NYPD psychologists put in long days after 9/11

By The National Psychologist Editor
September 1, 2003



Toronto–New York City police weren’t the only ones putting in long days following the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center two years ago.

The police department’s psychologists also put in long shifts, including 20 hours the first day, two psychologists told a workshop at the 111th annual convention of the American Psychological Association.

Arthur Knour, Ph.D., and Andrew Propper, Ph.D., were among the department psychologists who went on 13-hour-a-day shifts following the Sept. 11 attack to insure that there was 24-hour coverage for officers and their families. The grueling schedule lasted for two months.

Knour said that police psychologists visited every precinct during the aftermath of the attack and staffed two off-site locations–the area that became known as Ground Zero and a bereavement center for relatives of missing police officers.

Mental health counselors from Columbia Presbyterian Hospital joined the two psychologists and 10 police officers trained in peer counseling to conduct stress management and psychoeducational sessions, Knour said.

Propper said he attended 100 roll calls during that time to insure police officers knew psychologists were available if necessary.

“We were not surprised to discover that police officers were reluctant to talk to us. They were too busy working to worry about things like stress,” Propper added.

He said it was interesting that the police officers working at Ground Zero or at the Staten Island landfill looking for body parts were the least concerned about how they felt.

“It was those officers who weren’t involved that felt worse. They felt they weren’t being helpful. Most officers want to be a Ground Zero,” Propper added.

Those officers who were working at Ground Zero put in 12-14 hour tours seven days a week for the first few weeks. When some eventually got a day off, they would spend it at Ground Zero anyway, Propper said.

A feeling of pride about the role they played kept most officers from feel stress and anxiety, the two psychologists said.

Nine months after the attack, 644 of the officers who had spent most of their time at Ground Zero were evaluated. Knour said that by and large the officers’ mental conditions were good, but he couldn’t say the same about their physical shape.

“They had been working in unsanitary conditions for months and some were beginning to show symptoms,” Knour said. “Most had also put on weight since their eating patterns had been interrupted and well-meaning volunteers were always giving them food.”

Knour said it was also somewhat surprising that those officers who had spent so much time at Ground Zero performing heroically were more than willing to resume their normal work assignments and to get on with their lives.

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