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Light & Shield Ministry

 

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. 

 

New Priorities

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.

 

Emotional Limit

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. 

 

Silent 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 things. 

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 lightandshield@gmail.com.


Published in Law and Order, Apr 2014

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