Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement: Required reading you will actually enjoy and use

Isabelle Hajek, Staff Writer

“If you’re a cop, you’re going to love this book. It could change your life. It might even save your life, your career, your home life,” says the foreword of Kevin Gilmartin’s “Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement: A Guide for Officers and Their Families,” written by Dr. Alexis Artwohl.

Gilmartin wrote this book after 20 years in law enforcement with additional experience as a behavioral science consultant. As a decorated scientist, he consults in both the United States and Canada teaching various police skills, such as hostage negotiation and law enforcement survival strategies.

In a short 142 pages, Gilmartin takes a critical approach on law enforcement careers and their impacts on workers and families to create a comprehensive manual for each party. He outlines the emotional, physical and social toll on law enforcement and their families to provide a clear and concise text on mediating the demand of the job by all people involved. Unlike the typical classroom textbook or peer-reviewed article, Gilmartin uses plain language and a simple structure to communicate difficult and emotionally taxing topics.

The book begins with an explanation of why individuals choose to pursue a career in law enforcement, what makes them stay in the field and what prompts them to leave. This section informs those outside of the field and allows those in the field to introspect on their reasoning for choosing the career. Gilmartin then introduces the goal of the text: teaching survival. He defines and then operationalizes survival to include not only the physical health of individuals but mental health, as well. The intersection of physical and mental health is synthesized throughout this section in the discussion surrounding law enforcement personnel suicides.

Next, the reader is presented with the question of, “Are the changes inevitable?”, positing that the way law enforcement trauma and risk is managed must change in order for the rate of survival to increase. As with any good policy analyst, Gilmartin outlines and defines the problem in his fourth section, identifying the perspective of law enforcement to be a leading factor in their penchant for survival, specifically citing cynicism. The following three sections are dedicated to explaining the phenomena of hypervigilance conceptually, biologically and as a long-term condition. Once again, Gilmartin leans on text formatting and diagrams to punctuate his points and clearly communicate factual information.

The final section, in congruence with the main theme, contains instructions on how a law enforcement officer becomes an emotional survivor. The focus of this section is the social interactions of law enforcement outside of their role. Gilmartin prepares the reader for one, final instance of introspection, asking after a series of case studies, “Which officer loved his family and children more… who saw police work as a ‘career not a crusade’?” This last thought exercise is answered for the reader, emphasizing mental health to explain that while they both loved their family, only one of them was a survivor.

This text is a staple for not only law enforcement officers and academics, but for anyone interested in policing issues. The book’s plain language and brevity provide a phenomenal introduction to the subject of police psychology. As a lesser-known sub-field in the discipline, the book capitalizes on the common understanding of psychology as a practice meant to help with mental health and expands that understanding by applying it to the context of the law enforcement field.