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William Harvey

William Harvey

William "Bill" Harvey is currently serving as chief of police in south central Pennsylvania. He retired from the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department where he worked assignments in training, patrol, and CID. Harvey has more than 25 years of experience working with recruits, rookies, and FTOs.

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The Gift of Forgetting and Helping

Learn how to deal with the horrors of police work by leaning on colleagues.

October 09, 2012  |  by William Harvey - Also by this author

Photo courtesy of William Harvey.
Photo courtesy of William Harvey.

I was asked by a citizen the other day about how cops can hear about or witness so much sadness and grief in life and how do we deal with it. This was a very good and deep question, so let's talk it out. Granted, the average cop will see far more of humanity's horrors than the average person ever will. Some of us handle and go on, some do until a breaking point and a few leave this profession for that very reason.

I spoke to my chaplain about this very question while preparing this article. Father John told me that most priests and clergy who hear confessions and conduct other counseling have a gift given to them.

Police chaplains have training in this area, but their gift is to forget and clear their mind. They also have other similar clergy around them to help them in dire times. Many in the psychological helping fields, he said, have similar methods of depersonalizing to help them assist others. One important thing is that all of them have a life support system; they seek the assistance of others and don't hold this tragedy inside.

There have been many lessons learned in our vocation, and this is one that we have to repeat over and over. You're not alone. There's always some help, and we have your back. As a police officer, you will see horrors second only to those who have been in combat. You can suppress some of the most horrific days of your life for a while. But at some point a similar incident can create a recall and these memories will come roaring back.

When I came on you did not ask for help. You internalized it, you kept your feelings and business to yourself. Far too many officers have retired who to me are walking wounded. Too many had demons that haunted them, and they took their own lives.

What was repeated to me is that even those gifted chaplains who deal with it all the time seek help from their colleagues. Why should cops be any different? If you are coming on the job be sure you know the phone numbers to call for your employee assistance program and how to access the system's benefits. Know your department's critical incident protocols. Debriefings are a key part of this. If you have a crisis management team or a peer counseling program, be aware of it and be ready to use it when need be. I'm not talking about when the sergeant chewed on your butt and your feelings got hurt. I'm speaking of the shocks in the vocation that come back like bad horror movies at Halloween.

My goal today is to stop the hurt on my brother and sister officers. Between all the normal stressors of life such as family, kids, and career you have to work a call that shocks your inner conscience. It can and will overwhelm you. I don't want to see any more psychological casualties and wounded in our ranks. Seek help and, more so, be there for your partner and others. You no doubt always tell them that you have got their back, but sometimes all they need is your shoulder to lean on. Be there for them and yourself.


Police Chaplains: Helping Hands

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