As sergeant, I used to believe my job was to inspire my
people to make more and more arrests. There was nothing more important to me
than Part One crimes and gun arrests, until the events in September 2008. I
have been an officer for 20 years and a supervisor for 14 years. In that time,
nothing has shaken me like the events of that day. The pain of it today is as
real as it was then.
It started off as usual—roll call and off to lock up the bad
guys. Then the radio call: a stolen car doing doughnuts. My officers are in the
area. They spot the car, radio in, request permission to pursue. The words that
came out of my mouth I have wanted to take back a thousand times. “Permission
granted. Nathan bike one, I am monitoring pursuit.” Just 68 seconds later, I
watched one of my officers take her last breath, struck by the fleeing vehicle.
The agony that would follow for her family, my officers and
myself, I could have never imagined. My own grief and sense of failure as a
Supervisor spilled over into my marriage, which without the good Lord’s help,
would have fallen apart. My officer’s death left a wake of wreckage.
It also left me with a new understanding of my priorities as
a Sergeant. My team’s arrest record is vital. However, their physical, mental
and spiritual condition is paramount. I was awakened to my true responsibilities
as a Supervisor. The well-being of my team was my ultimate job.
Let’s consider the spiritual and mental impact of our
profession. Cops are just like everyone else. We face the death of loved ones,
mental strain, traumatic events, divorce, separation and all manner of
emotional stress. But we are unique in that we must also handle the fallout
from the stresses that others endure—domestic disputes, suicide intervention,
rape victims, belligerence on the street, and on and on. We confront endless
waves of hostility, brokenness, desperation, anger and quite often danger. This
is our job. And it takes a toll.
If you have been on the job long enough, you have seen a
fellow officer pushed to the emotional limit by the job. This is where Light& Shield Police Ministry comes in. We provide chaplaincy services for just
such officers. Our role is to come alongside, provide a listening ear and an
environment where a hurting cop can decompress. We began our chaplaincy
ministry after the events of Newtown, Conn. and
we now offer our services to any officer in need.
Police chaplaincy was developed as a means to help a
traumatized person work through their emotions in a way that leaves as few
scars as possible. Training and sometimes even certifications are involved for
those who wish to do this formally. However, there may come a time when another
officer needs you, and needs you now. Most of us have never been trained in
psychological crisis intervention or suicide prevention. Certainly we are not
doctors or emotional medics. But there are some basic rules anyone can follow
to assist a fellow officer in deep emotional stress.
What Not to Do
Don’t tell them you know how they feel. If anyone had said
that to me when I was in the darkness of my grief, I personally know that it
would not help. You aren’t in their heart; you aren’t in their head; you don’t
know how they feel and that is OK.
Next, don’t tell them you feel their pain or that you are
hurting for them. People mean well when they say these things, but the effect
is to put the attention on the person saying them. That means the feelings of the
one grieving are minimized. Remember, as cops, we have built-in lie detectors. False
words and false sentiments don’t fly with us.
What to Do
Taking the lead from the Bible, there are many verses that
tell us to be still, to be quiet, just to be there, to silently pray. Search
for these verses, and try to memorize some and know them by heart. The best
thing that ever happened to me during my time of loss was a friend who was
willing to sit, listen and let me talk myself through it all.
All the advice, well-intended words, even comforting Bible
verses from others did nothing to ease the pain, take away the guilt, or remove
my sense of failure. Instead, I recited the verses to myself, verbally
processed everything that I was feeling, and gradually lifted myself out of my
pit. My friend graciously sat, listened and offered an occasional head nod or
gesture of support.
Sigmund Freud called this process “catharsis.” It is simply
talking oneself through a crisis and, most of the time, finding our own answers
to problems. For me this meant my own personal prayers to the Lord, even
expressing my anger that this tragedy happened. It meant the silent presence of
a generous friend who simple sat by, prayed silently, and let me wrestle with
Wonderfully, the Lord worked in my heart in a transforming
way, letting me know that I could never have changed those tragic 68 seconds! They
were going to happen no matter what I would have done or said. I could never
have stopped it.
Due to that tragic day and the healing I experienced, I try
to make sure everyone that works with me knows where my faith is, and knows
where my strength comes from. It’s not always something I can say in words, but
I try to be a living testimony for Jesus Christ. For cops, actions speak louder
than words anyway. So I try to walk the walk; I try to have my example as the
only Bible some cops will ever read.
Officer in Crisis
One day you also may be called to step into the life of an
officer in crisis. Remember, you don’t need all sorts of training to be of
help. You have two ears and one mouth, which is simply a reminder to listen
more than talk as someone pours out their heart. Romans 13 says that police
officers are God’s ministers to do good. Imagine the good you could do for a
stressed-out, burned-out officer who has seen one too many tragedies and endured
one too many heartaches. You could literally be a lifesaver.
Kevin Bernard is a
Sergeant in a major metropolitan police department and founder of Light &
Shield Police Ministry. Sgt. Bernard has extensive training in: IED and
explosives; active shooter and long gun; Hazmat. He can be reached at