Peer counseling offered for officers after tragic incidents in Burlington

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BURLINGTON, N.C. -- Lt. Brian Becmer saw one of the most gruesome deaths of his career in 2016.

"We came across a suicide,” Becmer said. “It was a particularly graphic suicide. You never get used it. You want to tell yourself you do, but you don't."

He says the image stuck with him.

"Once you've seen something, you can't un-see it,” he said. “It's with you. Sometimes those visions stay with you."

From death investigations to suicides to the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Wednesday, Becmer says the trauma touches everyone, especially police.

"Anywhere from the sights to the smells to reaction from the families, all that stuff gets on your back and it wears on you," Becmer said.

It's one of the main reasons why Burlington police started its Critical Incident Stress Management Team which offers peer counseling to officers after responding to a traumatic scene.

"Proper mental health is as good as proper physical health," he said.

Sgt. Jennifer Matherly is one of 20 peer counselors who works with officers in groups or in one on one sessions.

"We are monitoring their reactions, their emotions, really seeing what part affected them," Matherly said.

She says this week's shooting is an example of the type of trauma a first responder might need help to process.

"I can't imagine what those first responders have gone through," she said. "It's easy for you to take those images home.”

She says not getting help can lead to PTSD or burnout.

"It's absolutely vital to surviving a first responding career to get it out of your system," she said. "We all need a helping hand at times."​

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