighborhood? On this episode of the Protectors Podcast, join us as we journey into the demanding world of law enforcement with Justin Cotte, who has a particularly fascinating career trajectory.  We were joined by Laura McCord.  


Support the Show.

Make sure to check out Jason on IG @drjasonpiccolo


Speaker 1:

Hey, welcome to the protectors podcast. We have Justin Cotty. I got it, brother. Did I get it, justin?

Speaker 2:

You got it right off the gate.

Speaker 1:

Right off the gate. Right off the gate. So, everybody, when you have interesting last names, like Justin and I, like piccolo, you get all sorts of just. You know it's just different. Okay, like Laura is joining us today, laura McCord, which is it's a fairly. You know you're not going to mess up the McCord, but Justin Cotty I am super excited for this one because mental health everybody loves to say hey, you know what we're going to talk about. Mental health. We need to be aware, we need to have this discussion but to actually take the next step and do something about it. You know I love talking about mental health but I buy no means a professional, while I do have my own mental health issues over the past, you know, a couple decades, maybe even more than that. Now I'm not a professional, but you are becoming a professional and I'm really excited to talk to you about that today. Justin, welcome to the show.

Speaker 2:

Right on. Thank you, appreciate it.

Speaker 1:

Let's get a little quick snapshot of your background, and you've had a very interesting one, and I've been told not to call you a officer, you're a deputy, so let's, can you give the 30,000 foot overview of like, kind of like, your past couple decades?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, sure. So just just grew up kind of pretty chill, you know upper middle class in the Midwest and then a typical American happy family. You know parents got divorced when I was 12. And then about a year later my mom came home from vacation or a business trip and said hey, I met somebody.

Speaker 2:

We're moving to Canada. I was like what in the hell? Okay, they live in England. It was up there, you know, midwest kid doesn't know any better. And so I moved to British Columbia, went to high school up there, loved it, great place to live. Graduated high school up there, started college, hated it. I just wanted to party and, you know, work and make money, I think at that age. So you know, I was working full time, clubbing every weekend and downtime, like you, were living my best life.

Speaker 2:

You know I was 19, 20 years old and then 9, 11 hit right, and even though I was living in Canada, I was still an American, and so that was, I mean, devastating to see that. You know, as every American watching the events unfold that day I mean the towers coming down, people jumping to the opposite of their safety I mean it was, yeah, it was wild, right. And the thing that stuck in my head, though I mean more than the gruesome and terrible events of that day, were the first responders. Ironically enough, I don't come from a family or background of first responders at all, never had any interest in those careers, but seeing that the only the only calm of that day was the firefighters, the EMTs and the cops that were just kind of directing the chaos and helping people. And here at the time, you know I was like I was living in Canada working like inside sales customer service in an office all day, meaningless job. You know, I paid for my hobbies and that was essentially it. But to see a career that you can make money but also affect, you know, other people around you in a positive way and help them, I was like, wow, I never even thought of those as a career, like I said, but that really stuck with me and so I started. I don't know if Google was around yet in 2001, but whatever, there was internet, a version of it. You know a old Iowa.

Speaker 2:

And so I started doing a little bit of research, you know, on my own, into the careers, what they pay and stuff like that. I said, yeah, you know, you get pension, all these great things, and you get to help people and work outside every day is different. So started looking into it. But I was living about a not quite an hour north of the Washington border and, monetary wise, it just made more sense for me, being an American, to move down to Washington state Same scenery, cheaper costs of living and more money for those careers. And so I literally picked up, moved down here I think it was a month after 9 11 hit picked up some side jobs and then before I knew it I was signed up and volunteering doing ride-alongs and stuff with Olympia Police Department and did that for about a year.

Speaker 2:

While I worked just kind of side customer service jobs, sort of testing around with some of my history in Canada and lack of judgment decisions kind of shaded me away from some agents, some of the larger agencies, including Olympia. They were like you know what kid, come back in a couple years, we'll let you come volunteer, but we're not going to give you a commission quite yet. And so I tested for like eight different agencies and a county here in Washington state, mason County, took a chance on me and so I got hired there 2003. I initially was a corrections deputy and I did that for a few years and then decided that wasn't really what I wanted, so went on to the road you know as patrol deputy and then just had a while.

Speaker 1:

I'm going to pause on there real quick, yeah, because I've always been wondering about this. So not a lot of everybody jumps in along. Enforcement has that, like you know, that itch since they were a kid, the like you know getting a military law enforcement and stuff like that. When you first did you play sports in high school.

Speaker 2:

Define place. I did, but I was very good.

Speaker 1:

I won a lot of benches, but but it wasn't like you're like, you're like life, you're adrenaline life. When you first get this job in corrections man and you're first like coming from this like kind of corporate-ish world you know even a retail corporate whatever and you get these, like when you're in a CEO, you never know what's going to happen, you never know what's around the corner. You're always wondering like, am I going to get like quote unquote shanked? Am I going to get jumped? Am I going to get this? What's that adrenaline like the dump? Is it like you know you're going, you're going, you're going? And how did you first start dealing with that? Because I'm like I know we're kind of talking about mental health later on in the conversation, but I always wondered about that like with an initial law enforcement. I'd like to ask Laura that same question.

Speaker 2:

You know, for me I didn't. At the time I was, you know, 22 years old still when I graduated the academy and started being a CEO, and I didn't. I didn't know what day that was right. It wasn't until way later in my career, after suffering from anxiety and panic attacks and high blood pressure, that I didn't know what adrenaline dumps were. I knew, I mean, I never been in a fight in my life and I was a CEO for I think, two months and I got punched in the face and I was like what the hell? But, like you said then, the adrenaline with that and you're the camaraderie of all your other CEOs coming to your aid, and the adrenaline was awesome.

Speaker 2:

But, like I said, I didn't know what those dumps were. I know I'd be, you know, raging, 100% that adrenaline flowing and all of a sudden, an hour later after a good night's sleep, and that just happened. Now you're exhausted, you can't stop yawning, you know what the hell's going on. So that's when I got my caffeine addiction of those red bulls and those monsters, which again now, later in life, I know was a big part of those panic attacks. Not taking care of yourself and trying to medicate those, those adrenaline dumps and court of law dumps and all that right so.

Speaker 1:

Now, laura, that must have been like kind of like a kick and buffer you to, especially with your background. Not, you know, it's not like, hey, you know what I'm going to go and serve in combat or do this or do that when you're 12 years old. And then all of a sudden, like what was your experience like coming out of the academy? And all of a sudden it's like, oh shit.

Speaker 3:

You know it's funny because it's Justin is talking. I'm like, is he like talking about me? Because, same thing, like no law enforcement in my family. I'd never thought I'd be wanting to do that. So that was. That was interesting, him mentioning that.

Speaker 3:

But when he said you know that first fight, you're like, oh crap. It's interesting because when I went from my interview, that was one of the questions on the panel. It was, hey, have you ever been on a fight? And I'm like, is this a trick question? Are they trying to see if, like, I can control my anger, or are they trying to see if I can handle myself? So I'm like I'm just going to go with the honest answer and say, yeah, yeah, I have. And so it was interesting to kind of wait for that response. But they were actually wanting to know because that, you know, is that whole.

Speaker 3:

Well, what about that first punch in the face? What are you going to do? Somebody trying to pull it? Gone on you. How are you going to act? And I mean, you can train somebody all day long, but until you're there, and I'm five, three, so I'm like working on the southern of the county with people that have been running the streets, basically, and they're going to size you up and what are you going to do? So, yeah, that's, that's interesting. They started putting that question on the interview panel, you know it said.

Speaker 1:

You know you go, you get, you get on the street, you like CEO streets or anything like that. But then you start developing your own skillset, your own way to cope, your own way to like live this life, your own way to keep it at. You know the job at the job or kind of bleed over. But you can't always let it stay at the work and like, later on in your career you start working like I caq and officer of all shootings and detectives and all this other stuff and I know these are, I know like me, I am. When my career started going kind of up and down and all around I really really like the anxiety started shifting up. I started dealing with it in different ways. Not only did I get, I love it. This is the reality of podcasting. I love to hear in the canine in the background.

Speaker 2:

I've got a locked out to sorry.

Speaker 1:

That's a big deal. But it's like the, the alcohol, the caffeine, the alcohol, everything else to kind of keep this anxiety and you're like you're doing one and then you're doing the other one to low down. And I remember, like sitting on my couch and any. If I can only focus on one thing and if anything else is going on at the same time, my anxiety would go up and I would grab like a I drink a big ass glass of rum and coke, big ass glass of rum and coke, big ass glass of rum and coke, and repeatedly and I was hitting like the crack and rum every night. I mean it was going crazy because I couldn't deal with my mental health. I mean, is that like something that I don't know if you've ever had a deal with that, or the people you work with?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I mean, I did so, I, when I switched from from being a CEO to patrol. I just had gotten married at the time and I was around 2026, then 25, going on 26. And so that fizzled out. You know, shocker, being married in the early 20s and law enforcement working in graveyard didn't work out. That fizzled out pretty quickly. And so here I am.

Speaker 2:

I think I was only on the road uptroll for about a year and a half, going through a divorce, losing my house and deal with all the things you just talked about. Self-medicating, you know, nonstop red bulls all shift to keep awake during graveyard. Then you come home and you got to slam for me with vodka because you can't fall asleep otherwise. And so that's actually the exact timeframe where I started having panic attacks and, again, uneducated back then, didn't know what they were. I just knew that I would all of a sudden out of nowhere and it didn't happen during the hot calls. I mean, I'd be in fights, you know all these things, homicide calls, whatever it was, and I was fine.

Speaker 2:

It would be the down, the down times on shift. I'd just be driving down the side of the road waiting to pick the shag in the next call and all of a sudden I'm sweating profusely, I'm getting tunnel vision. I couldn't, I couldn't bring myself to be present, to the point right of pull over. And after my third or fourth one, I was in the squad room and they actually called the paramedics on me because I just wasn't coherent and didn't know what was happening to me until later in life. But but yeah, self-medicated, not taking care of yourself and all that, the stress of the job, it adds up quickly for sure. And then later on, yeah, I mean I lost a handful of coworkers to substance abuse issues and domestic violence, which I can't say for certain, but I can make a safe assumption that both of the issues they were dealing with, and then also to to neighboring agency coworkers, to suicide as well, yeah, it's the unfortunate, you know, elephant in the room in this career.

Speaker 1:

Well, it's alcohol. And then like, when you, when you take that next step I never took the next step into the other addictive substances, but I can imagine, as so many people have, but it's trying to, you know, equate it. And then who do you go to? You know, like I was, I've always fairly open about it, about, like my drinking and everything, and also very, very open about, you know, taking medication, a deal, anxiety. But in a lot of agencies you can't go, you can't come forward, you can't come forward and you can't feel comfortable coming forward Because to them they look at you as a liability, and what liability equals is money and nobody wants to mess with the budget. So is this kind of one of the reasons you're on this path now?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I mean not just the budget, I mean we're all just line items anyways, right, and these agencies, but I'd say even more so than than that is who wants to come forward. And not only you might lose the trust of that brotherhood that you have. You're now, you're not walking liability. Can you be trusted at that? Not that next hot call with your coworkers, but also the bigger fear I think for a lot of us internally is is desk duty right, losing your gun, losing your badge, your your unfit for duty and all these things.

Speaker 2:

And then a lot of the issues too agencies that are doing peer support teams or wellness. There's a lot of labels being thrown out there. It's kind of frustrating. But, like my agency had a quote, unquote peer support team which when I first got involved in it I thought, oh great, yeah, this is helpful.

Speaker 2:

But now, looking back, knowing what I know, I mean it was, it was a facade, it was, it was pointless. The people on peer support team I don't think there was a single deputy looking back. No, it was. There was corporals, detectives and supervisors. Now who in the right mind, especially if you're a young, behind the ear patrol deputy, is going to go to a supervisor, even a detective, is your supervisor as a deputy, and say I had a problem, yeah right, and then you want to promote to whatever it is later in your career. I mean you should be able to and be allowed to, but but that stigma is attached to all that and it's it's terrible and it's it's starting to shift the needle a little bit. We're nowhere near where we need to be.

Speaker 1:

Stigma, that is that word, right there. Stigma with PTSD, you sigma with alcohol. You know alcohol, caffeine, drugs, anything that I mean. How many not every big agency, not every small agency's getting drug tested. So you know, you kind of bleed a lion's eye some way to keep this, this stress down, this adrenaline dump. And that is the difference between law enforcement and the civilian world.

Speaker 1:

If you're on a construction site, yeah, some shit can happen. If you're here in there, some shit can happen. But when you're in this world where any second someone could pull a gun, any second, pull a gun, pull a knife, punch you in the face or anything, an allegation you know an allegation lands on your, your sergeant's desk, your captain's desk, your chief's desk and the next thing, you know, you're like your stomach's in a bind, you got the fucking shits. And I'm being graphic because this is what happens when your anxiety hits you. Your stomach's going crazy, your head's going crazy, you're getting headaches, you're getting dizzy, your blood pressure spiking. All of this is happening because you chose to take a job that is putting your life on the line and you don't have that out.

Speaker 1:

And anytime you want to talk about it, you get this stigma. You know a chief can come forward and get a DUI, a captain can come forward and get a DUI and everybody's like, oh, it's fine, you know he's, he's management, he's this, he's that. You know he's dealing with a lot that first year officer, that first year deputy, that first year CEO, that second year, third or fourth, fifth year dealing with all this anxiety where and have never had to deal with it in their life, there was only one out. They're going to find something to counteract it, whether it's good or bad. Let's talk about you and like how did you get to the point where you're like I need to take this step and figure out a way to help.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, it was after probably the medics were calling to me by my own co-workers on shift, you know, and medics in accounting that I worked in and so that I was on calls with all the time. That was mortifying, I mean. Thankfully I was able to, you know, at least relatively square my shit away and still promote other things in law enforcement, had a full, full-ish career. You know I was out right before that 20-year mark, but to me that's still. I'm proud of what I was able to accomplish after that. But I was lucky, to be honest, even after all that happened, I made it to the divorce. I just gave the house up, I think, which didn't alleviate some of the stress because I just walked away from it all, where a lot of guys I know Angels they fight tooth and nail lawyers, custody battles. I didn't have any kids in common, so I could have far worse, like a lot of my co-workers had over the years.

Speaker 2:

But I've always liked reading. I started picking up every book I could on PTSD, on trauma, on vicarious trauma, on anxiety and all these different things. And it wasn't until I read part of my third or fourth book and I was like, holy shit, I'm checking every box in this book as far as symptoms and everything else. And so I realized, okay, well, first of all, you can't self-medicate with alcohol to go to sleep and then you wake up two hours later because your body's processing that alcohol and you're not going to have that deep REM sleep. Well, I didn't know any of that, so I was just not able to sleep yet so I'd go and drink more vodka to go back to sleep. Just stupid shit like that. Until you read and realize, well, you're running your body from the inside out. This isn't helping anything.

Speaker 2:

And so just thankfully for me, was self teaching myself. Through a lot of books that I read and self-help and psychology books. They also got me on this path. I think it piqued my interest. But I mean cutting out a lot of alcohol, cutting out a shit ton of caffeine, really upping cardio workouts and stuff like that, forcing myself to get more sleep, alleviated panic attacks entirely never have one again. And then later in life, other good decisions and stuff like that too. But for me, thankfully, I went to therapy later in life for other reasons through the career, but at the time, just reading and educating myself helped me get through that. I was fortunate.

Speaker 1:

You brought up two things I want to hit. One is the checklist. Now, a lot of people understand you may be anxiety-ridden, you may be riddled with just all sorts of PTSD, anxiety stuff, but there are a ton of really good checklists out there. I didn't realize I had some issues going on until I actually went online to the VA and I went down to checklists and I was like, oh wow, oh wow, what is going on here? So you have that.

Speaker 1:

And then you mentioned another word too lucky. You were lucky to, you know, figure this out at a certain time. You were lucky to find another job. You were lucky to do this. I don't know how many times I've heard that from other people. They were lucky to get it out.

Speaker 1:

I mean, I'm preaching to the choir, but it shouldn't be like that. It shouldn't be like you're lucky to find an out. You should have the support from the top down and then you should be able to come forward. That is a critical issue within this profession. So lucky. And then I've really really anybody out there who's suffering from what they may think is anxiety attacks could also be PTSD. But if check the VA websites even if you're in LAO, go to the VA and check out the PTSD checklists and stuff like that. Just find discover yourself. So you don't have to be like, hey, I'm lucky I did this and stuff like that. You were dealing with canines as well for a lot of your career. A lot of people don't realize that canines can also get stressors. They're adrenaline dumps, they're ins and outs. So dealing with that must have been a very dealing with your own stuff and then also dealing with your partner.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, it's funny, laura shirt, you know, drink coffee and pet dogs. I think I like dogs more than most people, to be honest, which is one of the big reasons I got into canine in the first place. But I honestly, if there was a job out there to become a canine psychologist, I would jump all over that in a heartbeat and just deal with dogs the rest of my life and their PTSD, because I absolutely kind of test the first hand that they have it. But I don't think you should be any surprise though, either. I mean, we all have different, varying levels of resilience, right, and our breaking points, if you will, whatever it is. So why should animals be any different?

Speaker 2:

I mean, yeah, I worked a canine for just shy of seven years until I literally watched him get broken on the call and I at the same time was starting to go through my own issues again after being in a second ambush shooting, and I was just done with patrol. But I was still at the time when he was in my late 30s, and so thankfully I was able to test and get promoted to detective and get off the road and then also retire him. So both of our stress levels went down, at least for a little while until my new job picked up some other issues. But yeah, I mean I watched him go from a dog that could be on the range with gunfire and heal around, play with his toy and be living his best life to after the second ambush shooting I was in he was with me at the time stuck in a car for an hour and a half, which is all hell breaking loose. And after that day I knew enough through training and stuff that okay, if a dog's in the shooting, whether he shot or or here's the shooting, whatever it may be, you need to get his ass back to the range and make sure that that is not going to have any residual effects from that.

Speaker 2:

And I watched that dog that I've been training with for years at the range who was happy to go lucky, go from, yet no problem gunfire to any of you motherfuckers, pull the trigger under your face off, because I mean the aggression was through the roof after that call and I tried to get into the range for several days playing with them. You know it was zero stress and there was no getting back from that. I could shoot and he was fine. But even my coworkers who he knew. If they were standing next to me, my best friend of the job would would just shoot a couple rounds down range. You wanted to attack them. I was like, well, this, this is going to be an issue clearly moving forward. And it's like I said, thankfully I was going to have to retire him anyway, but thankfully I got promoted as well and we both got off the street from that. But yeah, absolutely, dogs I know I've seen can suffer from the same issues that we do.

Speaker 1:

I was waiting for. Laura had a question about being involved with a shooting.

Speaker 3:

I felt like I needed to raise my hand. I'm just like taking it in. I want to pet a dog now, I want to run again, get my great day. So you know I was. I was talking to Jason a little bit about your experience and how in the past you and I talked about, you know, what do they consider a critical incident? What are they considered a an actual? Oh, I was involved in a shooting. You know, and some agencies have this mentality of, well, if you didn't shoot, if you were just there, you know, if you didn't even you know aim, then then you're good, get back to work. And I thought it was a local thing. And then you mentioned that happening in your state and I'm like holy cow. So share a little bit about that, if you don't mind, and how that was perceived to be. You know, if you can share.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, sure, I mean, washington is probably one of the most liberal states in the nation too, right, so you would think we'd be up and up on our mental health and I mean we are what we say, that we are for a lot of stuff. But yeah, my first one was pretty low key ish. Right, it was just myself and another deputy, back around 2010, responded to a call and it was an asshole we dealt with many times, so we knew he'd probably be a problem. But the train, the way it was is, he had the high ground on us and he was. He had, you know, dozens of acres of woods behind him and we were on a main highway when we responded to the scene, and so as soon as we got out of our cars, he cranked off, I think, three or four rounds at us, and we already had our ARs out because we knew this guy was an asshole and it might escalate like that. But once the rounds skipped across the pavement in front of us it was kind of dusk time too we turned to where the fire came from, but he was already unasked into the woods. I mean, couldn't shoot back to know who the hell was. Else was up there and with him and so SWAT call out airplane, everything else we caught him.

Speaker 2:

That wasn't a big deal, but the more recent one the one in 2018, where my dog enforced they got broken, and that one was just a routine. I won one call. I went to and I was going to go alone and one of my coworkers said, hey, you want, you want a second? And normally I would say you know, no, it's a welfare check or I don't want to hang up, no big deal. But you know, we all we got off. You call it spidey sense, whatever it is. We all have that kind of that inside voice that sometimes says yeah it's probably some backup.

Speaker 2:

There's something kind of weird about this call, for whatever reason, I don't know Right. And so I said yeah, why don't you come with me? And so as soon as we got there again, I something felt odd, even though it was just a simple 911 hangup. And so when I got there, I parked my SUV with my dog in it about 50 yards away from the residence, kind of you know, put myself between my car and the residence and called dispatch and said, hey, call in, have him come out and talk to us, let us know what the issue is. And his response was no, I'm not coming out, they need to come to my front door. Well, that's just not happening. And so as soon as I relayed that through my dispatch to him, we heard one shot. And so we figured, okay, well, he just shot himself. You know, that's unfortunate, but it is what it is. So then we kind of left my dog and my car in hindsight Now I wish I would move my car back further, so my dog wasn't caught in this crossfire issue, but we thought it was already said and done. And so, as we're kind of pying off, it was a duplex and so we wanted to let the neighbors know. You know, stay inside, we don't know what's going on, type thing.

Speaker 2:

Well then, seconds later, I mean all hell broke loose. This guy had an arsenal of like seven, seven guns in the house, handguns, lawn guns, and when it was all sent down it was like 39 or 43, I forget something like that rounds. He fired through the house, through the front windows, in the front door of me and my partner, and again we couldn't return fire because, a we don't know what the hell we have, but B to see how hostages family in there I have no idea Never saw the guy, just bullets flying at us. And so, like Laura said, we never returned fire. So, by policy, by Washington state standard, I wasn't in the shooting. I was in a shitty call. It's a shitty situation, but I wasn't in the shooting. And so, after we got SWAT there and drones or anything else, introduced CS into the house, he did find the shoot himself, you know, so never came out, he died there. But that was it, you know.

Speaker 2:

And the funny thing when I look back now is after that was all said and done and my partner, I were alone there for about 15 minutes, as Laura goes rural County, even when you're back up, it's hauling ass. It takes some time, and so, when it was all said and done, there was probably 30 cops there or more, right, but still it was a stressful situation. You know when you feel bullets flying by your ear and your head. I was never in combat. I'm not former military, that was the first for me. And so when it was all said and done, that was it All right, go home for the day.

Speaker 2:

I remember my chief at the time coming up to me and saying hey, you're scheduled to work tomorrow. Right, yeah, chief, it's, like you know, 9 pm now I'm scheduled to be at 6 in the morning, are you good? I'm told Laura this like what the hell are you gonna say to your chief? Well, no, I'm kind of feeling fucked up right now. I'm gonna go home and drink a fit of whiskey because I'm happy to be alive, but my stress is through the roof. I needed to kind of take it down a notch now. Oh yeah, chief, I'm fine, I'll be in tomorrow.

Speaker 2:

And I was hungover, you know, but I wasn't in a shooting. And then later on, when I'm investigating officer involved shootings as a detective. To know the amount of time and effort that goes into that, but only if you fire your weapon when the situation could have been identical. The only difference was maybe I pulled my oh my God, it was obviously pulled. Maybe I shot one round. That was it. That doesn't only change the call at all, but the way it would have been handled after post-shooting would have been night and day different. I'm off two weeks. I can go see a psychologist on the department's dime. You know, yada, yada, yada, and it's just that the system's broken and that's one of many factors leading to the suicide raping in Sohi and mental health issues. Amongst law enforcement is we gotta take care of our people, and that is a prime situation of where I was not taken care of, but I also didn't have the balls to speak up either. Like, probably a lot of people wouldn't know, because you don't want to disappoint your command staff, right?

Speaker 1:

Well, you don't have an out. You know you don't have that out. You don't have another job lined up. You don't have. I mean, this is your life, this is your career. It's not like, hey, you know what, I'm gonna go and get a job tomorrow. We know jobs are not easy to get. That takes time. The other thing too is I really think someone should write a book called routine. You know you show up to a routine, call routine, this routine that You're involved in a critical incident, life all-time critical incident and you're like, huh, now I don't have any support just because I didn't pull my gun and I didn't pull the trigger.

Speaker 1:

You know your gun's pulled, you're ready, the slack's coming off your trigger and you're ready to go. Maybe you're not in the same position as someone else that could pull the trigger, but because you didn't pull that trigger, now you don't have the support. You don't have the agency saying, hey, you know what, we're gonna send you all to the shrink or we're gonna send you all to a mental health, we're all gonna send you to the critical incident response team or whatever. Everybody involved anytime that round comes within any part of your body or anywhere in the near zone. Both travel. They could travel anywhere anytime. They could ricochet, they could kill. It doesn't mean you're not feeling the same thing just because you didn't pull your trigger. So that is one thing that absolutely needs to be fixed.

Speaker 3:

Well, and you know I'm gonna jump in too, because I mean, take it a step further. What if it's not even a shooting? What if it's not a barricaded subject? What if it's not that swap call? You know you have so many positions, and even as a detective. What if you work in crimes against children, sex crimes, internet crimes against children?

Speaker 3:

You put someone in a situation where you're seeing literally the worst of the worst for any amount of time. At what point do you think that person needs to, let's call it, decompress, you know, and just kind of unload all that stuff? You're being, you have been packing, you know. And another thing I also think about sometimes in this profession is does it really take? Well, I've been doing this for 10 years, 15 years, 20, 30 years. I mean, does it really? Or can you be a year, two years in in your perception, maybe your childhood, maybe some a combination of things you know?

Speaker 3:

Have you seen life and things and experiences different than somebody that you know? Like I had a coworker tell me one time oh, I can look at, you know, child abuse pictures and cases and work them all day, every day. It doesn't bother me, and he had a kid and he had been doing it for I don't know 15 years at the time and I'm looking at it like huh really, cause I'm not trying to sign up for this any longer than I have to. And then it doesn't have to show up. As you know, let me go home and drink either, cause I never did.

Speaker 3:

You know, I worked promising as children for years. I don't know you know how much I've shared, but even when I was working those cases you know 500 cases or however many in in alcohol, I never picked up a bottle. But then it wasn't until years later. I'm, like you know, 34 years after I did that assignment. Then I'm like Respondent to what is adjacent a routine call, and I'm thinking about that kid from four years ago, five years ago, like oh crap, I was little you know Johnny doing, or whatever. So I think those two areas I don't believe that you know administration really gets. What do you think, justin?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I agree with you a hundred percent, and I actually want to touch on something you both you both said independent, independently from one another. But, laura, you're spot on with it's dependent upon people's upbringing, their past or childhood, their experiences, all of those things right. There's a thing in the medical field that the ACE scores the adverse childhood experience scores. If you've been essentially assaulted as a child or physically abused, whatever it is, even your scores can go up depending on your childhood. That may or may not Build one's resilience right going into the military or law enforcement or both, like a lot of people are.

Speaker 2:

I like to, you know, explain it or Describe it as, like everyone's walking around inside of our brain is like a cup, you know, tea cup, whatever you want, to a coffee cup, whatever you want to envision. In every routine call go to the term shitty, or every hard call, you go to Death. You see, whatever it may be, a Little bit of liquid is poured into that cup, a little bit of trauma, if you will. Right, depending on your upbringing, your background, your level of resilience and how much you can take. Everyone's cups are different sizes and so to that point, you and I, laura, could be working the same agency. We can be the same age, be in the same job, the same shift and go to every single call together the same. I might break before you or you might be.

Speaker 2:

Neither us will break it, you don't know, because we don't know what everyone else's levels of experience and trauma, how much they can handle and how much, and tell that cup spill of over. You know what we want to use for an acronym, but I mean it's very true. And then to Jason's point earlier you mentioned, in critical incidents, where you know everyone should just be sent to therapy or a wellness visit, whatever it is. I've been arguing that for the last couple years, since I really got into this, is is mandatory wellness checks. Some agencies are have wellness teams and training and whatever. What is that?

Speaker 2:

Most of it is still death by PowerPoint. You might go to in-service and do four hours firearms, four hours DT and get a 30-minute PowerPoint on mental health. What good is that? I mean maybe a little bit sure, better than nothing, but we need hands-on training, yoga, mindfulness training, my professionals, not cops in our agency. That might do it as a hobby. But mandatory wellness checks. What do we all have to do every month, every two months, depending on your agency? Is you have to go, sit for a full day and do whatever? The required training is your evoc training, your first aid, cpr or whatever.

Speaker 2:

Why in the hell can't you throw in one hour of that eight hour day or ten hour day, whatever shift you depend upon you at your work, a one-hour wellness check, contract out with a psychologist, a culturally competent law enforcement Psychologist, and mandate that across the board. And I mean your patrol, I mean your patrol, your detectives, your administrators, your sheriffs, your police chiefs, lieutenants Everyone has mandated, like you are, go mandated to do ground fighting, whatever it is. You go do a wellness check once a quarter, once a month, whatever it is. Even if you're fine, okay, you're getting paid to be there. It's an hour out of your day.

Speaker 2:

What is it gonna hurt you to go talk to a professional and then guess what, during that hour conversation that you're getting paid for on your mandatory work time, some shit might come up. You might just have to be, have a conversation with that psychologist and all of a sudden they pull something on you because they're a trained professional, they know what the hell they're doing that. Oh, like Laura mentioned, she had no issue doing those looking at the child abuse material that all of a sudden fast forward, you're to call yours down the road and oh, what the hell? Well, guess what, you're already in that hour-long mandated wellness check. Why don't you talk about it?

Speaker 2:

And if it's mandated, everyone's gonna get better. Everyone's gonna get at least better ish, get help with the issues or lack. There are issues they may not be aware they have of yet, but the biggest thing is, like we talked about earlier, what's that big scary word? Stigma, right, if everyone is mandated to go to therapy, wellness check its therapy, right? What? What stigma is there? Oh, do you hear so? And so is going to therapy what you big fucking deal we all do every, every month at in-service training. Well, where's the stigma now if everyone's going, including your command staff?

Speaker 1:

I Really like that idea.

Speaker 1:

You know, get everybody involved, make them involved. You know, make that part of. You know we go through all this training, tons of training in services. We go through our basing academies and everything. Everybody. And you brought up an incredible point that it really bothers me because we are a line item but we're all not the same. You know that line item fills up and then that cup you said about the stressors, the strip it's not just a cup of that, it's experience. You have a cup of experience. Everybody starts out with an empty cup. They may have some life experiences and stuff like that, but when you put these two things together you have a line item and you have a cup of experience.

Speaker 1:

You can't just, you can't just replace someone. You know I was in 1811. I was in 1801 in the US, 1896. All sorts of different codes in the government. We're all not the same.

Speaker 1:

You know you have a squad of people. You know maybe one really knows what the hell they're doing. Two are really good at their job, three are great support. Three or four are complete waste of time and one is just he shouldn't even show up to work. You know, not all those people, you can't take one. Like you know, the guy who doesn't show up for work Shouldn't show up for work. He should really just stay home. He can't replace number one. It can never replace number one. It's not just line items, you know, and when you bring it up, this point of get everybody involved, then maybe one number one and number two, three, four, five the people that you really want on the job are having these issues. Before you lose them to another agency, before you lose them to just quitting or before you God forbid you lose them to death, to suicide, maybe you get everybody involved and You're not gonna have retention problems and you're not gonna have the death problems. Mean, you're always gonna have them, but you're not, you're gonna limit them. That's my sub box.

Speaker 3:

Well, jason, how about this, though you mentioned? What about that person you know not showing up to work? Oh, tell me, this is just not me. Tell me how much you guys love the fact that if I need a Sick day, I need to be sick. You know so is either I'll bring a doctor's note because I got a cold or I have a dentist appointment, but if I need a mental health day Because I'm not feeling well on an actual body part, then you know no, you're not sick. You know. You know you don't need a mental health day, or you know there is no note, there is no like what do you do, right? So, oh, you know it's, it's HIPAA. We can't talk about this, we can't talk about that. And so do I lie? Do I just say, hey, you know feeling sick today, calling out, or Shouldn't it be just okay to call my supervisor and say, hey, I can't make it to work today? You know I'm taking a mental health day.

Speaker 2:

And of the conversation, yeah, yeah, that needs to be normalized. But I mean to your point though, too, is I suffered a bunch on the job injuries part, part of it, I'm just the clumsy individual. But also, being a canine handler in Washington State, if you've ever gone on a hike or our tracks through our woods, there's a lot of down, trees and a things, a lot of things, to trip over, and so I've. I've broken my hand a couple of times, broken my leg, all kinds of fun shit. And I, like a lot of us, if you're on desk duty, it's mind-numbing, it's terrible, and you're hearing all these calls come out. Your people are running out of the squad room and you're sitting there with your leg up on a chair, whatever, taking just one old shake all after another, and you're not really doing anything.

Speaker 2:

So what do we all want to do when we're physically injured? You want to rush that rehab, get that Pete physical physical nervous, to sign off and say you're good for full duty. And at least for me I've done that, especially when I was in canine. I might, you know, I'd still bring my dog to work and he was just running on the squad room sticking his head in garbage cans. He's bored, he's a friggin dog. He wants me back on the street. And so those two, those two injuries I suffered while I had him is I really pushed and Fought to get back to full duty when I knew that I wasn't a hundred percent. But in my mind I'm like, yeah, I got coworkers, I have a dog. If I'm gonna get to fight, I'll just hit my door, pop or my dogs, and they come out. I don't really need both my hands yet. It's fine, but to my supervisors credit in those incidents

Speaker 2:

they? They were like no, you're still fucked up your fingers, still like wonky, you can't come back to work, okay. So why, when they know that I was just in a critical incident or whatever, or you got a co-worker that comes to work and that you smell booze on them, they're probably not in a good spot mentally, are they? Why do we ignore that? Why can't we talk about that like we can talk about a physical injury that? No, hey, buddy, you're not good enough yet. Let's get you rehab, let's go work out, get you better or whatever.

Speaker 2:

Our brain is also part of our body. It's, it's, it's, it's, you know, an appendage, if you will like a finger or a leg, whatever it is. So if it's, if it's damaged, why can't we get it fixed or get aid for it and not be scrutinized about it? And why can't it just be normal like oh shit, your legs and two pieces. You should probably take some time off work. Well, if you're going through a divorce, you just lost a kid to cancer or whatever it may be, why isn't that treated the same way, right?

Speaker 1:

the brain. It's the most important thing. I mean it's one of the most important things because it's all big machine. You know the military it took two wars in 20 years from the finally say it's okay to have PTSD, right, it's okay to get help, it's okay. You have commanders coming out nice, saying I have PTSD. You have generals coming out now and saying I PTSD. How many of these people have rose through the ranks who may have mental health issues, but because they're rising through the ranks and they're always looking at that next step in their career, they don't want to talk about it. They, they.

Speaker 1:

What you really need to affect change is to have someone from the top start saying hey, you know what? My brain is a little broken. It's not irreparable, it can be fixed. I need help and Empower every one of his leadership. Below them, supervisors should be able to check in on their people. Hey, you know, I notice you've been calling and sick a lot lately and Is there anything I could do? Do you want to see someone? Do you need to change assignments? Do you do in the little extra sleep? Do you need something Now? Granted, manpower issues are always gonna be a problem, especially with the smaller departments. But if you have a solid supervisor, they should be able to check in on their people and then go to their captain, go to their chief and say, hey, you know what such and such, you know what, let's, let's lay off them a little bit. Let's not bust his balls, buster balls. Let's, let's fix them so they don't one leave, don't break themselves to where they're not repairable and, three, they don't end up in the grave.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, 100%. And so how do we get there? You know the the bigger issue, unfortunately, I think and then Laura might talked about this before is is some of our command staff who probably should have retired many years ago. But they're hanging on to those stripes or whatever it is, and a lot of them too, and I've had something I worked for. They worked the road for like a couple years and then they decided to get on that promotion chain and all of a sudden they're leading an agency but they've probably never even been in a fistfight, let alone a shooting or work any you know child crime or anything like that. So they're probably completely fine. And so to ask them to understand this and and and mandate wellness checks and all this, they're gonna say, well, especially if they're an old school male mentality, you know it's like you may as well talk to the planner about this because you're not gonna get anywhere. So that's, that's the bigger, scarier issue. And so how do you fix that? Well, it's gonna take time until they retire out, I think.

Speaker 2:

But if agencies start promoting out, they're junior surgeons and stuff and they're doing it, you know, an effective job at that and normalizing all this stuff with them that as they move up in the ranks, that I think, like to your point, it won't be such a weird thing. It'll be, it'll be normalized in the agencies, but I think also police academies from day one need to be teaching this stuff, implementing the stuff, normalizing the stuff and everything else. I remember when I went through in 2003 2003, there was no talk of this they would just, you know, scream at you and spit in your face, probably similar to boot camp back in the day, when you went through Jason, and you know your piece of shit, your your boot. You know we've all been in shootings and we've had six divorces and we're alcoholics, but we're bad asses and so our generation, unfortunately, was brought up on that.

Speaker 2:

But there's an easy fix to that if it starts the day one in the academy Is these recruits are treated like humans. Usually I've taught the job and weeded out if can't handle the stress and being in a fight and shooting and all that. That's fine. But what about after, like the moccasins in the academy? After you're in a use of force, you're in a shooting, with simulitions. That's kind of realistic and stuff like that. What should be done after that? Immediate debriefs, have psychologists in the academy, have peer support teams, have shooting buddies all that if it's, if it's brought to the forefront on day one in the academy. Then fast forward to 10 years from now. You're in a critical incident. Oh, back in the academy. Yeah, we would practice these mindfulness techniques they taught us afterwards and we would take mental health days. We would go see a psychologist because they tell us in the academy that's how you get better, because it's scientifically proven. So if you start teaching that from day one, I think, with the command staff, to take the first step From day one, I think, with the command staff changing as time goes on and also the new recruits coming up, going through the Chain of commands and stuff like that, my hope anyway, you know 510, especially 20 years from now, this will be a mute point, but. But things have to change again.

Speaker 2:

In Washington State I went up to our basic training Academy About a year ago. I'm out of law enforcement now but I have a stake in this game. I don't want people to go through what I went through, what a lot of my friends and coworkers have gone through, and so I heard that our Academy is teaching mental health. The officers now and I was like cool, can I come up and watch the class? They're like, yeah, of course I've got connections and stuff still. And in law enforcement it was a two-hour class they get one time and Most of it was how to deal with people in crisis. I'm like, well, fuck, no, our mental health, not people on the street. We get that through CIT and all kinds other bullshit. Training will go through later. Again, washington State, pretty forward-thinking liberal state. We're not even getting it yet it's not that difficult people.

Speaker 2:

Well, let's get in some professionals and psychologists and teach mindfulness and resiliency and psychology and and Talking to therapists and all of these things are normal. You're gonna have these adrenaline and cortisol dumps and here's why. Here's what's gonna happen to you. It's gonna suck, but here's how you get through it. We're, we're giving, we're teaching great techniques and tools for kicking people's asses and shooting them and tasing them and giving first aid and now Deescalation. Sure, but what about ourselves that are still seen on average? If you do a 20 year career, or they say, I think, three to six hundred critical incidents we're gonna come across. As opposed, your average citizen might see two or three in their entire life. I mean, it's not even happens in oranges. So why isn't more being done at the basic Academy training level is my question. I can well that's so box all day, but Well, you know, I made a couple notes here.

Speaker 1:

One of them is two dollar science money. Everything comes down to money.

Speaker 1:

Yeah every extra day, every extra hour you spend in Academy. But that's the other aspect of this whole situation is let's look at it from a monetary instance. Retention, recruitment, everything comes out of money. But who? Who really approves the money? City councils, mayors, the whole bureaucracy above the police station, above the sheriff money.

Speaker 1:

If you get buy-in from council members, you get buy-in from the civilians who don't deal with this. You already said it before that they don't deal with these critical incidents. They have no idea what someone in law enforcement go through goes through absolutely none. But if you get buy-in from these council people who are gonna approve the budget and say, okay, the next time, chief, so-and-so is writing a grant, hey, we're gonna write a grant for mental health, we're gonna write a grant for this. We're gonna write a grant for anything to do with like physical fitness machines, anything where you that's not just like Tasers and new guns and knew this and knew that, but we're gonna do something that's gonna help the mental health, the physical health of the officers, the deputies that they're in charge with. Get the buy-in from the councils, get the buy-in from the, from the people who are approving these budgets.

Speaker 1:

I think that's kind of another aspect of this whole situation is to start looking at that way. It took a lot of push, a Lot of push, but now there's laws that are on the books going at the federal level. That's showing that suicide is now a line of duty Death for a lot of law enforcement. A lot of people like, well, that's really touchy-feely. No, it's not, because what it does is provides benefits, benefits the loved ones.

Speaker 1:

So if you start putting the mental health aspect in of it, in it, the monetary aspect of it, a suicide line of duty death is now going to cost the get these counsel people money. It's unfortunately, it's a truth, and you're going to tell them hey, you know what, before we get to this point, we're we're going to have to provide hiring bonuses for people or we're going to have to provide line of duty death Benefits of someone who commits suicide. Why don't we start looking at the mental health aspect and do it from a monetary point and Effect changed at that level too. So, hey, you know what? I'll write a letter today. Let's do it.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I mean you're spot-on and it's not, it's not difficult Chore task to accomplish. You just need the right people to have the knowledge and expertise or at least, if they don't know where to reach out and get those answers to. I mean, there's plenty of signs and evidence out there that shows this is a real thing. We're losing people at suicide, the rates aren't going down, and why? It's because the un-on-stop trauma and you're not getting enough time off, you're not getting the resources and all that. So, yes, it's, it's a budget, it's a monetary issue. But what does it cost?

Speaker 2:

Like you just touched on the hiring incentives, I think Seattle is up to like $50,000 for a new hire now I think come on, so not like that. But what does it cost to train a Brand-new, you know snot-nosed boot on the Academy up to a level that they can work and be effective on their own? I mean it's hundreds of thousands of dollars. So if we're only asking these council people or county commissioners, whatever it is, for a 50,000 or $100,000 budget to get mandatory wellness checks and psychologists on staff for all of our, all of our staff, but guess what? That's probably gonna help retain all of them. So we don't have to do these hiring incentives and then train people in the Academy costs and all that. What's gonna cost us more in the long run? It's gonna be losing people and having to hire and pay incentives all day. So why not let's pony up the money up front and worry about retention rates and not having to lose people to suicide and substance abuse and DUIs and DVs and everything else which is still happening.

Speaker 1:

Yeah and Justin, it's not just critical incidents, it's not just shootings, it's not just someone's gonna beat your ass. Sometimes it's just piss. Poor management.

Speaker 1:

Yeah sometimes it's just piss, poor management. And if you could get a, a psych or someone mental health professional on retainer so someone can go invent and Vent without using alcohol or just venting and in bitching a co-workers. But some of them go there and get some sort of like mental resolution, so then they're not looking for jobs, they could enjoy their job. But then also have these chiefs and captains and lieutenants go see the mental health people as well.

Speaker 2:

Yeah.

Speaker 1:

Get them to be like hey, you know what, maybe you're kind of fucked up, you need to take care of your people. Yeah, lori, you got anything else?

Speaker 3:

Um, no, I think that, like Justin said, if you don't know where to start, what to do, reach out. I know I had a I don't know, maybe a 30-minute conversation with him once because I was. I look, I'm currently working at a very small department. I've never seen anything meant to health related be addressed. Uh, what do I start? It needs to happen. We have a lot of new officers and you know I mean literally a year or less. They have already attended three funerals in their time in this career.

Speaker 3:

He gave me some pointers, did a little bit of research, use some agencies that are already doing great things in that arena, and presented it. And, hey, 30 minutes I was awarded. I'm, I take it so brought in a professional she talked for about I don't know, maybe 40 minutes, and then has someone talk about physical wellness, like you were saying. You know, go for a hike, go to the gym, practice. You know martial arts or you know crossfit, whatever you're into, and I was so grateful for my 45 minutes during in service. So if you don't know what a star, just ask. You know, justin was super kind and gave me some pointers and kind of told me how I could even present this to my chief and he worked. So we, we did that in my super tiny agency and I think if you just look for you know where to start, it can happen. You really can.

Speaker 1:

Justin. I really appreciate you coming on, brother. I'm looking forward to continue our discussion and I really maybe affect some change. Why not?

Speaker 2:

Something's got to change, you know, so I'll keep talking whoever I can and inventing or whatever else I need to do. Yeah, it's worth it, so I I.

Justin Cotty's Journey Into Law Enforcement
Adrenaline Dumps and Coping Mechanisms
Stress and Self-Medication in Law Enforcement
PTSD in Canines and Anxiety Self-Help
Inadequate Support for Law Enforcement Incidents
The Importance of Mandatory Wellness Checks
Mental Health Support in the Workplace
Improve Mental Health and Law Enforcement Funding
Key Pointers for Achieving Change