“It’s hard to be a policeman”: how a social worker helps the GRPD

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Every day, Julie Holmes-Markowski helps police officers in Grand Rapids cope with the tense environment in which they work.

“It’s hard to be a policeman. It’s tough being a police officer in Grand Rapids,” said Holmes-Markowski, a licensed clinical social worker and behavioral health specialist with the Grand Rapids Police Department.

In recent years, the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd in 2020 and the shooting of Patrick Lyoya by a GRPD officer in April. In Grand Rapids 2020, this outrage was co-opted by people bent on destroying, who turned a protest into a riot. This all adds up to the tough stuff that first responders see as a routine part of the job.

“Some of the most traumatic things they’ll see, like the death of a baby, a homicide or a shooting – and for those of us who don’t work in that type of world, you can’t even imagine how you would react with that – but for the men and women who work here, it might be something they see every day,” Holmes-Markowski said.

She said many police departments will hire therapists after their force experiences a particularly disturbing event, but her work is steady. It focuses on monitoring and improving the welfare of GRPD officers and civilian staff.

She was brought to the GRPD three years ago, just before the 2020 riot. Since then, she has been busy, teaching new recruits techniques to calm their bodies and minds and helping seasoned officers deal with recent events. .

“Research tells us that about 20% of law enforcement suffer from (PTSD), whether it’s PTSD or just some kind of work-related stress,” he said. she declared. “I would estimate it’s even higher here given what we’ve been through with the riots in 2020, some of our shootings involving officers, some of these serious and critical incidents that some of our officers went through .”

She said she had more one-on-one meetings with officers after Lyoya was shot. Former GRPD officer Chris Schurr has been charged with second degree murder in his death and is due for a preliminary hearing in the next weeks. Meanwhile, the rest of the force, who knew Schurr as a friend and colleague, struggle for normality.

“It’s a big thing. It affected everyone differently. It’s always a residual thing,” Holmes-Markowski said. “Just feeling like they’re not supported in the community can be very difficult, and the cumulative trauma of it all.”

Embedded in the training unit, Holmes-Markowski travels regularly and facilitates critical incident debriefings after major events. Officers aren’t required to meet with her, but she said more and more people are coming to see her on a regular basis to help with their personal issues and the things they’re going through at work.

“I do quite a bit of consulting here and it really took off. The first two years were slower and this year it’s been crazy and maybe it’s because of what’s going on in the community,” she said.

If they don’t want to talk to her, she can also help them get in touch with other local therapists.

Burnout is also a concern within the GRPD. With 274 officers patrolling a community of nearly 200,000, they regularly work 12-hour shifts and can often be called on their days off. She also noted that the GRPD is a fairly young department, with perhaps a third of officers hired in the past five years. And these new officers can shoulder more of the overtime load because of seniority rules.

“So you’re overworking a lot of young cops who are part of our own highway patrol,” Holmes-Markowski said. “They’re out there giving it their all and they often feel like it’s a thankless job.”

She and GRPD are working to redefine policing in Grand Rapids and restore community trust, with the police chief having recently deployed several policy changes to emphasize de-escalation and respond to what the community wants.

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