Monday, January 7, 2008

Iraq War Vet a Dallas Policeman loses his job


"You don't want to make them feel that because they have

been there, they're scarred. They may be, but what we do

is try to find out how they're doing, find out how they're

coping, and we give assistance to those who need it."

21 members of the Dallas Police Department have returned to duty from the War on Terror. (Photo: Dallas PD)

Story here...

Story below:


Texas Police Help War Vets Return to Duty

The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS – One morning, a 911 call came in to Austin police. Two men were fighting, and the caller said one flashed a knife.

Among the officers dispatched was Wayne Williamson, who had returned the year before from military duty in Iraq. He and other officers soon found themselves chasing one of the men toward a crowded shopping center.

“Austin police. Stop or I’ll shoot!” Officer Williamson yelled several times, even though he never saw a knife nor had reason to believe the man was about to hurt anyone.

Before the man was caught, Officer Williamson fired three shots at him. One bullet pierced a van carrying a 14-year-old and a baby. No one was hurt, but the March 14 incident cost Officer Williamson his job.

Afterward, he and his attorney said his time in the war zone may have clouded his judgment.

Most reservists and guardsmen who return from the Middle East readjust from the Humvee to the Crown Victoria with little problem. But a few have come back to police work in Texas and other states only to use tactics more suited to a combat zone than a city patrol beat.

In one case, during a narcotics operation in Los Angeles County, a deputy explained his decision to shoot in military terms—as “laying down cover fire.”

Some law enforcement agencies have begun to look harder at how they help soldiers make the transition back to police work. The International Association of Chiefs of Police is developing a national strategy to address the concern.

“We want to expedite this because we think it’s very important,” said Jim McMahon, chief of staff for the IACP. “These are key people who come back with a great amount of experience from their prior service to their municipality, and now their service to their country.”

No changes for Dallas

Dallas police officials say they have not experienced similar problems with returning soldiers. During the past two years, 21 officers have returned to the agency from military service. Only some of them saw combat.

When officers come back from any type of extended leave, the agency screens them for mental health issues.

Returning officers are put through the same battery of psychological tests they took when first hired. And the psychologists have particular questions for those returning from war. Where did you serve? How long? What did you see? Did you lose any friends?

“I’ve seen one or two that just wanted to talk a little bit more after coming back,” said Al Somodevilla, a longtime Dallas police psychologist. “But we haven’t seen, fortunately, anyone that we had to say, ‘No, you’re not fit for duty; you cannot go out there.’ “

He said he feels the agency’s screening is adequate.

“You don’t want to make them feel that because they have been there, they’re scarred,” he said. “They may be, but what we do is try to find out how they’re doing, find out how they’re coping, and we give assistance to those who need it.”

The case in Los Angeles County was one of two in recent years that has spurred the sheriff’s department there to add a fourth day to its repatriation program for returning soldiers.

“He was putting down cover fire as he moved from one point to the other,” said sheriff’s Cmdr. Gil Jurado. “We insist on having a specific target. You just can’t shoot in the general area that they’re at.”

It seemed to be part of a trend with returning soldiers, Cmdr. Jurado said. “Some of them still having somewhat of a mindset relative to tactics of what they learned in the military. We saw a few of those techniques being used in the streets, and we thought, ‘Uh-oh, we need to retrain them.’ “

The agency’s repatriation program is designed for more than just retraining. It focuses on ensuring the welfare of the officers and nurturing both them and their families during their readjustment to civilian life.

“The whole system starts off from showing appreciation for their efforts to go over there, and to help them do the tough job that they have to do,” Cmdr. Jurado said.

The program’s fourth day, which was added this summer, includes policing scenarios simulated with paintball guns.

“The rules of engagement for the military are different than the rules of engagement for law enforcement,” said Audrey Honig, the department’s chief psychologist. “The military, they work more under the basic assumption of ‘when in doubt, shoot.’ And we work under the basic assumption of ‘when in doubt, don’t shoot.’ “

Partner policy

Complicating things, she said, is that soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are often operating in a city environment. “So there’s just a little greater risk of people responding to this urban environment as they would to the other urban environment, when they were in a different role,” Dr. Honig said.

Patrol deputies spend their first days back on the job with partners. Each deputy is also assigned a mentor. These precautions, Dr. Honig said, “give them an opportunity to get back into the groove of responding the way they used to respond when they were working for us.”

Such policies are important, agreed Stephen Curran, a Maryland psychologist who counsels returning soldiers and provides police psychological services.

“Partnering up, mentoring, I think is a good thing to do for the first phase,” he said. “That may be a week - that may be two weeks - of just kind of taking it slow.”

A department’s program need not be rigid or lengthy, Dr. Curran said.

Many police supervisors are veterans, so they often understand the challenges for returning soldiers, he said. “I think supervisors from the sergeant level to chiefs are educated about trying to watch for possible problems.”

Whatever sort of program an agency chooses, it is important that officials be aware of the issue and have some type of policy in place, Dr. Curran said.

“You just can’t show up for work 30 days after coming back from combat and say, ‘OK, here’s the gun and badge, and go get ‘em,’ ” he said.

Officers who rejoin the Dallas police after stints in the Middle East do not patrol with partners on their return. Nor are they assigned mentors. Does the department do enough to reintegrate its returning soldiers?

Senior Cpl. Jonathan McMillion thinks so. The plainclothes Dallas patrol officer spent a year with the Texas Army National Guard on a quick reaction force in Afghanistan.

“Those guys are really good,” he said of the department psychologists who greeted him on his return.

Cpl. McMillion said his military experience has sharpened his judgment, not clouded it.

“The discipline you learn in the military, I think, benefits you as a police officer,” he said. “To me, they go hand in hand, complement one another.”

Soldiers patrolling the streets of Kabul are not entitled to shoot at will; you still have to identify your targets, he pointed out. Killing an innocent civilian over there may get you in just as much trouble as here.

“Just because you’re in a war zone doesn’t mean it’s a free fire zone,” Cpl. McMillion said.

And he noted the battery of psychological tests that he and other soldiers must go through all over again to rejoin the police force.

“Those of us who have gone and come back, we have a joke,” he said, “that we are probably the most documentably sane people in the department.”


posted by Larry Scott
Founder and Editor
VA Watchdog dot Org

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My question is now that the officer has lost his job because of stress related to being deployed to a war zone and now is making bad judgements because of his war experiences, how is the VA or any other government aganecy helping him? Is he receiving counseling, job retraining, educational benefits now that he is no longer eleigible to continue his profession of law enforcement, and do we as a nation owe this man and other people like him in other similar circumstances owe him the chance to rehab into an equally financial profession, or is he left to his own devices? What is fair her? What if it was you or one of your family members what would be right?

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