In Aftermath of Watertown Shootout, Police Created Group to Help Officers Deal with on the Job Stress

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Thursday, April 19, 2018, marked the fifth anniversary of the day that Watertown Police faced the Boston Marathon Bombers in a shootout on the streets of East Watertown, but at the Watertown Police Station there was little fanfare to mark the day. 

“It’s another day at work, here,” said Police Chief Michael Lawn, who added that officers were treated to breakfast by H & K Insurance.

The department’s roster of uniformed personnel in 2018 includes all the officers involved in the shootout five years ago, Lawn said, despite the fact that they faced suspects armed with guns and pressure-cooker bombs in action that lasted about eight minutes.

Nationally, officers involved in shooting while on duty have a much higher rate of leaving the job, but Watertown has managed to beat the odds.

“Why? Who’s to say?” Lawn said. “Part of it is they did what they had to and want to continue to serve the Town.”

That answer, however, may not be giving credit where credit’s due. Since the shootout, Lawn said, the Watertown Police, and other area police departments, have created a Critical Incident Stress Team to help officers deal with the difficult situations they face on the job.

“It is not just for incidents like in 2013,” Lawn said. “Traumatic incidents could happen every day. Officers respond to scenes with young children and to gruesome accidents. The fact that we have the resources available is great.”

In the days after the shootout, Watertown Police officers met with a team of people from the Federal level who work with law enforcement after they have been in high-stress situations, Lawn said. The stress team returned a week later, six months afterward, and a year later. Members of the Federal team continue to check in periodically to make sure the officers are doing OK — all of them, Lawn said, not just those directly involved.

While assistance came from the Federal level after the Marathon, it would not be available all the time, Lawn said. The local stress group grew out of a need recognized by local departments.

“At the time, we relied on Boston’s Stress Team, but they were tied up with everything (after the Marathon Bombing),” Lawn said.

Watertown has joined with police in Cambridge, Belmont, Newton, Waltham, Arlington, Brookline, Everett, and Chelsea to create the Critical Incident Stress Team.

Still, it can be hard for the Watertown Police to escape the memories of the Bombing and the Shootout. The burial of Yarmouth Police Sgt. Sean Gannon occurred Wednesday, on the five-year anniversary of the death of MIT Police Officer Sean Collier, who was killed by the Marathon Bombers.

“A lot of us went down for the burial, and the emotions all came flooding back,” Lawn said.

The recognition of the five-year anniversary of that chaotic day, it could be said, is coming up in a week and a half. The Watertown Police have looked to make something positive out of the aftermath of the bombings and shootout by creating the Watertown Strong 5K Run and Walk. This year will be the fourth annual race, and it will take place on the morning of Sunday, April 29. The race begins and ends at Tufts Health Plan and the course goes through the intersection of Laurel Street and Dexter Avenue, the location of the shootout.

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