In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina, U.S. law enforcement has had to push harder than ever to understand the mental issues involved in crisis situations, from post-traumatic stress to the motives behind terrorism.
To do that, officials turn to professionals and academics with experience in psychology and human behavior – people like Flagler College Assistant Professor Tina Jaeckle, who also teaches and conducts research at the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit.
Some might assume Jaeckle is a sort of criminal profiler, much like the character Clarisse in Silence of the Lambs.
In fact, Jaeckle has been exposed to a variety of violent crime cases and crisis situations during her years of professional and volunteer work. She has assisted with hostage negotiations and delivered “emotional first aid” at the scenes of murders, hurricanes and fatal accidents.
But she doesn’t tote a gun or carry a badge. Armed with expert knowledge and experience in criminology, sociology, dispute resolution and crisis counseling, Jaeckle serves the FBI and other law enforcement agencies as a resource for research and training.
“I’ve become kind of a crisis expert,” Jaeckle said. “I present to top-level police administrators from throughout the world on disaster and crisis implications, on managing those from a law-enforcement aspect … I can’t be an agent because I have a family, but I’ve always dreamed of working with them [the FBI] on some level.”
Greg Vecchi, Ph.D., is a supervisory special agent at the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit. He instructs at the BSU’s National Academy, a program that brings together “the cream of the crop” from law enforcement agencies throughout the United States.
Vecchi said BSU researchers act as a “think tank” for cutting-edge law enforcement issues. As a consultant to the BSU, Jaeckle gets to work with those researchers and present to classes.
According to Vecchi, Jaeckle’s broad range of experience and academic research isn’t common – and her ability to discuss mental health issues with law enforcement officials is especially rare.
“Mental health with law enforcement is still a taboo subject,” Vecchi said. “They still don’t like to talk about it.
“But she can talk with them. They can know that it’s OK to feel bad, that you’re going to have moments of feeling overwhelmed … so when it happens to them, they’ll know how to deal with it.”
Vecchi said law enforcement is devoting more attention to mental health issues than ever because of the emotional fallout from recent disasters. When the FBI helped respond to the Lexington, Ky., plane crash last August, he said, “there were some people that still had a lot of cumulative stuff leftover from 9-11.”
Agents who had pulled dead bodies from the Pentagon or the Flight 93 plane crash in Shanksville, Penn., were reeling all over again as they worked at the Lexington site.
“It was never addressed from the mental health side,” Vecchi said. “You find there are a lot of complicated issues … [Jaeckle's crisis response work] is critical because pretty much all these big disasters are going to require everyone to work together: state, local, national – and not just police, but firefighters, Red Cross, shelters, churches.”
The type of person who people-watches in airports, Jaeckle said her interest in human behavior comes from a fascination with “the interplay between personal choice and societal factors.”
At Flagler, Jaeckle teaches courses with titles like “Sociology of Evil” and “Criminal Profiling.” Her students learn through stories from her experiences at crime and disaster scenes.