Inside the Minds of Cincinnati’s Men and Women in Blue

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Ghosts follow officers through the halls of the Cincinnati Police Department. Homicide victims, car accident fatalities, and other lost souls roam the building, their presence always looming but hardly ever acknowledged. And it’s James Daum’s job to exorcise them.

As the Cincinnati Police Department’s independently contracted psychologist, Daum has many official duties: training officers to handle stress effectively; offering counsel when they seek it; and meeting with officers after “critical incidents,” situations in which their lives were at stake or they were forced to take a life themselves.

His unofficial duty, however, is to root out the memories that hide in the backs of CPD officers’ minds—those awful images meant to be forgotten that sometimes expose themselves. It is Daum’s job to keep the darkness at bay, to keep the officers from mentally shutting off, to help them avoid misjudgments in the field. Some grow despondent at what they have seen, what they have done. Some laugh it off. Others come back weeks, months, even years later, still grappling with the after-effects.

To be effective, Daum has trained himself to be endlessly observant—he must decipher men and women who have mastered stoic calmness in the face of chaos or tragedy. “You can’t really relax,” he says. While his immediate goal is helping the officer in front of him, Daum is ultimately accountable to police supervisors. He’s the one who tells them whether or not that officer should be on the job. “When officers are unfit for duty, they almost always know it,” he says. “Being an ‘outsider’ is an interesting concept—I’m accepted, but I have to remain neutral for the interest of everybody.”

Even when Daum leaves his office, his workday isn’t finished. The more stories the officers unload onto him, the more he has to take in. It’s no easy feat. But Daum has worked through enough dark material to know that it’s possible to come out the other side; he doesn’t measure success by gold wristwatches. “The most gratifying thing is to see a patient improve,” he says. “My job is to help officers retire successfully.”

But how will Daum himself “retire successfully”? He has spent years cultivating familiarity with and personal knowledge of the officers in this department; when he leaves, all that knowledge will leave the building. A new psychologist will have to not only learn about Cincinnati Police as a department, but also the individual officers who wear its badge. Daum already knows what he’ll tell his successor: “You are about to take on something that can be immensely stressful and overwhelming, but don’t let it intimidate you.” Put another way: What you are about to do can’t really be taught—it just has to be done.

Born in Lima, Ohio, in 1948, Daum spent the majority of his childhood in Wapakoneta. His father worked as a machinist for the Excello Corporation in Lima and his mother worked in accounts receivable for various companies around the area. They were both practicing Catholics who stressed the ideas of modesty and altruism—two things that stick with Daum. But it wasn’t so much his father’s strict-but-fair religious principles that shaped Daum’s love of helping people as it was a chain of random events.

Daum enrolled at Ohio State in 1967 only to drop out after a year. No discipline particularly interested him. He saw a help-wanted ad in a Dayton newspaper for The Boys’ Industrial Home of Western Pennsylvania in Oakdale, a facility where courts placed adolescent offenders. He was hired, he says, probably because of his musical background—he’d started taking piano lessons at age 7 and eventually picked up the guitar. By 15 he was playing in clubs. He’s been playing music now for more than 40 years. At the Boys’ Home, Daum taught a few of his young charges how to play, and took some of them to concerts in Pittsburgh. He knew he had a knack for the job when he realized that kids who were chronic runaways were staying for the entire show and returning with him.

In 1971, the Boys’ Home closed and Daum enlisted in the Navy. As a machinist mate, he spent a good amount of time tracking Soviet subs up and down the East Coast on a destroyer. His work in Pennsylvania spurred the Navy to call upon him to help implement a program to support sailors with substance abuse problems.

“My time in Pennsylvania hardly qualified me for what they wanted me to do,” he says. “But it was the first time I had contact with a psychologist. I liked the idea that people respected their words. For the first time in my life, I could say ‘That’s what I want to do.’” When his hitch in the Navy was up, he returned to Ohio State and got a degree in psychology.

After he graduated in 1976, Daum went to work for the Hamilton County Juvenile Court system, counseling, doing research—he published a paper on commonalities of juveniles who threaten or commit suicide—and working at a private practice at the same time. He was making progress with his patients, but at juvenile court he noticed that the same young faces kept coming back. It was frustrating—until he met Walter Lippert.

Lippert was a psychologist by trade and a country boy at heart. He oversaw Daum’s work for the court system while also consulting for the Cincinnati Police Department. Lippert cared for the officers as people, seeing them beyond their badges and guns. When Daum joined Lippert as a full-time psychology intern in 1985, “it was a baptism of fire,” he says. “Until you’ve had firsthand exposure to what police officers see, you’ll never know.”

Psychologists like Daum are all around the country. Every major metropolitan police department has an assigned psychologist, whether they’re attached to a department or serve as a contracted consultant. It wasn’t until July 2013, however, that the American Psychological Association recognized police and public safety psychology as a true specialty. And it takes a specific type of psychologist—nevermind the specialized degree—to take over the kind of practice Lippert and Daum have built.

At first, Daum says, Lippert was hesitant to take in a mentee. He knew the officers on a personal level and needed to be confident that Daum was fit to treat them. It wasn’t until Daum got a master’s degree in psychology at Xavier in 1978 that Lippert fully took him under his wing. But he did so in a way that challenged Daum to solve things on his own. He began by asking his new colleague to redesign the evaluation for CPD applicants. It might seem like an inconsequential thing, but Daum maintains that having to go back and examine, rearrange, omit, add, and revamp the evaluation forced him to re-think the entire process. It was, in essence, creating the criteria on which all potential officers would be judged.

“He was an energetic man. Very hands-on,” Daum says of Lippert. “Sometimes, I’d walk out of his office after getting an assignment and say, ‘What am I going to do now?’ ”

By 1991, Daum had earned his doctorate and began helping Lippert pay for his practice—a gradual ownership change. Daum found himself taking on more of Lippert’s cases as his mentor eased his way out. “It was always comforting that Lippert had all that knowledge,” he says. “He could cover my back.” In 1995, Lippert decided it was time to hand over his responsibilities fully. It was finally his turn to relax, he told Daum; he had a piece of land in Indiana where he could ride his horses. Instead, he died a week later—leaving Daum to carry on the work alone. There was no one to go to. The stories all ended with him.  “I always was able to ask Walt when things got dicey,” he says. “But after he died, I’m going, ‘Oh my God. I’m on my own now.’ It was scary for a year or two.”

Without Lippert, Daum felt a bit lost. He could still function as a competent psychologist, and he knew that he would be able to learn more about the job as time went on. But he also knew he would eventually face an event that would severely test him—he just didn’t know when it was coming.

When CPD officers visit Daum’s office, they sit on a couch. Some give him an update on how their marital life is doing. Others pour out gritty, half-repressed memories. On that couch, the world cinches in slowly. It isn’t claustrophobic; it’s almost a form of insulation. An officer sits and talks. Daum listens.

December 5, 1997, was a cold day. The temperature was projected to just barely break freezing. Specialist Ronald Jeter and Officer Daniel Pope worked the overnight shift in plain clothes. Their undercover beat was catching the elusive—to get those no one got around to getting. On that particular night, they had to serve a domestic violence warrant on 20-year-old Alonzo Davenport, who lived on West Hollister Street in Clifton Heights.

Sometime between 11:30 p.m. and midnight, Jeter and Pope entered the apartment. What happened next would become the test that Daum always knew could be waiting for him. Davenport fought arrest, pulled a .38 special from the waistband of his pants, and shot both officers in the head before they could draw their weapons, killing them instantly. Then Davenport fled and committed suicide in a nearby park.

“I was always trying to prepare myself for the inevitable, but this time it was two officers,” Daum remembers. “At first, I was overwhelmed with the emotional consequence to the department. Exposing yourself to so much grief from so many people—it was traumatizing for everybody. Including me. It really took a toll. I felt a kinship, and I couldn’t walk away.”

Lt. Col. James Whalen, commander of the patrol bureau and SWAT, remembers how terrible that time was. Losing Pope and Jeter hit the department in a way that’s hard to describe. “I knew both of those guys,” he says. “I worked with both of those guys.” Whalen was a lieutenant at the time, and he was involved in the two officers’ funeral arrangements. “When a police officer is killed in the line of duty, it shakes up the entire department,” he says. “I mean, nobody thinks about getting killed at work. Think about going to work and finding out two of your coworkers were killed that day. It shakes us up like it shakes you up.”

Whalen knows how valuable it can be to talk to someone like Daum when you’re shaken up like that. Early on in his 28-year career, he was involved in a shooting that led him to Lippert’s office. He credits the doctor’s genuine concern for the well-being of the officers.

“We can’t control when tragedies happen,” Whalen says. “Daum’s like one of us. We can’t let our phones just ring, but he could have an answering system and just get back to us the next day. But he doesn’t. Dr. Daum makes himself available. He’s receptive to any officers’ family, too.” Because an officer takes more than exhaustion home.

“Sometimes we see things that you don’t think humans are meant to see,” says District Three Commander Daniel Gerard. “It’s stuff you encounter once in a career—or hopefully once in a career.”

Daum is a realistic judge of himself—a testament to his ability to be an objective observer as opposed to a one-man jury. “I am more confident nowadays, but your confidence level goes up over time,” he says. “The most important thing I do is put the attention on the officer, but [I don’t] make their decisions for them. I’m listening with every ear and antenna I have. It’s a pretty intense thing. I get less fatigued from chopping wood. It’s draining.”

But he somehow retains that distance. His voice is soothing, gravelly, trained. He is deliberate with everything he does—from the way he laces his fingers together when he sits to the way he chooses the first word of a sentence. Daum’s eyes, a pale, antiseptic blue, close when he speaks. And when he doesn’t, his silences bear down on the room.

“Some come in here and they’re emotionally numb. It’s surprising. Some officers get physically sick when they have to shoot someone; some get angry that they were put into the situation in the first place; some shed tears,” he says. “There is no common reaction.”

No matter how much he leaves behind, a “regular” day in Daum’s office is more stressful than many civilians could imagine.

Four years after Pope and Jeter were killed, Daum’s abilities were again tested when CPD officer Stephen Roach shot and killed Timothy Thomas, an unarmed 19-year-old African-American man, in a dark alley in Over-the-Rhine. The shooting sparked three days of explosive riots, putting Daum on the receiving end of a lot of  tension, confusion, and anger. The entire city was splintered and the detritus was broadcast to the nation. “Any human would be apprehensive to go out when that was happening. They were all affected, but they went on,” Daum says. “The officers’ fears were justified, but it wasn’t the kind of fear that’s debilitating. If you think about what could have happened had they not intervened…” his voice trails off.

Daum did all he could. He made sure everyone knew he was available. But this time was different. It wasn’t so much consolation, like the loss of Pope and Jeter; it was broken glass on the street,  nationwide media coverage, and martial law. Daum stood by his obligation to answer any call at any hour of any day. Did he pass his own test? “The short answer is yes,” he says. “Things like that are what keep me motivated.”

It’s a strange thing to see a face disciplined to stay emotionless, to not reveal any discernible reaction, suddenly break into a smile, but that’s what Daum does when he’s reminded of that trying time in April 2001. It’s a smile of reassurance and a reminder to breathe, to collect thoughts, to take time. Because when it comes to crisis management, something that happens in a fraction of a second can haunt you for the rest of your life and take an eternity to explain why.

For Whalen, Daum’s presence is a comfort. He knows the doctor will be there as a resource—until he isn’t. “No one stays in a support role for law enforcement for decades,” he says. “[To do that] they have to be good and they have to be trusted.”

It’s the familiarity with both the people and the lifestyle—the humor and the tears—that makes Daum so irreplaceable. “I grew up ignorant of the police,” he says. “I was very naive. When I got my ‘baptism,’ I was awed—I thought, If I’m going to work with them for my entire career, it’s going to be amazing. When I retire, I will feel so lucky to have lived the life I’ve lived.”

Daum hasn’t set a date for turning the lights out in his office for the final time. He just can’t tear himself away. He knows he will have to enlist another psychologist to take over, the way Walter Lippert did with him, but there’s time for that later. How much time, he can’t say.

“I’m a late bloomer. I still have a lot to accomplish,” he says. “If I could live forever, I’d keep with it—there’s always unfinished business.”

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