'Another tool in the toolbox': Former FBI agent gives lecture on "trauma informed care" in Elizabethton

Jonathan Roberts • Updated Jun 11, 2019 at 7:19 PM

ELIZABETHTON — Why do children end up in the juvenile justice system? That’s the question former FBI agent Christopher Freeze posed to citizens, and a police officer, during a lecture in Elizabethton Tuesday afternoon.

After the FBI in 1996 and eventually becoming the special agent in charge in Jackson, Mississippi, Freeze developed a passion for educating others about ACEs — Adverse Child Experiences — and the role of trauma informed juvenile justice in law enforcement.

“I think (learning about ACEs) helps provide a good answer for why we see so much crime,” Freeze said. “Adverse Childhood Experiences — what’s happened in their life — helps provide an understanding of why they took the action they did.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines ACEs as “all types of abuse, neglect and other potentially traumatic experiences that occur to people under the age of 18”.

In Northeast Tennessee, however, knowing about ACEs can help provide valuable insight on steps both law enforcement and community leaders can take in curbing the opioid epidemic in their own backyards. Maj. Jerry Bradley with the Elizabethton Police Department said it’s “another tool in the toolbox,” and that educating officers about ACEs can help them better understand how to truly, and proactively, serve the community — not just react after a crime has already been committed.

“It lets them know that it’s OK if they spend an extra 15 or 20 minutes on a call talking to a juvenile … this way maybe we can be more of a mentor and guide them a little bit better in the choices they’re making,” Bradley said.

“It’s always good to get another perspective than you’re used to,” he said.

The event, which was co-sponsored by ReVIDA Recovery Centers, also brought in citizens like Kim Crowder who are committed to combating the influence of drugs in their towns and cities.

“It’s absolutely important (to attend these lectures), this is home, and these are the people that my clinic serves,” said Crowder, a member of the Sullivan County Anti-Drug Coalition board of directors and director of a recovery clinic in Kingsport. “It’s an overwhelming problem — a systemic problem — and so anytime we have an opportunity to look at ACEs and trauma-informed care, I want to support that.”

For Freeze though, trauma informed care and, subsequently, taking the steps to curb juvenile crime is all about the mindset community members or law enforcement officers have.

“Trying to keep kids from encountering the juvenile justice system, really, in some ways, stems from a paradigm shift from (asking kids) ‘what’s wrong with you?’ to ‘how can I help you?’,” Freeze said during his lecture. “Are we willing to take the time it takes to be involved in that kid’s life and get them the coping skills and resiliency skills that you had in your life that allows you to lead a productive life.”

Johnson City Press Videos