The Delta Police Department has launched a new podcast that looks at how first responders cope with the stress of traumatic calls.
Over the course of their careers, first responders deal with some unimaginable calls for service. How they respond without having those calls negatively impact both their personal and professional lives is a critical skill they must all develop.
Imagine the toll on a first responder’s mental health when they break the news of a family member’s unexpected death to a loved one, or the stress of attending fatal motor vehicle collisions or the suicide of a person suffering from a mental health issue.
Sharing stories, and how they’ve dealt with a variety of extremely tough situations, is the impetus behind a new podcast produced by the DPD, called Bend Don’t Break. In one-on-one interviews with Chief Constable Neil Dubord, police officers and other first responders speak about their experiences in the face of adversity.
“These interviews are very honest, raw, and at times hard to listen to,” Dubord said in a press release. “My role in interviewing these officers, and other first responders, is to hear their stories and encourage them to speak about what they may have learned or would do differently.
“I also think there’s another takeaway there: for leaders at all levels to be able to understand the perspective of someone going through a very tough situation,” he continued.
“We chose to make this podcast public to acknowledge the importance and potential value in sharing these stories.”
Dubord credited DPD Const. Aaron Hill with proposing the podcast, and for his bravery in being upfront in regard to his own struggles.
Hill’s story is the topic of the first episode, released on Nov. 9, 2018. It details how he was faced with a complaint alleging he’d used excessive force, which came at the same time he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
“So now I’m in the middle of a complaint, not sure if I’m going to have a job, and I have an auto immune deficiency disease and I’ve just lost my career aspirations of being a SWAT operator and I’m going to be going back to the road,” Hill says at the start of the first episode.
Later, he goes on to describe the moment he learned about the complaint against him.
“He told me, right there and then, with my two-year-old son, that I was being investigated for deceit. (…) This cold feeling just came over my body. (…) I know I felt like throwing up. I just remember standing there, looking at my kid, and the first thing that went through my mind is holy s**t, I’m not going to be a cop anymore.”
In the second and third episodes (released Dec. 18, 2018, and Jan. 13, 2019), DPD Const. Jordan MacWilliams, a member of the integrated emergency response team, shares the story of a police shooting in 2012 outside the Starlight Casino in New Westminster.
“He’s walking at us, holding the gun in the air, and I remember I’m staring at him through my sight, and I’m just watching him, and I’m thinking to myself, ‘okay Jordan, if he points the gun at us, you’re going to have to shoot him.’ (…) He lowers the gun, and now he’s pointing the gun right at us,” MacWilliams said, recalling the events that led to him fatally shooting Mehrdad Bayrami.
Bayrami, 48, of Richmond had allegedly taken his ex-girlfriend Tetiana Pilsina hostage at gunpoint outside the casino. The stand-off ended after five hours when Bayrami allegedly pointed his weapon at police and MacWilliams shot him in the abdomen. Bayrami was taken to Royal Columbian Hospital, where he died 10 days later.
In the second part of his interview, MacWilliams describes what it was like to be in a situation he’d hoped would never happen, the investigation that followed, and the devastating impact it had on his emotional well-being. As well, MacWilliams talks about what it was like to be facing an unexpected second-degree murder charge as a result of the shooting.
In October 2014, MacWilliams was charged with second degree murder relating to Bayrami’s death and sued by Bayrami’s daughter Nousha in November of that year. However, the murder charge was stayed in July 2015 and the civil lawsuit was dropped five and a half months after that.
“For a few years now we first responders have been talking rather openly about the importance of mental health and wellness,” Dubord said. “We thought it was time to take another step to shine a brighter light and give our officers, and other first responders, a way to share their stories in their own words.”
Bend Don’t Break is available on the DPD website at deltapolice.ca/podcast, as well as on iTunes and on Google Play Music. Future interviews will also share stories of other first responders.