NEW JERSEY – Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among police and other first responders is a big, though largely under-acknowledged, problem. Deborah Ortiz first envisioned making a documentary film about the problem after PTSD wreaked havoc in her and her husband’s lives. Ortiz’s husband is a retired and highly decorated New York State trooper and a former federal agent for the DEA drug enforcement task force.
“When my husband retired from his twenty-two year law enforcement career, all of our dreams of a happy retirement turned into our worst nightmares. Little did we know that his years on the job would leave him with the demons he still battles,” explains Ortiz. “It was while doing research in seeking help for my husband that I realized how widespread the problem of PTSD in law enforcement officers really is. I decided to shoot a documentary film about it to help raise awareness and get the conversation started and to begin to seek solutions to help the many officers affected.”
Experts interviewed in the film estimate up to 20 percent of police officers across the country suffer from PTSD. In the course of shooting the film, Ortiz came to realize that fire and emergency medical personnel were equally susceptible to the disorder.
Yet the problem is something department heads have been slow to acknowledge and deal with.
“We did not understand what was happening to my husband because his disintegration was never addressed in the countless hours of training he received during the course of his career” explains Ortiz. “They never warned him of the psychological dangers involved in police work. His superiors never asked him if he was okay after he experienced a traumatic incident (and there were many). They never mentioned or recognized the reality of PTSD, because PTSD wasn’t supposed to afflict the cops. Cops were supposed to just take it all in stride and go on to the next horror.”
After several years of doing interviews around the country, raising funds, and seeking production partnerships, Ortiz will soon see the official release of the film that means so much to her and her husband, Code 9 – Officer Needs Assistance. While Code 9 unveils gut-wrenching suffering, it also points the way toward hope and recovery.
Denville, New Jersey is to be the location of an upcoming private screening of the film prior to its public release. The Morris and Sussex County affiliates of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) will co-host a free screening for invited police officers and first responders on Friday, Oct. 2, from 3:00-5:30, at St. Francis Residential Community and Conference Center.
One of the police officers interviewed in Code 9 is retired Jersey City police captain Robert Cubby, who resides in Byram, NJ. Cubby will be in attendance at the Denville screening on October 2, and will participate in Q&A and discussion with the audience.
“I knew it could happen, given the intense situations we are involved in every minute of every day of our careers,” Cubby says. “I guess it’s betting against yourself, convincing yourself it will only happen to the other guy, not me. I saw so many fellow first responders affected in various ways by the horrors they had experienced. I believed for years that it wouldn’t be me. Even when it happened, when I was having serious symptoms, I was in denial and disbelief. It was when my wife convinced me that something was wrong with me that I finally did something about it. Too many don’t do anything and suffer needlessly. They think they can be an armor-plated warrior and shake off their feelings and move on. They were never taught how to properly handle PTSD, so they suffer in silence while secretly fearing that they are weak, broken and defective. There has to be a better way than that. With the number of active duty police officers showing symptoms of PTSD and more police dying by their own hand than by that of another, something has to be done. This cannot continue,” he concludes.
The first private screening of the film, held in Mesa, Arizona on June 25, 2015, was met with high praise from the law enforcement officers and first responders in the audience. In the opinion of Tony Lo Giudice, a Mesa, AZ firefighter, “Code 9 is a powerfully moving…documentary that conveys the stories of PTSD-injured officers…. [It] is a must see and a moral motivator for all leaders, public administrators, police chiefs, fire chiefs, and elected officials to ensure that the right policies, programs, and services are in place to help first responders prevent and heal from post-traumatic stress.”
Law enforcement officers and other first responders (whether active duty or retired) and their immediate family members may request an invitation to the October 2 screening of the Code 9 documentary by calling (973) 214-0632 or emailing email@example.com. Seating is limited to 100.
Information about S.H.A.R.E. workshops for first responders and their families provided by the non-profit organization Code9Project will be announced at the film screening and can also be found on the website www.code9project.org.