1 Aug 2016

Behind the police tape

From Nine To Noon, 9:08 am on 1 August 2016

Are our police officers getting the support they need?

Lance Burdett

Lance Burdett Photo: Supplied

Retired crisis negotiator Lance Burdett is calling for more to be done to protect police from stress-related illness.

Lance has just published a memoir Beyond the Tape. He gives us a rare glimpse into the world of police negotiations, speaking frankly about his 22-year career and subsequent burnout and the related arts of crisis negotiation and empathy.

Interview highlights

Lance Burdett: What about some practical techniques of how to look after yourself? Such a simple technique as teaching recruits how to control their breathing when they’re going into these events. We know that taking a big deep breath, holding it for three seconds, counting in your head to three, and then slowly letting your breath out controls that fight-or-flight response. And if you do it enough research tells us that you actually shrink that fight-or-flight response. Just that one simple, practical technique would help a lot of officers.

In the work that I do now I ask millennials ‘Do you manage to slow your brain down at night?’ and they all start smiling and go ‘No’. It seems that they are… probably the most stressed generation, I would think. They are in a world that is ever-moving, fast, and they need to be given some tools and techniques on how to slow themselves down.

When you arm police, you remove the ability to communicate – and I think communication is one of the most important keys – as a police officer – if you want to remain part of the community.

There was a moment of realisation in my police career. I was out there arresting everyone I could. I stopped a young man and he had two young kids in the back. His car had no registration, no warrant of fitness, he had no driver’s licence. I said to him ‘I’m going to change your life, I’m going to take your kids off you and take them to CYF, you’re going to be arrested now’ and all those sorts of things.

Then this thing hit me and I said ‘Or you can take your car home, look after your kids, never drive the car again and change your life’. And he looked at me and his eyes were clear and he just said ‘Are you serious?’ I said ‘Yeah, absolutely’. The feeling that came over me from doing that, it’s one of those special moments. From then on I sort of realised that policing... although we have a duty to protect other members of the public, we also have a duty to protect everyone, protect life and property, everyone. From that point on I started changing to see how many people I could help rather than how many people I could arrest.

I look at people who have been through a traumatic experience themselves and who have recovered. They have the greatest empathy. To be able to see things from the other person’s shoes is crucial in crisis intervention.