VANGUARD: Greg, I want to thank you for this opportunity to interview you today. Hopefully we won't take too much of your time because I know you're a busy gentleman.
SANCIER: It's an honor, Juan. Thanks very much for considering me for this.
VANGUARD:I know you thought it was kind of surprising that I would ask this of you, and I had to go through all the ranks to ask permission to get to you, but we're here.
SANCIER: Well, all the hints I kept throwing to you across the room probably helped, especially since we're in the same office now.
VANGUARD:Now, were you placed in my office because I needed close attention, or are you here because YOU need to be looked after?
SANCIER: I will neither confirm nor deny any allegations that I've been told about you, but no. No, I wasn't.
VANGUARD:You're a good doctor.
VANGUARD:Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
SANCIER: I was born and raised in Palo Alto and attended Palo Alto schools. I think my parents moved there from San Francisco in 1949; my dad was in WWII and they came from the east to San Francisco, and then finally moved to Palo Alto.
VANGUARD:What did your dad do for a living?
SANCIER: My dad was an accountant; his son did not inherit his math skills. I have two older sisters. My dad was a major when he got out of the military, and they wanted to make him a lieutenant colonel, but he said, "No, I'm going home."
VANGUARD:What high school did you attend?
SANCIER: I went to Palo Alto High. The Vikings.
VANGUARD:Yep. Play any sports there?
SANCIER: I did. I played sports for seven years straight-football, soccer and baseball.
VANGUARD:Well, you're built like a middle linebacker. Were you a linebacker or were you a fullback?
SANCIER: Well, uh, neither (laughing). That was 40 pounds ago!
VANGUARD:Or were you 5'8" and 135 pounds?
SANCIER: No, I wasn't that either; I was a fleet-footed quarterback actually. We ran a lot and if you played football then, you blocked too, which I loved to do. So I played quarterback-I think I was considered a running, throwing, old-school quarterback.
VANGUARD:You must have hit a lot of your linemen in the back.
SANCIER: (laughing) Can we delete that?
SANCIER: (laughing) Uh, it was kind of a sprint-out offense, so "neener," no I didn't.
VANGUARD:All righty then. And college?
SANCIER: I attended Menlo Junior College which back in the day was only two years. It was a fine business school; now it's a 4-year NAIA school. But back then I got a full scholarship to attend school and play football and baseball there, and I had to work off part of it. It was right down the road and I knew one of the administrators and I knew it would be a good way to start my education in college.
VANGUARD:So your degree was in…
SANCIER: I received a two-year AA degree. In my junior year of high school I got recruited to go to West Point but that year we were 0-10 in football, and the quarterback who started left to be a single wing quarterback at another school so I was left as the starting quarterback. It was an honor to be recruited by West Point, but at the time I knew I wasn't ready so I stayed in the area and went to Menlo College. The first semester I lived at home and eventually moved on-campus, and went from there.
VANGUARD:So what got you interested in law enforcement?
SANCIER: Menlo College is in Atherton so would see Atherton police cars now and then come onto the campus. After Menlo, I wanted to be a professional baseball player. At Menlo, I took my first psychology class which I fell in love with. I was selected to the first team All-State junior college baseball team. I did play football but I knew baseball was what I wanted to do, and I eventually wanted to sign a contract. I "walked on" at UCLA which was a big mistake because they were so good they won the Pac-8 at the time-now it's the Pac-10-but during the time I was at UCLA I came home and a good friend of mine who was a former officer here, Jeff Munks, invited me on a ride-along with him. It was during Thanksgiving break, and it just so happened that it was a really busy night, even for Atherton, and I thought, Wow, this might be interesting. I still wanted to play professional baseball, but when I walked on at UCLA…well, that was kind of a tough year. I got engaged; dumped, I flunked out, and got cut from the baseball team…and not in that particular order.
VANGUARD:Now I understand why you're a psychologist.
SANCIER: Well, sometimes our goals and aspirations don't go the way we want. I kept playing baseball, and then after I did the ride-along with Jeff, I still wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I kept up my education, transferred from UCLA to University of LaVerne where I tried out for the baseball team and got cut from that team as well. I still felt like I was good enough to play. Then a friend of mine suggested I try out for the San Francisco Giants Winter League team, which I did, and they liked me. Ultimately the Giants scouts invited me to play on Sundays with all of the professionals; if you came out on Sundays that meant you were going to sign a contract, which was pretty exciting. All the time, I was thinking that law enforcement might be in my future someday. After I came back from UCLA I went on a couple more ride-alongs with Jeff and decided to continue with my education. I went back to the University of LaVerne, and began studying psychology as part of my curriculum. I loved it, and back then you'd walk into the professor's office and there would be all the psychology books on the wall and other scholarly things you see in a professor's office. There were two very successful psychologists; Dr. Dayton Root and Dr. Harry Schrickel, and I started to get to know them on a 1:1 basis. I thought psychology might be something I wanted to study. I graduated from there, with a B.A. in Psychology; but I also worked as a security guard while at LaVerne so I got to meet a lot of cops. My first real interaction with the cops was one night when a sniper shot at the LaVerne Police Department, not even 500 feet from our office, and as we were doing a search across the campus, the LA County Sheriffs Department SWAT Team was doing a flush across the campus and they saw my partner and I. At that moment, a guy threw a firecracker from the dorms and it landed right next to us and I got to find out what it was like to see 15 Remington-870 shotguns at the same time. We were thrown to the ground, abused a little bit, but so be it. They quickly realized we were plain clothed security guards and after that I started talking to deputies and asking them how they got into police work. I had a guy in one of my classes who was involved in something back then called the LEEP Program, and was a LA county sheriffs deputy. He suggested I consider the LA County Sheriff. My goal was still to sign a baseball contract; I was playing for the Giants, it didn't happen but I still knew that law enforcement was something I wanted to consider. I made a pact with myself: if I didn't sign a contract by the time my roommate got married, I would come back to Northern California and look into law enforcement. I didn't sign, which was fine. I loved it and I went as far as I wanted to go, but then I got bitten by the law enforcement bug. I came back to the Bay Area and became a salesperson for the "In-Step" Adidas store and was promoted to manager.
VANGUARD:Before we go there, let me ask you: you're married?
SANCIER: I am.
SANCIER: Next September will be 20 years. I met my wife while I was a cop, so law enforcement has done a lot for me. (laughs) We have two sons; one is 13 and the other 15.
VANGUARD:Anyone following dad in the baseball footsteps?
SANCIER: Just a little. They're both great athletes; my 13-yr-old is in the All-Stars right now and doing quite well, and my 15-yr-old was in the Pony League and he's a great ball player. He also plays basketball; we ski and golf together, so we're definitely a "jock" family. My wife plays golf too. I met her when she was an ER nurse at Good Sam Hospital and I was on patrol in District Tom. It was like the whole Nurse Ratched thing behind the sliding glass window. I walked in and started writing a report, and she took exception to the way I was using her emergency room. One thing led to another, and we got married.
VANGUARD:Wow, stay away from emergency rooms. Just kidding.
VANGUARD:So how many years do you have on the department?
SANCIER: Next April will be 25.
VANGUARD:So you're right on the border, there.
SANCIER: I am. Not that I know that there are 209 days left before I can retire. That has nothing to do with it.
VANGUARD:Absolutely not. It appears you're having a wonderful time here. What units have you worked with us?
SANCIER: It's probably not the sexiest thing ever; I knew that when I started back to school that there would have to be some allowances. When I was with Atherton PD, I got a chance to become a Hostage Negotiator. At that time there was a guy named Dr. Harvey Schlossberg from NYPD, who was the principal in the movie "Dog Day Afternoon"-the movie, and ultimately formal Hostage Negotiations was patterned after that incident. I got a chance to see him at SJSU and at that time, Tom Frazier was one of the instructors as so was Dave Byers and I thought, Wow, maybe someday I could do something like that. He was a doctor and an officer, and I thought he'd be someone worth shaping my life after. I told the chief I would stay at Atherton at least two years or so and then I'd look to move on, which I did. I got hired here after taking the test with the city-they had a $60M bond issue and they lost. That was in '83 which would have made my badge number lower. The test results were fresh; they called me another time and asked if I was still interested and I said yes, so I spent about five years there and then I came to San José in 1985.
VANGUARD:You notice how that $60M bond is always the same $60M that pops up. It's the same number constantly.
SANCIER: You hear that number a lot, don't you?
VANGUARD:So where are you presently assigned?
SANCIER: I'm in the Crisis Management Unit. I got into the unit in May of 2003.
VANGUARD:Now the CMU also used to be known as CIT. Where did CIT come from?
SANCIER: The CIT concept comes out of our unit. Back in the day, Chief Lansdowne saw there was a need because of the interaction with the mentally ill on the streets. Some of those incidents were lethal. Memphis had started a program in 1988 called the CIT Program which was developed by then-Sergeant Sam Cochran who recently retired. At the time, Sergeant Brenda Herbert was sent by Chief Lansdowne back to Memphis to see about the training. When she came back, she said it was something SJPD needs to consider and evaluate. The chief did, and shortly thereafter in March of 1999 we had the first CIT class-I think you'll remember, Juan, because you were there. The Crisis Management Unit was founded as part of that training. The initial idea was to have the CIT training but it soon blossomed into several other things that we currently still do. The actual training consists of a 40-hr block that teaches officers how to recognize conditions such as Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, and Major Depression. We also cover Personality Disorders and many others things as well.
VANGUARD:So who makes up this Crisis Management Unit?
SANCIER: Right now it's Sergeant Teresa Jeglum and myself. We answer to DC Andy Galea.
VANGUARD:It's obviously a lot of work for just two of you. Ideally this would be a 4 -5 person unit.
SANCIER: It is a lot of work, and sure, it could house that many people.
VANGUARD:So this whole concept originated from Memphis.
SANCIER: The CIT segment did; the Crisis Management Unit term came from Chief Lansdowne and Brenda Herbert.
VANGUARD:What is your background for this position?
SANCIER: As I mentioned, I became a hostage negotiator in 1981; that's where I got the official training. Then I kept up with that, came to SJPD, and I think I was here 4-5 years before I got on the negotiations team. Back then it was Dave Byers and Jess Gonzalez and Aubrey Parrott and Sgt. Walt Robinson-they were great role models for me when I came into the unit-but I also kept up going to school. As I was becoming a street officer here, I was still going to graduate school and had gotten my master's degree in 1989 and then took a few years off to get acclimated here. After my wife and I got married, I said I wanted to go for my PhD. in Clinical Psychology. At the time, I had no kids so it was just a timing issue. I went back to Western Graduate School in Palo Alto which is a graduate school of psychology. I went there part-time, and it took me ten years to get my PhD. in Clinical Psychology. At the time, Brenda Herbert who was a negotiator on the team encouraged me to just keep going to grad school-she had been doing it as well, and she had gotten what's called her "ABD" or "All But Dissertation." She completed all her coursework but then she started up the promotional ladder. I saw that and thought there's no way I could do everything, so I had to make a decision about going the promotional route or going my own way, so I decided to continue on in school. Ultimately it led to me getting my PhD. and the timing was amazing. Brenda said, "You need to look at this unit," and I said I would. As I did, I got my PhD. and I remember going to Lansdowne's office with Wheatley present-"Wheat" had originally written me a letter to get into graduate school when he was my commander in the training unit, and he'd been my boss in training-frankly, there are a lot of people that were instrumental in helping me complete my Doctorate. Those two men were tremendous role models for me in regard to the entire process. I had to do certain things that were graduate school-related while I was on duty and they were great about it, but as long as I answered my calls and was writing my reports, filling on calls, etc. they were really forthcoming with giving me that opportunity. When I got my doctorate I asked to meet with Lansdowne and Wheatley together and I said, "You both realize I don't have to be here anymore," and we had a good laugh. They asked what I wanted and I said, "If I can be honest, I'd like to join this unit." There weren't people backed up out the door because it was known as the "touchy-feely" unit, and they asked if I wanted to be a sergeant or lieutenant or captain, and I said, "No disrespect, but I don't. I want to help our people." They agreed to talk about it. At the time "Double-D"-Dave Delgado was the D/C in BFO-and I was walking by his office one day. He said, "Hey, I need to talk to you," and I said, "What's up, boss?" and he said: "You're in." At that time Brad Barnett was in CMU as the sergeant, and I knew then I had a real chance to impact people because of my degree and I knew that if I handled it right, I could really help the people I cared most about, and that's us.
VANGUARD:How many officers are CIT certified within our PD?
SANCIER: Right now we're approaching 400; of course we've got attrition related to people retiring and people who have left the department, gone to other units, etc. We're trying to keep up the numbers, so we've got those 400 plus about 125 dispatchers and call takers, and about 150 outside agencies. Once again, Brenda Herbert started the process in 1999 and now we're ten years into it. We were the first and only major department in California to implement the training. Other agencies have similar training, but even LAPD right now doesn't have what we do. They do something similar online, but just because of sheer numbers they have trouble doing the training.
VANGUARD:Right now how many classes are we doing per year?
SANCIER: We were doing two per year, and I've been transferred here to the Training Unit because the goal now is to put on additional classes and academies. The goal is to train the recruits, so we'll be having our 25th academy in November. We'll be training our FTO's with the goal of training the recruits up to 40 hours. They'll go into the FTO Program, go onto the streets and come back for the 40 hours of training.
VANGUARD:This class training of the recruits-apparently it's been on the blackboard for quite some time. This is not a new idea that just happened to come up, and it's an idea that has been endorsed by Chief Lansdowne and Chief Davis.
SANCIER: Exactly, and it doesn't take a genius to know that we've had a lot of successes with the CIT training, and part of that is we've had officers that have gone through the training-people like you-who then come back for a panel discussion and relate their experiences to the class. We've had a lot of success stories and we've saved a lot of lives-I've been out on a lot of those calls myself, and you no doubt have as well. A lot of that is anecdotal, but we know that some of the research that's being conducted-there's a study being done by a psychologist named Watson back east that reviewed the success of the program, and part of my doctoral dissertation included research on the success of the CIT Program. We'll be the first department to actually subject our recruits to this amount of training. Currently in California they only go through eight hours of training, 5-6 hours of which is disability training and then several hours of training on the mentally ill. The trend now will be to do the 40-hour block which will be the complete CIT academy, much like we've trained you and other officers.
VANGUARD:So again, we'll be the department in the forefront leading the rest of the country.
VANGUARD:Lately there have been some stories in the media regarding our dealings with mentally ill citizens. These are people that SJPD officers routinely come into contact with. Do you have an approximate number as to how many calls we respond to on a yearly basis?
SANCIER: The current statistic on a national level is anywhere from 7-10%. I think our numbers reflect that. Based on that, the CIT philosophy has now gone state-wide; it's a state-wide association because the agencies in California realize that this training is probably one of the most successful programs in law enforcement in the last 30 years. I knew when I started in the Training Unit back in 1990 and I got the proud task of teaching "Verbal Judo" and "Cultural Di…"…Becky, you're laughing at something.
SANCIER: I got to teach "Cultural Diversity" which was another crowd-pleaser. I actually got to teach a class on mental illness that was a 2-hour block. I figured back then that it would become an issue that would never go away, and here I am 17 years later, and the issues and concerns have grown and become even more devastating. We know that this training is critical and necessary. I remember approaching now-retired Sergeant Dave Newman when he was in the MERGE Unit. I threw down the gauntlet and I said, "Okay, tough guy. I've gone through your training down at MERGE. Why don't you take a look and see what this is about?" Being the honorable man of his word, he did, and he got a lot out of it to the point where he's now working for the county and helping them with their training.
VANGUARD:So getting back to the media coverage and concerns, what is the department doing to educate the media when it comes to these issues?
SANCIER: You may recall that there was an editorial in the June 30 Merc by Scott Herhold that happens to be right in front of me. I remember Scott did attend a training that was put on by Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office. Unfortunately we had an incident recently that involved a man who was allegedly severely mentally ill, and we shot and killed him. There's an outcry in the community as to the types of training being provided; well, we've been doing this training since 1999 as you know. It's a complete tragedy that this happened-it was reported that the officers tried to use the taser and for whatever reason it failed. The unfortunate part about it is that no degree of training will help with some mentally ill civilians. I'm currently reading a book by Dr. D. Fuller Torrey called The Insanity Offense. Dr. Torrey is one of the foremost authorities in the world on dangers with dealing with the mentally ill, and the amount of research I've been doing lately leads to the unfortunate conclusion that if people have been diagnosed as severely mentally ill with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or severe depression; if they have some history of violence or substance abuse; if they're non-treated which can mean they were on some type of medication and they went off for some reason, they might self-medicate with street drugs; because of any of those factors, when there's a violent confrontation and the police get called, sadly and tragically the violence escalates to a point where unfortunately sometimes people lose their lives.
VANGUARD:Back on that, it appears lately that there are some other people with expertise, and you mentioned in that article. I know they're going outside of it, but sometimes since we are the largest department and we are the groundbreakers for the State of California, is there a reason why you weren't interviewed regarding the issue, or why you weren't asked to give your opinion?
SANCIER: I had been called by our Press Information Officers a few weeks back, but for whatever reason, that interview never took place even though I was fully able to do so. Besides us, the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office is doing a great job at the training as well; they rotate around the county to different police agencies; I think the most recent one was in Milpitas. Dr. Agi Schenley who's a very fine clinician, came from Monterey County as my counterpart, and Sergeant Troy Bozer, who you know, is in their Training Department conducted similar training to what we hold. There are some variations on some of their curriculum just because it adheres better to their philosophies as an agency. Nonetheless, they've been very successful with the CIT Training which has gone county-wide.
VANGUARD:So these two people you just mentioned are the workhorses.
SANCIER: They are the heart and soul of the CIT Program in Santa Clara County, absolutely.
VANGUARD:With the Sheriff's Department taking this on now as well, obviously they're piggy-backing on us or getting most of their information from us since we're the leader. There has to be some continuity, right?
SANCIER: Absolutely. You want to make sure the program adheres to the original philosophies that Sam Cochran put out, and that's why I helped other agencies like San Mateo County Sheriff's Office get their training going. I went out there with my good friend, now retired deputy Will Pickens; who is finishing his Doctorate in education-we started in law enforcement together at Atherton PD. Once again, there are certain variations from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and agency to agency. Being a large department, I'll give you an example: we recently started training our officers in something called "Excited Delirium, or ED" which is becoming a national phenomenon related to some sudden death issues. Sergeant Ed Flosi is doing a great job in instructing our officers what to do if you see certain behaviors demonstrated by a civilian on a call. We've done that. Another big thing we've adopted from the Sheriff's program is Autism, because that's become a huge issue that we're dealing with. We kind of bounce ideas off of each other. Last week I went to a class with a psychologist that was treating severely mentally ill children-that's a phenomenon that we're seeing more of. Our relationship with the Sheriff's Office and Dr. Schenley and with Troy Bozer is excellent and so we're constantly talking with each other, discussing trends, but I'd be less than honest if I didn't say I use those letters after my name to contact experts throughout the country to stay current on trends-people like Dr. Torrey and other psychologists. One of the things we'll be looking at within our department shortly is Sleep Deprivation. We know the Sheriff's Office just paid off a settlement in that tragic accident where the deputy killed two bike riders. So we know that sleep deprivation is a huge issue, but that's just a side issue I'm looking to implement here. We know we all go through it since we work shift work. I have to say that our department has been great about letting me put on my R&D hat to look at other things we're affected by.
VANGUARD:On calls that include the mentally ill, my concern is about the officers. I know that when I went through the first academy, being the only midnight CIT officer, the only bilingual CIT officer, in 16 work days I had over 80+ calls. What are we doing as a follow-up with those officers?
SANCIER: One of my biggest goals is to address the needs of our own people. We know that being an officer for 20-30 years means you'll be subjected to enough stress that it will eventually affect you in some way. We know that physically or psychologically in this business, the latest statistic from the International Association for Chiefs of Police was that our average age of death is still 66.5. I may be wrong on that, but the fact is within our profession, we're one of the leaders in divorce, suicide-we're seeing an epidemic in California with that-alcoholism, depression and PTSD. The sad thing is in all the years I've been doing this, those numbers haven't changed much. That became a primary concern of mine, so to answer your question, I knew that when I came into this unit, it was originally focused on the CIT training. Sgt. Barnett was instrumental in continuing on the CIT training. But ultimately Sergeant Rick Williams, (and now Sgt. Teresa Jeglum) and myself started seeing many of the things our officers are confronted with on a daily basis. So, the unit became a vehicle, for getting help related to PEER Support and Critical Incident Stress issues. Whereas in the past the burden had been with the chaplains, now our unit began to work with the chaplains. We know that at some point this profession affects us all differently. You go on that third SIDS death call, or maybe you're having trouble at home, or you're involved in a shooting, or you witness a particularly tragic event-like a baby drowning and you have a baby the same age, or whatever the case may be. A critical incident is unique to all of us. What is a critical incident for Juan Reyes or Greg Sancier may not be the same for someone else, and we know that, so without becoming Dr. Freud here, we know that our upbringing and other factors make us who we are. One day you're having fun on the street and you're in a knock-down, drag-out fight; we know the nature of our business doesn't allow us to come forward and say, "Hey, I'm really hurting right now." In some circumstances Sergeant Jeglum and I, over a period of time, may see things crumble for an officer. An officer will say that s/he is fine until someone notices that they're not. We get called periodically to address some of those things, and that's way under the radar-you'll never hear about it-which is how we have to operate. It has to be "confidential" or else we wouldn't be able to help people. So, you're right. Things happen to us in this business; the numbers bear that out nationally and now we're seeing that no one wants to do this business anymore. We can't hire people to replace those that are retiring, so we need to look at law enforcement in an entirely different light than we have been.
VANGUARD:With the calls we go on, we have things inside. Another area I think needs to be addressed a bit more-and I know the video has been out recently-is departmental suicides.
SANCIER: Absolutely. Tough subject, but Sergeant Jeglum and myself have to address those things. Several years ago I was in the unit, got the call that night from Sergeant Rick Williams who is, frankly, an amazing guy-a cop's cop. I had the pleasure of working under Rick, and he called me one night and said, "It's a bad one." I said, "Okay, boss, what's up?" He said, "Did you know Mark McDaniel?" I said, "Yes," and Rick said, "He just killed himself." Mark and I came on the department together. I worked with him in patrol for a year, although we went our separate ways after that. I did socialize with him a little bit through other people in the department that we came on with. Mark was one of the last people that I would have ever expected to kill himself, but he was going through some severe personal issues. I guess he was led to believe that he and his wife might get back together after having been separated-it didn't go that way-and then he went to the church they got married in and killed himself. That night I came in with Rick, and we were up for probably 36 hours after that. We conducted about 20-25 debriefings because departmental people were coming into work that day who knew nothing about it. Actually another tragedy occurred in the hours just prior to that; one of our retired lieutenants, Bob Fazio, was on a cruise and died of Spinal Meningitis while on the cruise. So I'll never forget that day-it was almost like, "Who are you here for?" There were two people we had lost in such a short time, and it was a really bizarre and tragic situation. So Rick and I worked to counsel these people who had known and/or worked with and/or loved both of these officers. I told myself then and there that I would never take another call like that again, until recently. In the space of 13 days, Didi Bravo-Carney killed herself, and then John Cahill. I saw Didi every day at briefing. My only experience with her was talking about sports-she was a big sports fan and so am I, and so we would discuss games we'd watched, and talk about her dad about how much he loved the Giants and 49'ers, and then the call came in around noon from DC Don Anders that Didi had committed suicide-Like so many others I was in shock. A couple weeks later, John Cahill killed himself. We joined forces and closed ranks; we got people to go to our Employee Assistance Program; we conducted debriefings, and other than when Simpson and Silva were killed, that was the hardest two weeks of my life at the department.
So as I mentioned, there is currently an epidemic of police suicides-we don't know why. The CHP has had their challenges; LA, San Diego, etc. We conducted that department-wide suicide training to increase awareness. We want people to know that they can reach out. The unfortunate part of our business is that so often we keep things to ourselves and become so good at it…my fear as a clinician is that we become so good at controlling our emotions, we think we can control those things, and we can't. When you get home, you only have so much control, and sometimes the issues at home compound themselves with the issues at work, and there is a "perceived" complete loss of control. We think we control a lot, but we can lose that in a moment. We have a great relationship with our EAP Program right now. Teresa and I respond to people-we have psychologists and psychiatrists that we know-so one point of this whole interview is to reach out to people-even retirees-who might be reluctant to say that they have things going on in their lives. We care. We want to reach out to whomever we can. We know there are people who may have trouble admitting it, but they may be in a lot of emotional or psychological pain and either be embarrassed, ashamed or feel guilty about there condition. They may even feel humiliated about their condition when they think about who they were once. We want to try and ensure that we don't lose anyone again.
VANGUARD:So when we have issues, we can always relate that to you. Who do YOU talk to?
SANCIER: (laughs) That's a great question. I'm a Christian. I came home from a really rough call a few years ago and talked to my wife, and I looked at her and, God love her, I said, "I need something else." And she said, "I know what you mean!"
VANGUARD:"And you're not getting it!!"
SANCIER: (laughs) Yeah!
SANCIER: Delete from the transcript! Well if you want to go there, we can.
VANGUARD:(laughs) No, no, no, no!
SANCIER: So, Juan, back to your question: I had to do some soul-searching. Certainly I have colleagues in the business when I need to. One night, I got a call about one of our officers who was in real trouble, and I've gone out several times not sure if I'm going to come home again. I work with people who are suicidal, and that's what I do, and my wife knows that, and I get called out for my negotiation skills sometimes too since I am the Senior Hostage Negotiator. I know that sometimes when I go to a call-out, that's all I have: that prayer thinking, "God, get me through this somehow, please," because I don't have any way of knowing how it's going to go, but I do have clinicians that I can talk to. There are a couple of people in the department I can rely on, including Dick Fairhurst. He was just an amazing guy who Teresa and Rick Williams and I went to on a regular basis. He was so wise and knowledgeable. Certainly we have those people within our department, too. I do talk to my wife-she's far more intelligent than I'll ever be. We have a very good relationship in terms of communication, and as you know, being a baseball guy, my sons give me a lot of relief. I coach both of them and I'm a hitting instructor; I work out and I enjoy the outdoors, so I have a lot of things that keep me going, but I'll be honest, there are times when it gets rough like it did in that one-month span. I'm blessed to have a lot of great people in my life, honestly.
VANGUARD:I know that we're coming down to the end, and there is something that the state legislature has approved-a certain California law, but each county has to approve it in order for it to be implemented. Can you tell us about that?
SANCIER: That's called "Laura's Law" which piggybacks off of "Kendra's Law." "Kendra's Law" was enacted in New York State when a young lady was on a subway platform and a man, who had been in and out of mental health institutions, came up behind her and pushed her in front of a subway car and killed her. A psychological autopsy was done, and they determined what happened to her clearly, but they also investigated this guy's background in terms of his mental illness, and they found that he had been in and out of mental health institutions-they knew he was violent-and actually fit the criteria of the items I mentioned earlier.
"Laura's Law" is very similar-in Nevada County here in California, a young lady was helping out at some social services or mental health offices. A young man came in with a gun and shot and killed her and two other people, and wounded a fourth. The law was enacted with the help of her parents because clearly, once again, we knew this man was in and out of mental health institutions; he was clearly dangerous, demonstrated a history of violence and all the other criteria I mentioned earlier, so Laura's Law was passed. The only issue now is that because of the way it was set up, counties can adopt it or not. L.A. County has, Santa Clara County has not thus far. I'm going to see if there's a way to make that happen in our county because unfortunately the shooting that we had most recently is a reflection of that need. The officers who arrived at the scene knew nothing of this person, other than that he had assaulted his brother with a knife. Along with several other instances we've had in our county, whether it resulted in a violent act or a death, demonstrates they met the criteria of the potential for violence and therefore presented a public safety threat. Research has shown that when all of the following are present: mental illness, previous violence, substance abuse and non-treatment, that a very real potential for violence exists. That is the focal point of Laura's Law.
VANGUARD:I would think that maybe Supervisor Dave Cortese or George Shirakawa would lend an ear to this. Is the sheriff or chief pushing for this at all, or is it something you're doing?
SANCIER: I'm not aware of how much they're aware of it at this point. We interact a lot with the people from NAMI-National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. Sharon Roth has helped us with our training-she's the former director. The current director is John Mitchem who is actually quoted in the article I referred to. They're aware of it, but my primary goal is to ensure that I can try to see an improvement in quality of life, regardless of whether it's for people in the community or for our own officers. That's all I'm interested in is the saving and preservation of life. I know it's a different goal in terms of being a police officer; related to my specific duties, but I know that when someone is injured, shot or killed-whether it's a civilian or a sworn officer-that legislation is out there, and if we can enable that to be used, the likelihood of people being killed or injured will be minimized.
VANGUARD:So what are we doing with mentally ill clients that are non-English speaking?
SANCIER: At this point, there are counseling services that can help, but the problem is that in many communities throughout the country, there is a stigma and discrimination against actually even being mentally ill. It's a two-fold situation. First, there is a stigma against the mentally ill, and second, people that have mental illness don't see the need for such treatment. In the book it states that up to 2-4 million people in our country have schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The problem is called "Anosognosia" which is a term that means people don't realize that they're sick. You may have seen the movie "A Beautiful Mind" with Dr. John Nash. It's like that-he wasn't aware that he was mentally ill, although he was clearly demonstrating psychotic behavior to everyone else. He just didn't see it until the point where he started becoming violent. As the book reflects, people don't realize they have a mental illness; they don't realize how they affect people, but their behavior is such that it becomes severe to the point of being violent, and that becomes a public safety issue which is our concern in law enforcement.
VANGUARD:What are we doing to better prepare our officers when they respond to these incidents with mentally ill people?
SANCIER: Well certainly when our dispatchers put out the information, they try to get as much information from the RP as they can. The problem is whether it is good information or bad information in, the same information goes out; or for that matter, limited information. If we don't get that kind of information responding to a call, then certainly we're not going to be aware of what the officers are rolling in on. The more information we have at our fingertips, the better equipped they are to address the issue. I'm hoping that based on some of these criteria I've mentioned, the more information they have about previous violence or substance abuse, the better informed our officers will be to deal with the situation and make smart decisions prior to getting on-scene. That could mean getting more officers on-scene prior to contact, or getting different kinds of less-lethals there. For obvious reasons I cannot comment on our most recent OIS due to the case being under investigation, but what is clear is this. It is a tragedy that occurred and everyone who is remotely involved with it is suffering from the loss.
VANGUARD:And I understand the family grieves tremendously over that, but at the same time we have to understand that we have several officers that are also grieving, and will do so forever.
SANCIER: Most likely.
VANGUARD:So I think it's important that the media understand that as sad as it is that there was a life taken in that incident, that not only affected the family of the civilian, but the families of the officers as well. Overall, it's long-term damage done.
Can we tag families? Would it be illegal to do that? Years ago when the AIDS scare was ramping up, we'd get a heads-up if we were responding to a call with an active AIDS patient. The FD had brought that out for safety reasons. Is there something that can be done legally to notify our officers when someone has a history of mental illness?
SANCIER: I know that's been discussed, but then you run into HIPAA and ADA as we discussed. Where do you draw the line in terms of public and officer safety? The dispersal of information is critical, and that's why we get the information out that we do. In terms of revealing that someone has a severe mental illness, it's still subject to debate. The ACLU and other agencies will debate that, but as you well know, when you're responding to one of these calls, that information is critical, and the more that we have, the better we can address the problem in a safe fashion. I'm hoping that the powers-that-be address some of those issues because as you mention, it's a complete tragedy for everyone involved-the family, the officers, the community. Is additional training necessary? As I mentioned, we've been doing that training for ten years, but I'm hoping that by the additional training that we come up with, it will empower more officers to use those techniques. Does it always work? Absolutely not. Mental illness is a very complex issue, and we know that because of the chemicals in the body, if they have street drugs on-board or psychotropic medications they're taking, they can have hallucinations or delusions, and all those things combined make it uncertain as to whether additional training will make a difference. If when you arrive on the scene, someone is so severely mentally ill and psychotic that they come after you right away, no amount of dialogue or negotiation is going to stop them. We know that. In fact, I had a good friend on SFPD, Dr. Forrest Fulton, who was a mentor of mine some years ago. He ran their Psychiatric Liaison Unit for years, and he was confronted on the cliffs in San Francisco by a severely mentally ill man. Here Dr. Fulton was a psychologist, he knew all these issues, had done training for years and had to shoot and kill this guy, because despite all of his background, it still ended that way because he had to defend himself.
VANGUARD:We all have so many limited options sometimes.
SANCIER: So true, Juan. We know that many times because of our profession, a lot happens to us emotionally and psychologically that we think we can control but we can't. We have officers that have substance abuse problems, severe depression, PTSD, etc. I'm hopeful that they realize that help is available to them. Sergeant Jeglum or myself or our EAP Program can help. We have several other folks that help us thanks to their psychological backgrounds-clinicians, psychiatrists, etc. I only appeal to people that if something is going on with them, please ask for help. There is no disgrace or humiliation in that. I've been approached by people that retired years ago that said, "Where were you guys when I needed you?" I've talked to several people that were in the Homicide Unit and are still traumatized by events that happened 15 years ago. Why? We don't know. I want the retirees to know that if things are going on with them, they can come to us and we'll help them.
VANGUARD:And if someone wanted to ask for help or look into things further, do you have any references we can look at?
SANCIER: There's the Employee Assistance Program at 800-227-1060; Sergeant Teresa Jeglum is in Room 329 across from BFO. They can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org; they can arrange an appointment by calling 408-277- 4418. There are resources available. I'm a pretty cheap date. If you can buy me a cup of coffee, I can drink it. In all seriousness, we want to ensure that our people have a better quality of life, and if we can help toward that endeavor, we'll do it.
In addition, we do have the County Director of Mental Health. Her name is Dr. Nancy Pena. She fully endorses the concept of our CIT for the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office. I know Nancy very well-I've been on a number of committees with her. Also, people need to be aware of the Mental Health Services Act that was passed years ago. It's known as Prop 63, and it enabled the Sheriff's Office to get their program up and running. The funding for the instructors in SJPD isn't really there-a lot of it is voluntary, but we have a $300 fee that is Post-Plan Four reimbursable. There is also the Santa Clara County Mental Health facility on Enborg Lane; which is called the Urgent Care Clinic. There is an outpatient facility where people in the community can go for mental health treatment. If things come up for people in the community, they can go there. Or, if officers come across someone in the community that doesn't fit the criteria of being "holdable", that is to say: Danger to Self, Others or Gravely Disabled, but is still in need of help, the officers can take them to the outpatient facility. They walk in the doors, give the agency they are with, a brief explanation, and they're 10-8, it's that simple.
VANGUARD:And what's in place for our vets that are coming back from overseas? Is there an affiliation with the VA?
SANCIER: There is. We've been doing some collaborative training at SJSU several weeks ago. We joined with the VA and the services for brain injury for troops or civilians, or anyone who has PTSD. I've got affiliations with the National Center for PTSD in Menlo Park; I've sent officers there. We have officers that are reservists that are coming back and are in various stages of their return. I've referred many of our folks to them. I have contacts with the VA, including Dr. Helena Young. She goes back and forth from San José to Monterey. And the VA here is on Great Oaks, so we can refer people there. Once again it's all confidential, and there are other resources too. If our officers want to see someone with the VA in Menlo Park or Palo Alto, I can arrange that too.
VANGUARD:In all sincerity, I always thought it was a great program. I took it and there have been many nights I wake up kicking the sheets. It's a tremendous job, and I know a lot of officers who are out there do a terrific job when it comes to dealing with mentally ill clients, and continue to do so.
SANCIER: Yes they do.
VANGUARD:Even before the CIT came on-board, officers did a wonderful job with what they had, and I guess with the CIT and the CMU, it's just an enhancement to make our job even better, and easier to recognize those issues. I'm proud to say that SJPD was at the forefront of this. It was a mission that was taken on ten years ago, and as far as I'm concerned, it continues to evolve and be the best program in the county, if not in the state. I thought it was an opportune time to put this out. I think our readers need to know about the things that we're doing and the changes that are forthcoming.
SANCIER: Well I'm glad you think so, and I think for years, we neglected ourselves, and we still do. I don't think we take care of ourselves the way we should. We see that everyday. We hear the stories and confidential information about things that happened to our people. You know that you can't do this job for 25-30 years without having it affect you in some way. All the numbers are out there to support that. Unfortunately, we have a long way to go, but by implementing a lot of these strategies and programs, I think we're going in the right direction. Sergeant Jeglum and I want to ensure that we never get one of those calls about someone taking their life, regardless of whether they're active duty or retired; we don't want anymore of those.
VANGUARD:And I think you're right on-we always put someone else first.
BECKY: What would you say to the officer that's reading this that has the concern about the stigma associated with calling you?
SANCIER: You'll recall that recently in the briefing room there was coverage of the officers that took their own lives. There is a stigma of discrimination against us "macho types" that coming forward and asking for help implies weakness. I have personally taken several officers to get help at what would be considered a "holdable" facility for the mentally ill. Based on the way we structured it, we encouraged the officers to admit themselves because they needed help. I know officers are concerned about losing their jobs, status, future promotions, etc. by being stigmatized, etc. As a reminder if they go "voluntarily" for help they will not lose their guns. I was on the Advisory Commission on Stigma Discrimination, and I said, "I'm a police officer. Do you think I ever get stigmatized, or have prejudice or bias against me?" After some very uncomfortable seat-shifting, people said, "Well of course you do," and I said, "Thank you very much for realizing that." The point is that we're fearful of being stigmatized and discriminated against if we report that we have something going on that's of a severe, psychological nature. We need to clarify that if officers come to us for help, we can handle that. Many times it's not until they hit that tree and are arrested for DUI or some other situation comes up that their issues come to the forefront. A lot of what CIT has done is enable people to see that there's a prevention-intervention philosophy to their situations. In simpler terms: "… maybe it would be wise for me to come forward at the outset and say I have a substance abuse problem,…" or whatever the issue is instead of having a tragedy occur, and then it's too late. Officers need to know that it is in their best interest to come forward and tell us something's happening before things go so far awry that it gets into the hands of administration and increasingly out of our control. The department is very forthcoming with allowing them to get help. Because of how we operate, much of what we do is confidential, and the administration allows us to operate accordingly. Once a situation occurs that is of an illegal nature, then it obviously complicates matters. We'll still try to help, but we have less control in assisting them.
BECKY: If you look through the history and evolution of our police department and back in the seventies, you didn't want to admit anything.
BECKY: We're the strong, we're the courageous, we're the ones people turn to for help. We are the problem-solvers. We don't need help.
BECKY: And I think the officers need to be aware that times have changed. We are more aware of these issues as they relate to police work.
SANCIER: Right. And as I've alluded to many times, we know the numbers are there. They are solid across the board nationally, so we still have a lot of work to do in terms of issues like our stress levels and sleep deprivation. We have younger officers who commute an hour or two to get here. Then they work 10-12 hours, get held over for court, then they have to drive back home, and you look at what they're faced with. If someone works mids, that ups the ante. We're looking at a lot of different stressors that are inherent within our jobs; in fact, the whole suicide issue is something we address with our recruits right up front. We talk about it openly. We talk about issues involved in family situations because we can't bury our heads in the sand. We need to acknowledge that that goes on in our profession, and we need to be able to take care of our own people. And yet, we're the worst at accepting help as you know.
VANGUARD:So when you speak with the recruits up-front, is this crisis intervention also passed onto their families?
SANCIER: Well, we work hand-in-hand with the chaplains-and I'm sorry for not mentioning them yet-Dave Bridgen and Jim Becknall, on a lot of issues. We're constantly sharing information. They are bound by confidentiality rules since they are clergy, but we are not. So much of the information they receive has to be handled in that sense, but we try to ensure that we work together as much as possible because some of our officers are just more comfortable going to clergy than coming to us, which we understand. We don't care where the officers go, we just want them to get the help they need.
VANGUARD:I understand that the chaplains put on their family academies.
SANCIER: Exactly, and that's addressed to them in that forum, and certainly if we can add anything to it, we're happy to do it.
BECKY: It's like a new generation of policing, realizing that we're human under that uniform.
SANCIER: Amazing, isn't it?
VANGUARD:Well, Greg, thank you again for your time. It was very interesting and enlightening, and it's something that's the white elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about.
SANCIER: Absolutely, it is.
VANGUARD:And I think we're at a point now where we have no choice.
SANCIER: You're right, and you and I know that when we're out there chasing the bad guys and putting them in jail and hooking and booking, that's still the fun part of it, but we want to ensure that it remains fun, and we know that things come up that are tragic. Having that in mind, if something of a tragic nature happens to you, we'll help you deal with it. There won't be any humiliation or guilt. We'll work with you and your family and clinicians to deal with it and get you back out on the streets. It's almost like being an NFL player. We know you're going to get hurt in football; well, we know things are going to happen to you here as well, so let's figure out what they are and deal with them in an upfront fashion so you can get back to being a healthy and productive member of the department again.
BECKY: Get you back into the game.
VANGUARD:That's right. That's what it's all about.
SANCIER: And that's a great way to end it.
VANGUARD:Well Greg, that was really informative. Thanks.
SANCIER: Thanks for the opportunity, Juan. I appreciate it.