Hypervigilance & Ethical Intervention with a Utah Nurse

Utah Nurse

Salt Lake City Police are now trying to shore up the damage done by Detective Jeff Payne after he wrongfully interfered with nurse, Alex Wubbels, by handcuffing her and placing her in a patrol car as she attempted to care for her patient.  Go here for a good article in which there is a useful video to watch of the “arrest” of Wubbels.

This has shocked many in healthcare.  And while it is shock-worthy, for those of us who deal with law enforcement in our healthcare settings on a daily basis, we know that difficult conversations must often take place between healthcare and law enforcement professionals.

With cultivated, good relations between healthcare and law enforcement professionals, this kind of incident is avoidable.  They are also avoidable by law enforcement simply adhering to the processes in place in their particular area and not attempting to take short-cuts (e.g., having a patient under arrest, obtaining a proper subpoena, etc.).

I need to point out two things, however, which few seem to be noting.

If I was a betting man (and I”m not), I’d bet you a million dollars that Detective Jeff Payne was already – well before he ever came to work on that July 2017 day – a sufferer of hypervigilance.  Notice in the article the part where he says:

“We’re done,” he says.  “You’re under arrest.”

Anyone recognize the true significance of this statement?  Yes, that’s the precise moment when he lost it. That was when his hot-button was pressed.  He then lost all rational detachment, and was, for lack of a better description, having a psychological and behavioral flinch response.  His workplace behavior has now caused all manner of complaints, outrage, and media fallout.  This will very likely damage and/or end his career and cost his department untold dollars of litigation.

Hypervigilance is not an excuse for what he did.  It is, I bet, however, the reason he did what he did.  Hypervigilance can be defined as the condition of maintaining an abnormal awareness of environmental stimuli.  Law enforcement officers fall prey to it. They begin getting way too emotionally over-invested at work and way too emotionally under-invested at home and in the rest of life.  Soon, living in this emotional condition, not only does their physical health suffer from it, but their emotional health as well. Plainly put, the typical symptom for cops who suffer from hypervigilance is that they begin to view the world as comprised of cops, who they trust, hang out with, and like, and everyone else who is an asshole.  Those in the world of LE exactly know what I’m talking about (though if you’re suffering from hypervigilance, you likely think I’m an asshole for sharing all this, and that’s ok).

For any law enforcement professional who genuinely loves his/her family, his/her own health, and his/her agency, hypervigilance should be addressed.  Any LE leader wanting fewer complaints, media nightmares, and litigation to occur in an agency should certainly get more knowledgeable of hypervigilance.

Great work is being done to assist law enforcement to address this.  This includes former Raleigh Police Chief Harry Dolan through his Dolan Consulting Group and his Surviving Verbal Conflict (SVC) program.  Also doing great work is Vistelar with its Verbal Defense & Influence VDI) program.  One should also seek out the primary go-to book on hypervigilance, entitled Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement by Kevin M. Gilmartin.

Let’s look briefly at one more thing about this Utah incident.  It is ethical intervention. Go back to the video in this article.  Notice and study what occurs from 1:11 to about 1:15. What do you see?

What is very visible is a younger Police Officer placing his hand on the shoulder of the arresting Officer.  This younger Officer, then walks away, realizing that his efforts at ethically intervening are futile.  This younger Officer clearly knew the career-ending, litigation-producing behavior the other Officer was exhibiting.  That hand on the shoulder was his low-level attempt at fixing something that he realized was going wrong.

Vistelar, with their Verbal Defense & Influence (VDI) program and Dolan Consulting Group with its Surviving Verbal Conflict (SVC) program do great work in training professionals to overcome the bystander effect and in watching our partner’s back by professionally intervening when s/he is out of control (to which, by the way, someone who under the influence of hypervigilance is particularly susceptible).

To all law enforcement leadership, I ask you to look at all this.  Know that quality training CAN help with hypervigilance, the bystander effect, and ethical intervention (remember the Rodney King incident).

To Nurse Wubbels, well done in your daily work to care for and protect your patients!

To the other Officer in the video, the one who attempted to intervene (from 1:11 – 1:15) to hopefully alter the course of his fellow Officer’s behavior, you should be put forward as a good example of someone who visibly, on video, demonstrated that you recognized, and try to help stop, something that was going wrong.

I leave you with this great training video by Gary Klugiewicz on protecting your partner’s back with ethical intervention.  Here it is:


Referenced Article:



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