A young man, tired and frustrated by his job, overreacts to the cries of his 9-month-old child and whips her with his belt into unconsciousness. His wife comes home, finds the child bruised and bloody, and becomes furious with her husband over his "accident". A neighbor, concerned about the noise, calls the police.
Enter the police into another domestic quarrel. But this time the action is not in someone's home; it is on a stage at the mental health center at St. Elizabeth's Hospital. The police, Prince George's County cadets and recruits and military police from the Henderson Marine Barracks, participate in the "scene" or psychodrama as part of their crisis intervention training through the Prince George's County Police Department.
"It offers us a practical exercise in how to handle problems," said Walter Cheshier, a recruit who participated in one scene. "It would be good if every officer could be a participant. It helped to build my self-confidence and get a preception of what is going on in a situation."
Aimed at recreating the domestic problems police have to deal with as they patrol their neighorhoods, the psychodramas present a look at what prompts the domestic quarrel, what happens to the mind of a rape victim, why the child is beaten.
"It makes a police officer question his role as a mediator," said David Swink, moderator of the psychodrama and a mental health professional working at St. Elizabeth's. "Death, rape, these crises are so arbitrary, so unpredictable. By showing them what comes before they are called in, we try to get them to see the concepts of dealing with the crisis as more than words, to see them as emotions, as actual events in people's lives.
"We want to show them that in crisis times, people regress, they become more dependent and need people more at that time. A policeman needs to know that what he may do to solve the problem may make it worse."
Hence, the crisis training. Getting police officers to respond and react to their feeling in crisis situations is only part of the five-month training program recruits must go through before graduating to the beat patrol. Courses in the law, in weapons, in racial awareness and in community relations, combined with a physcial education program, must be completed before a recruit is ready for the street.
Swink thinks the younger police officers "respond very well" to the training. "It is kind of threatening to get up there (on stage) and act out a response to a problem. They get used to a system where you get negative feeling all the time. You take the shells they have built up and increase their ablility to move out of them."
Betsy Jessup, a civilaian employee of the P.G. police community remake police "to get into their own heads. You can't change attitudes and thinking, but you try to get them to recognize their attitudes, then learn how to deal with them."
Many attitudes, about child abuse, about interracial couples, about homosexuality, may be so dormant that a police officer doesn't even recognize he or she has them, according to Jessup.
"Of course you have your beliefs and attitudes," said John Hartnett, a social worker and another trainer in the crisis intervention unit, "but if a police officer is in the line of duty, he has to respond to the role he has to play." Through the crisis psychodramas and filmed interventions, the police officers can see through this role playing that they can "take sides" on an issue and then see how the effectiveness of an intervention can be lost."
National statistics show that most homicides involving police officers take place during domestic interventions - those potentially violent situations that sometime begin with quarrel over the dinner table and escalate into something more.
"In a crisis situation, police officers have the opportunity to be more effective than anyone else," said Swink. "In some instances you have to be careful of what you say, how loud your voice is, what your body language is giving off. you have to pay strict attention to non-verbal communication," Swink told the potential officers.
In a scene from the psychodrama, Kirsten was walking over to her boyfriend's house when she was raped. She arrived at his house, torn, beaten, defeated, and immediately shied away from him, telling the situation, he called the police. Two male police "recruits" from the audience make the intervention. They separate the two, attempt to calm each down, get them to the hospital.
"On a rape case, especially if the intervener is a male officer. What happens in the situation can reinforce her view of men at that moment, or change it," Swink said. "If you force her in any way now (through questioning or from a brisk manner), it is as if she is being raped two or three times.
"Usually crisis situations do not effect just one person. Only one thing may look bizarre (the child, a member of the family, the victim), but it's the whole system that's bizarre or crazy. You have to look for the needs of all others involved, not only the initial victim."
Harold Goodlett, a military policeman from Henderson Barracks, said the scenes "helped us deal with what we see on the street - with what those people feel like. It's like being in their shoes."
Jessup said she would like to see the crisis training course expand to include officers who did not get the course during their recruit training. "We want to do seasoned officers for in-season training, get some of the veterans."
But, for now, each officer must go out, share and learn experiences from a field training officer, take what they can from the training.
"This is a younger class, " said Hartnett. "It's very receptive, very idealistic. But, "he added as he laughed with a senior officer assigned to the training, "the whole department needs some work."