WNY group helps police officers cope with traumatic event

“They’re human beings, too,” Goss said. “The same thing has happened to them as it would you under the same circumstances.”

Mike Baggerman
May 26, 2020 - 9:00 pm
Captain Fred Foels talks to officers at the scene of a shooting on Morgan Street. May 26, 2020 (WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman)

Captain Fred Foels talks to officers at the scene of a shooting on Morgan Street. May 26, 2020 (WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman)

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TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WBEN) – Police and other first responders are used to seeing disturbing scenes on a regular basis.

Counseling a police officer who goes through a traumatic moment like what was experienced on Tuesday morning in the City of Tonawanda is a difficult task, according to Cindy Goss, who heads the “Catch a Falling Star” program that is dedicated to first responders.

“They see more in a day than most of us see in an entire lifespan,” Goss said. “They’re a very difficult population to work with because they’re not taught to be self-disclosures. They’re the ones that are taught to respond and to be in control. It’s difficult sometimes to break through that culture or those barriers of why they put that front up. Their image in the community is being strong and nothing can penetrate them, which is the opposite of what we teach in the academy.”

Detective David Ljiljanich, a 19-year veteran of the police force, was identified by several outlets as the officer who was shot four times on Tuesday while he and other officers were investigating a shooting on Morgan Street near Seymour Street. The detective was hit twice in his bulletproof vest but was also shot near his hip and groin.

Ljilanich survived the shooting and is expected to be released from ECMC sometime Wednesday, according to multiple reports.

Tonawanda Police Captain Fred Foels was also shot at during the investigation and was not injured.

He was among six officers who were shot at.

It was the first time in his career, which spans more than three decades, he was shot at.  

Foels said they will be working with Goss in the coming days for counseling with the shooting.

“We were already in contact with her,” Foels said. “She came out to the scene already in her mind just to see what happened. We’ve already reached out to her. She’s great.”

Police in Tonawanda previously worked with Goss for counseling in situations like the attempted murder of Jessica Cameron at a Tim Horton’s in 2018.

Catch a Falling Star helps coordinate counseling options specifically to first responders and is able to do that thanks to 30 years of advocating on behalf of this community.

“We know that if we have therapists in our community that we put on our referral list that these are therapists who understand their culture,” Goss said. “They understand why they laugh and joke about things most people find horrendous, why they think things are funny when nobody else is laughing, why they quiet down and don’t communicate where other people may communicate. They need to understand the dynamics of the family as well.”

Goss could not discuss the specifics of Tuesday’s shooting in Tonawanda but said they emphasize the need for officers to open up about what happened.

“As I teach in the academy, an untreated critical incident can and will turn into post-traumatic stress disorder,” Goss said. “What we do and why we do what we do is to help you to stay okay. It’s to help you to work through what you experienced so you can manage that as you move forward in your life to minimize the stress impact as you move along in your career.”

The counseling services are also available for family members of first responders, including for children who could be impacted by the injury or death of a parent.

Goss said that the public at large aren’t aware that officers have become “prey” in recent times.

“They seek them out just sitting in a vehicle, not even responding to a call, and officers are being taken out,” she said. “You take this additional burden that we’ve never had before and they become prey. They look at the public as to why? They look to the public – they’re not getting support. They’re being criticized and scrutinized all the time. We all understand there’s those few officers that don’t represent the majority of the officers who are out there working and forfeiting their families, health, and lives for people who are complete strangers to them. This is what they do. This is the job they took.”

Goss said she wants people to look at police officers and think of them as a father, wife, or somebody’s son.

“They’re human beings, too,” Goss said. “The same thing has happened to them as it would you under the same circumstances.”

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