How Pittsburgh Police Are Approaching One Year After Tree Of Life

Oct 25, 2019

The shooting at Tree of Life synagogue last year took 11 lives and impacted countless others. For the officers who rushed to the scene that day, Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Sergeant Carla Kearns said the first anniversary, like any significant trauma, may be the toughest.

“Obviously, I think that officers are going to be a little anxious, especially those that were intimately involved with the event and on-scene,” she said. “But I think that they’re talking to each other, which is what we want.”

Kearns is the coordinator for the bureau’s Pittsburgh Mentor Assistance Program, or PMAP, which is a peer-to-peer support service for police.  

“We see the worst in people. People don’t call us when it’s their birthday,” said Kearns. “We need to instruct our officers and help our officers through these bad events and bad days.”

When she heard about Tree of Life, Kearns knew immediately that her 18-person team would need to visit all of the zones and reach everyone affected. About 10 days after the shooting, PMAP convened “massive debriefings” to discuss what happened and “help our officers download and offset … everything that you see during an event like that.”

They also told officers about resources such as therapists, all of whom are trained in crisis intervention, said Kearns. The therapists know officers and know the culture.

“Officers like to put up that wall and go, ‘OK, I can handle it, I can do anything,’” she said. “And most often we can. But sometimes, you know, cumulative stress gets to us.”

That’s why PMAP is always available, said Kearns. Every day may hold a traumatic event, from doing CPR on a child to something as significant as Tree of Life.

“The most important thing for the team is helping officers get through their days and get through their lives,” she said. “So that they can come to work with a good attitude and are happy to be here.”

Along with one of the doctors they work with, PMAP recently released a video in advance of Tree of Life’s one-year anniversary. Kearns said they wanted police to know “it’s OK not to be all right, right now.”