In assuming the role of a Lodge Chaplain, I thought I’d start a newsletter to discuss issues that are part of the life of a police officer. Coming from service in a fairly large department in Norfolk, VA, I experienced all the trauma, stress, and struggles that plague officers, issues that build that blue wall of silence and cause us to stuff any flicker of emotion. On the street and as a detective, I encountered the same types of people that lead officers to harden—sometimes criminals, sometimes those in the legal system.
Several years ago, after leaving law enforcement, I went through a series of counseling sessions. I was cynical, hardened, and pretty intense, even with those in my own family. During the first meeting, the counselor said “you might be the most emotionally shallow person I’ve ever met.” you know my initial thought—give me a minute outside and I think I can change your mind.
I was stunned. After all, I had already graduated Bible college, studied counseling myself, preached in several pulpits, and taught Sunday School. “He must hate cops,” I thought. “Must have gotten a ticket on the way in this morning.”
He went on to enlighten me regarding his assessment. My years on the street, and all the human tragedy I witnessed, and all the effort to maintain a safe professional distance from feeling emotional connection with a victim—or even criminal—formed a defense mechanism. “It’s like you have welded a cast iron shield over your heart,” he said. “You are determined not to feel emotional pain.”
After a couple of sessions, it was clear that the issue was the result of more than street work. It was a culmination of years growing up in a home with two alcoholics, and enduring the abuse of a lunatic stepmother named Butch, from Picayune, MS. She made Cruella DeVil seem like a pet lover. All that contributed to my iron clad heart. It has taken some time to recover, and like any other issue, is always a potential issue.
I am in no way suggesting officers wear their feelings on their sleeve and become a Barney Fife. But I am suggesting we all need a listening ear, a trusted friend or pastor, who will listen in confidence, and offer insight, wisdom, and as much as anything, a release valve for the frustration, pain, and stress of daily life for those who pin on the badge and strap on the gun.