The Chaplain's Notebook

Stress: Friend or Foe?

In the October 2015 Sheriff’s chaplain meeting, the chaplains had a presentation on “Stress: Friend or Foe?” In this session, we learned how stress affects the body — both physically and mentally — in several different ways. Stress can also affect your families. Law enforcement has a high divorce rate. As deputies, you have probably had some training sessions on stress and how to deal with it in healthy ways.

Deputies and other law enforcement officers undoubtedly experience stress more than other professions. When trouble is happening and everybody is running away, deputies go toward the danger. Your job requires getting to the trouble as soon as possible, making difficult decisions in a hurry and trying to control the situation — sometimes with less than ideal outcomes. You were also probably trained to hold your feelings and emotions in check while performing your duties. I am a retired police officer, and I can say, “I have been there and done that.”

How stress is handled varies from person to person. Some handle it in healthy ways while others do not. Some are able to ask for professional help while some are able to talk and share with someone they can trust about their experiences. Some may relieve the stress through physical activity. Others see asking for help as a sign of weakness and turn to alcohol or drugs to relieve the stress. During my career, I saw fellow officers do all of the above.

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength. It takes strength to recognize you need help dealing with the stress. Finding the right kind of help is also important. Deputies have access to psychologists specifically trained to help them. Another kind of help is your pastor or a chaplain. Even if you are not a religious person, we are here to be present to you, listen and not judge you.

Unfortunately, law enforcement personnel are three times more likely to die from suicide than being killed in the line of duty. This became very evident during the chaplain meeting. During the meeting we received the news that a deputy from the Norwalk Station had committed suicide. Immediately after the meeting I, along with another chaplain, responded to the Norwalk Station to be present and provide support for Station personnel.

Law enforcement is a noble and righteous profession. I spent 28 years in the profession. As I tell people, I was able to retire with my health, my sanity, my sobriety and my marriage all intact. It was not always smooth and easy. There were some rough times. But I credit my faith life and my wife with being able to handle the stress that came with the job.

After my retirement, I felt called by God to ministry as an ordained deacon in the Catholic Church. As a permanent deacon, I now volunteer as a chaplain with LASD assigned to Norwalk Station. All the chaplains and I are here to serve you. Know that you are not alone.

How can I contact a chaplain? Chaplains are available at their unit of assignment, or by calling the Psychological Services Bureau at (213) 738-3500.