SARATOGA SPRINGS — Saratoga County Sheriff’s Deputy Zach Cicardi told a roomful of cops he didn’t consider he might experience work trauma — until a year or two later responding to a fatal plane crash.
Cicardi said he was eating ice cream at a car show near an airport with his wife and children when he saw the shadow of a similar type of aircraft, a Cessna, land nearby.
Then, unbeknownst to Cicardi, he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after responding to the 2014 plane wreck in Northumberland that left two people dead.
Now in his fourth year as Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake school resource officer, Cicardi told the cautionary tale at the School Policing and Safeguarding Committee’s inaugural three-day school safety training conference. at the Saratoga Casino Hotel on Jefferson Street. It ended on Wednesday.
Cicardi spoke about the importance for officers to maintain their mental well-being, as problems can arise immediately or, in his case, years later.
Touted in conference literature as having “an unparalleled passion for helping his brothers and sisters in blue,” Cicardi also addressed mental health and positive ways to cope with stress at work.
The MP said everyone reacts to traumatic experiences in their own way. For example, an agent who is also a parent may imagine their own child when responding to a child abuse call, while an agent who is not a parent may not personalize it as much.
Events involving children can “haunt forever” an officer, Cicardi said.
“You always remember the names, their faces,” he said. “Until the day you die, you can go back and relive those events.”
Personally threatening incidents such as “being in a physical altercation with someone twice your size,” as well as more routine work stressors that can burden families, such as working midnight or odd hours and days holidays, or missing a child’s birthday or Christmas can have adverse consequences, Cicardi said.
These experiences can manifest in an officer who is angry or suffers from insomnia, anxiety, nightmares, or loss of appetite.
“I would bet, just looking here, that there is a large percentage of those who have PTSD” who are either diagnosed or undiagnosed, he told the assembled officers.
“The years and years of cumulative stress add up,” Cicardi said. “We can fix ourselves. But we are broken.
The panic attack from the imaginary plane crash made him feel like he was going to die, he said.
Additionally, the MP said he did not like driving on Middle Grove Road in Greenfield as it made him re-live a fatal accident to which he had been the first to react.
PTSD left untreated can lead to problems for years, said Cicardi, who admitted that despite his “perfect life” with a longtime wife and two beautiful daughters, and that he had no to worry about money, he had had suicidal thoughts related to fatigue. .
“When you’re exhausted deep inside, the thought of eternal rest doesn’t sound so bad,” he said, even describing the beautiful spot in the woods he had chosen as the backdrop.
But Cicardi said he got help and he spoke about the importance of positive coping strategies for officers. He says he is shielding his wife from all the gory details of the emergencies he responded to.
But in the same way that officers receive annual medicals, he said it was important to find someone to “unload” those experiences on at least once a year.
Similarly, agents should not be afraid to call their employee assistance program. Confidential peer counseling for mental health and addictions issues from “proven professionals” can be very important to officers because if the counselor doesn’t understand, it can be difficult to convince them to open up.
“If they talk to someone who doesn’t understand the police, you’ll lose that cop forever,” he said.
Pacing down the aisle, Cicardi told attendees about the program and how its peer-led counseling is supposed to work for officers, their families and colleagues.
EAPs ensure advice is provided by people officers know personally, who have their best interests in mind, who are “real” and trustworthy, he said.
It is important that officers receive guidance from their peers because a social worker who does not understand the police could refer a depressed officer to the state, which could lead to the eventual seizure of their firearm.
This overreaction could worsen the officer’s depression, Cicardi suggested.
“You try to get help for yourself, then you realize, ‘By the way, we’re taking your guns, you can’t really get a job anymore,’ because you went to get help. help,” he said.
While most cops tend to hang out together early in their careers, Cicardi said he finds it helpful to have a social life outside of law enforcement.
He urged officers to find hobbies such as volunteering, working out, as well as hobbies and going to church. It’s a way to keep your feet on the ground and see the world as others see it, not from the sometimes jaded point of view of an officer.
He also encouraged officers to reduce their alcohol consumption.
Contact journalist Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.