The History of the Police Officer Support Team

Daring to Care
By
Police Office Assistant Marianne Kwiatkowski
District #5
    It was March 19, 1985, just after the 8:00 a.m., roll call at Milwaukee Police District 5 located at the corner of N. 4th St. and W. Locust St.  The first few minutes after roll call are always the busiest.  Officer Rosario “Ross”Collura came up to me in the office and told me that he was going on Squad 53.  I didn't answer him right away because I was busy and he kept repeating it until I finally said, “OK Ross, I got it.”  He walked away laughing.  Ross was like that, a lovable pest who would keep at you until you’d give in.  What Ross meant when he said he was going on Squad 53 was that he was taking Officer Dennis Clark’s place on the squad while Clark was in court, so Collura was riding that morning with Clark's partner Leonard "Lenny" Lesnieski.

    Ross and Lenny hadn’t been on the day shift all that long.  When Ross went to the day shift from early (second) shift, he told his long time partner Tim Oddsen, “I’m through with the hard stuff Timmy,”  meaning Ross’s days of being a rabble-rouser were over.  He even told Tim that because the day shift was slower, he didn’t feel that he had to wear his bulletproof vest any longer.  At the time, officers were not required to wear their vests.  In fact, if an officer wanted a vest, they had to purchase one on their own.

    At about 9:30 a.m. on this day, a strange voice came over the police radio.  At first we weren’t sure what we heard.  A man said, “Breaker, breaker……officer down.”  The dispatcher said, “Say again” and the voice said we’d better send some help as two officers had been shot. It was Ross and Lenny.  They had come upon a group of men sitting on a porch and exited their squad car to check them out.  One individual had a small bag of marijuana on him and didn’t want to go to jail.  Pulling out a .25 caliber handgun, Terrance Bernard Davis shot both officers at close range.  Lenny died at the scene while Ross was taken to County General (now Froedtert Memorial) Hospital.  Though severely wounded, Ross clung to life for some six hours after the shooting.  He’d been given about 60 units of blood, but it just wouldn’t clot.  He died at about 3:30 p.m. that afternoon.  Davis was later arrested in a neighboring suburb and was eventually sent to prison for life.

    Though both officers owned bulletproof vests, neither one was wearing theirs that day.  Their deaths were not the first in MPD history nor would they be the last, but their murders were the ones that led to an awakening of the MPD’s administration to the psychological stresses of being a police officer.  In the weeks that followed, several officers approached the #5's Captain about starting a peer-support group for officers.  At the time, there were only a few groups elsewhere in the country and the most notable group was in Los Angeles.  The officers couldn’t have picked a better person to champion their cause than Captain Robert Proulx.

    Bob Proulx knew firsthand about critical incident survival and what their families had to go through.  Fourteen years earlier as a sergeant, Bob responded to the report of an armed robbery of a cab driver.  He located the suspect’s vehicle and pulled it over.  Proulx was alone at the time and did not call for backup.  This was 1971 and policing was a bit different back then.  Bob frisked the first subject and did not find a weapon.  As he turned toward the second suspect, the suspect fired and struck Bob four times in the head.  Two other officers nearby heard the shots and responded.  They found Bob lying in the street, bleeding from the head, but alive.  They loaded him into their squad car and drove like mad to County General Hospital.  The officers were credited with saving Bob’s life because during the ride, they turned his body in such a way so the blood would flow away from his lungs.  He spent about a month in the hospital and lost vision in one eye.  He eventually returned to work on a limited-duty basis before the year was out.

    If there was ever a cop who was entitled to duty disability retirement, it was Bob Proulx.  With a family to support, he turned his back to an early retirement and within seven years, was promoted to Captain.  He had “walked the walk” surviving a near-fatal shooting and the officers seeking to start a support group knew Bob’s story would play a big role in helping the group get started.

    After meeting with mental health professionals, physicians and social service agencies, the support group was given the green light Chief Robert Ziarnik and the City of Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission and was called POST, or, the "Police Officer Support Team." Its premise was to help officers, civilian personnel and their families in time of need and since 1986, POST has trained over 100 MPD members as "peer counselors" although the word "counselor" isn't exactly correct.  POST members listen, evaluate and offer suggestions to the member.  Sometimes just talking and listening helps; other times, when things are more serious, POST member can assist the person in seeking professional help.

    It is important that POST members keep no notes or records of their assistance to members other than statistical data.  POST members receive no extra compensation when services are provided outside of their regularly scheduled hours of work.  POST is all volunteer and basically free, an aspect that won wide support from the Department’s administration.  Establishing POST was an initial step to helping police personnel, another was the Department’s decision to make bulletproof vests part of an officer’s standard issued equipment.

    The POST motto is "Dare to Care" and POST has been helping MPD members and other law enforcement agencies for over 20 years.