Suicide prevention program for police held in Lake George

LAKE GEORGE, N.Y. (NEWS10) – A seminar was held in Lake George to offer support to police officers who have suffered extreme stress or trauma on the job.

Putting your life on the line every day can take a toll on your career, home life and health. It’s the reality for any law enforcement officer.

When issues on the job are not discussed, it can lead to depression or suicide. Therefore, officers from across the Capital Region took part in a suicide prevention program in Lake George for two days.

The program was hosted by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. Different speakers with firsthand knowledge of trauma from the job openly discussed their challenges.

On everyone’s minds was the tragedy involving a Colonie patrol officer and his family.

“I actually started with the event in Colonie,” retired police officer David Nowakowski said.

Nowakowski said he was in Colonie a few weeks ago doing a presentation on the Protector Project and where officers can reach out for help if they need to talk.

But then he saw the tragic scene in Latham at Officer Israel Roman’s house.

Police said Roman shot and killed his wife, Deborah, and 10-year-old son, Nathan, in the head; lit their house on fire; and then shot and killed himself on February 9. 

“I felt like I was not doing enough to get the word out,” he said.

People taking part in the class said it’s more important than ever to take a closer look at how officers talk about their stresses and that they get help.

“It’s largely why we have the suicide rate in law enforcement that we usually have because people are taught early on not to reach out for help,” Scott Neff with DOCJS said. “It’s just the police culture to handle your own situation.”

Neff is trying to change that culture with intimate seminars that include speakers such as Nowakowski who have firsthand experience.

“I didn’t know what was happening to me,” Nowakowski said. “The reoccurring flashbacks and nightmares.”

Nowakowski survived an officer involved shooting where he saw a fellow officer killed in front of him.

“I didn’t know where to turn as a police officer,” he said. “There were no resources for me as a first responder.”

Nowakowski said he participates in the seminars to make sure other officers know they can reach out and open up.

Kathleen Carlton is a state correction’s officer’s wife. She also participated in the seminar.

“They have to go to work every day and act like the macho person but very difficult to leave it there and turn around and be someone else at home,” she said.

Carlton said she’s been married for 16 years and has seen the pressures the job puts on at home.

“Patience runs thin; put barriers up to things going on,” she said.

She said the tragedy at the Roman home hit close to her and her family.

“When I heard that story last week, it was like, ‘This could happen to somebody I know,’” she said.

So as she listened to other officers talk about how they deal with their trauma and stress, she’s also slowly changing the way she communicates with her husband.

The seminar started in 2012 and has reached nearly 2,000 officers across New York State through 16 different classes.

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