How Do Police Deal with Tragedy?

By Megan Trent

December 22, 2010 Updated Dec 22, 2010 at 8:50 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana's NewsCenter) - Peace on Earth and good will towards men. That's what we all hope for during the holidays, but unfortunately, tragedy doesn't take a Christmas vacation.

The death of children, shootings, fires, and car accidents - they aren't uncommon for police. Dealing with death and tragedy of that kind can lead to loss of appetite, social withdraw, depression, and more.

"It definitely takes its toll on officers," says John Chambers with the Fort Wayne Police Department. "We're human just like everybody else. When we get dispatched and arrive on calls involving situations like this, it can definitely be very stressful and traumatic."

That's why the Fort Wayne Police Department has six volunteer chaplains that often meet officers out on the scene during times of tragedy. They provide guidance and an opportunity to talk confidentially.

"Most of us just need to know that there's somebody that cares, somebody that will listen, somebody that will enter into our difficulty or our grief or our loss or our frustration," says Senior FWPD Chaplain Erick Riddle. "We just need somebody that will enter into that with us."

Through the city's employee assistance program there is also formal counseling available upon request. Other times, they lean on faith or fellow officers.

"This is a group of people who do care about one another," says Riddle. "This is a group of people where they have friends among their co-workers. And most people can find somebody with a similar background that they can work through some of these issues with."

It's no surprise that cases involving children, particularly small children, are extremely difficult for police. Many are themselves parents, and it's hard not to take those traumatic images home at night.

"When tragedy occurs, there is no easy way around it," says Chambers. "You can't mentally or physically prepare yourself for anything like that."

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