Today’s Investigative Special Report – October 5, 2012 “Dealing With Today’s Law Enforcement Specialized Investigations” “Did I Arrest That Person In My Dreams, Really?”

By Lawrence W. Daly
police officer on police motorcycle
police officer on police motorcycle (Photo credit: Metropolitan Police)
Forensic Expert Senior Author
Responding to a radio call which led the law enforcement officer to a domestic disturbance situation resulted in the officer arresting an individual he had seen many times. Although the person was unknown to the officer the officer had seen this individual multiple times in the past. Sometimes people dream about their work over and over again. Just so it is clear this individual the officer was pursuing had come from repetitive dreaming.
Law enforcement officers are no different in them like other individuals dream about doing their job. The individuals in the dream can play the same role over and over. If the officer continually arrests the same person each time they may be dealing with specific emotions, anxiety, depression, excitement, and so forth which they subconsciously have never dealt with but are trying to.
Some dreams are remembered and some are just a glimpse depending on the condition of when the person has their dream. If the person wakes up several times a night the individual may remember only specific aspects and other individuals cannot remember anything about their dream.
In delving into this subject matter there are several issues which may be concerning to law enforcement officers. If the dream is continual, i.e. night after night, and the dream continues to be an emotional and anxious destructive cycle, the officer may want to seek professional assistance.
There are many professionals in the field of interpreting dreams. These professionals state that one of the issues the officer must keep in mind is the underlying thoughts and feelings, and the people, actions, settings, and emotions in their dreams may be personal, not professional. However, the introspection here is dealing with dreams which are professional in nature.
The dreams generally have some significance that deal with situations which occurred over their lifetime as a law enforcement officer, or of a past or recent personal event which is or has never been resolved. Generally, this is not the first time an individual will have the specific dream. Professionals state that an individual may have 15-40 dreams per night depending on their individual sleep patterns. The dream which has meaning to the individual may occur multiple times during the officer’s sleep. It is possible the officer may not remember having the particular dream. The circumstances may have not been present for him to know that his subconscious was dealing with this reoccurring dream. This may be a twist of words and ideas, but is very common.
If the officer dealt with an emotional situation during his daily tour they may carry that incident home and later during sleep deal with it in the form of a dream. The officer’s feelings, thoughts, behavior, motives, and values may play an important aspect of the meaning of the incident than later during the dream.
If an officer deals with extreme violence or a case which was disturbing the officer may be so impacted by the incident that he cannot think of anything else; the thoughts become obsessive. The dream may be an outlet for the officer and possibly resolve the officer’s unresolved feeling which surrounds the specific incident.
Regions of the brain affected by PTSD and stress.
Regions of the brain affected by PTSD and stress. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Each individual is different in why they dream and the reasons for why they dream. The problem with the dream interpretation by professionals in the dream field is the majority of the time the findings are subjective. Science has made it possible to monitor brain activity during someone who is sleeping. The sophistication of the medical tools utilized by these scientists can only go so far in their discovery of why the individual dreams the dreams in which they are having at that specific moment.
If the officer continues to have unresolved issues during the dream phase and the emotional and anxiety rollover to when the officer is awake; this should lead him to seek professional assistance. The dream may be masking something which has been bothering the officer in the past and the dream may have triggered a previous traumatic incident.
It isn’t unusual to hear about people who fought in wars who have continual issues with dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). These individuals may have reoccurring dreams about something that occurred when they were at war. These dreams sometimes called “night terrors” create emotional and mental problems for the soldier who may have to be prescribed medication, attend individual and group therapy, and obtain other resources to deal with the traumatic events.
Law enforcement agencies are considered para-military organizations due to the hierarchical nature of the organization. Therefore, some of the situations are similar in that there is much violence and death which a law enforcement officer deals with on a daily basis. It isn’t unusual for an officer who retired twenty-years ago to deal with situations which occurred when they were an active officer. Something may trigger the dream due to one of the senses which were a part of the traumatic event. A simple odor which is unusual and was part of the event may be the major triggering incident.
A specific radio call that an officer is responding to may trigger a memory of an incident which was traumatic to the officer. An officer arriving at the scene of a crime cannot demonstrate externally that he was affected by the incident. The perception that others are watching his behavior is paramount in dealing with the macho appearance which is part of the officer’s image. However, the ‘leakage’ that occurs mentally and physically may be dealt with at a later time, probably during the officer’s sleep; then his dreams.
Many professionals believe that journaling the dreams may be a significant method and technique to deal with the dream upon reflection. If the officer writes down the portion of the dream in his journal over a period of time the segments of the dream may complete the mystery which has been emotional for the officer internally as well as externally.
Each officer will deal with traumatic incidents in various ways. Some officers turn to alcohol, prescription drugs, violence, and other outlets which mask the traumatic incident. The problem associated with externally turning to things which are emotionally internal isn’t a cure, or a problem solver, but the creation of another problem.
Age-standardised disability-adjusted life year...
Age-standardised disability-adjusted life year (DALY) rates from Post-traumatic stress disorder by country (per 100,000 inhabitants). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The cyclical aspects of trauma, internal and external feelings, addictions, and dreams can be the make-up of an officer who is incapable of outwardly dealing and expressing the issues bothering him. The dream provides this outlet, but the problem is the dream is an isolated resolution, a band aid of sort. The dream may answer some aspect of the previous trauma, but unless the officer’s spouse or partner is there to discuss the dream with him, the dreams may continue and the officer will continue to look for another escape route to freedom from the problems he is dealing with.
If the dream is traumatic and the issues surrounding the dream is not resolved then the officer may become obsessed over the problems of the lack of understanding the dreams are creating; and it can become unhealthy. In the professional field this is considered “Rumination.” This is where the individual contemplates something over and over again, it becomes a distraction, and at worst, an obsession to the degree that the individual becomes handicapped mentally, emotionally, and physically.
Emotion and 
English: Royal Thai Police officer responsible...
English: Royal Thai Police officer responsible for road traffic law enforcement, seen in Na Wa, Nakhon Phanom province, Thailand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
anxiety can cause an individual not to be functional not only when they are working but in their daily personal time. The problem with law enforcement officials is every daily tour can trigger an enormous amount of situations, which they dealt with in the past. The strategies the officer uses at the time of the trigger of the past incident may spill over into the officer’s sleep and eventual dreams. This simply is not healthy psychologically and physiologically and can cause additional problems for the officer.
Most people would tell you from time to time they had a dream, can’t remember too much about the dream, but it seemed innocuous at the time. The law enforcement field draws upon the officer’s quick thinking and judgment, using specific strategies and memory, using experience as a guiding principal to perform the job and to assist their partners or cohorts in performing their job. Failure to process these mental attributes may cause them or others to be injured or killed. Unresolved past traumatic experiences can be dilapidating to the point that they should be taken off the streets until their PTSD is dealt with.
Alternatively, dreams can be positive and assist the officer in resolving a situation where other methods and techniques haven’t worked. Being capable of putting the pieces of the puzzle together can be refreshing, healthy, and deal with daily trauma the officer must deal with. Most dreams are passionate and non-threatening, but may deal with unresolved issues as described above.
It is important that law enforcement officers find balance and harmony in their lives due to the nature of their job. The stress, emotional, and mental requirements of the job can be problematic for some officers who have never dealt with specific traumatic situations. The over flow from this trauma may be resolved in the form of dreams, or wait in the officers psychic until some night he dreams about the event and finds the reasons for some problem which has been occurring in his life.
If you think about it, dreams have a purpose and officers need to learn to distinguish between reality and fantasy and how each can assist them in the profession in which they work. It has been twenty years since I was a law enforcement officer and the theme of my dreams for the past forty years has been about cops and robbers. My interpretation of these dreams is I must have enjoyed the years I experienced being a police officer. I have come to this conclusion because in the closing scene of my dreams I always catch the bad guys. It is unfortunate it is a dream as I remember when I affected an arrest as an officer I always enjoyed apprehending the bad guy and taking him to jail. It was part of the job, but the part which was most enjoyable for me.

                       Lawrence W. Daly
Kent, WA

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