Special Report: Stress in the line of duty ~ CPD Part 1By Mike Berger
Editor’s note: Below is the first in a three-part series that examines how our local public safety officials cope with the stress that goes along with the job. The first two parts feature interviews with Canton police officers, and the third part will focus on Canton firefighters.
As the experts often say in pro football, the success of a team is often predicated on how well the team does in the draft. In the case of the Canton Police Department, the years of the late 1980s produced a bumper crop of talented rookies, many of whom remain with the force to this day.
They are now senior officers, including four who are part of the command staff. They are the ones the current rookies go to for advice and the ones that other officers lean on for support.
How do police officers deal with everyday stresses? Some talk it out, others turn to fitness or their hobbies, while others turn to their home life.
Many Canton officers have family members who worked in the department before them. Their fathers rarely brought their jobs home with them, but they served as role models for their children nonetheless.
Chief Ken Berkowitz
Ken Berkowitz has been a police officer for 20 years and was appointed chief in 2005. He has seen a lot of good and a lot of bad during his tenure, although nothing, he said, can prepare an officer “for the stuff you are going to see.”
Berkowitz vividly remembers responding to a call as a rookie officer in which a woman was dying of a heart attack. He knew both the woman and her husband, and he recalled how sad it was and how he talked through it with fellow officer Helena Findlen. Over time, he came to realize that “traumatic situations are part of the job.”
“Look, police and firefighters see a lot of stuff,” he said. “It is just part of the job. You try the best you can to keep the person going. You can’t save everyone. You do the best you can to keep them comfortable.”
As chief, when he chooses a new officer, Berkowitz will check the person’s psychological makeup to determine how the prospective candidate will handle stress.
He realizes that every officer is different and lets each of them know that an employee assistance program is available if they need it.
Lt. Helena Findlen
Police work has been a part of Lt. Helena Findlen’s life for several decades. Her father, Vincent Rafferty, served Canton as a detective for 22 years, and Findlen joined the force in 1989. Her grandfather served as a police officer in Ireland.
Findlen said police officers in her father’s day “didn’t talk much.”
“They just did their jobs every day,” she said. “That generation of men didn’t show much emotion.”
Today, she is thrilled to be a member of the Police Department and is comfortable as a “woman in a male’s world.”
When she joined the force, Findlen said there was little that shocked her. “In fact,” she said, “the newspaper had stuff which opened my eyes even more.” She admits that her her penchant for talking has helped her deal with stressful situations.
Findlen helped usher in a new generation of police officer — a group that included Detective Glen Piro, Sergeant Kenny Drinan, Chief Berkowitz, and Lt. Patty Sherrill.
“Back in the day, guys would unwind and go out for a beer,” she said. “Today, we unwind at the gym; we are health conscious. We unwind at our homes with other family members.”
The new wave of police officer is also dealing with a host of different issues. Technology has rapidly advanced and new crimes are being reported. “We have gone through September 11 and that wave of terrorism, suspicious mail packages, powdery susbstances,” said Findlen. “We all had new things to learn.”
And while the police academy serves as the starting point of an officer’s education, Findlen believes the camaraderie that develops among officers is just as important as education and training. “Bonding with fellow officers at a scene is very important to what we do,” she said. “I remember the late Earl Newhouse once told me, ‘We did not create the situation. We are doing the best to make it better.’”
Findlen recalled one dramatic situation early in her police career when she responded to an accident scene on York Street, where a young victim lay dying.
“I put myself in his mother’s situation,” she said. “What could I do to help him? I just felt talking to him as a friend could help him. To me, I came to realize it was in the plan. So at least he didn’t die alone. His parents appreciated that … Unfortunately, we come to realize that death is a part of life.”
Findlen said all of her fellow officers are similarly empathetic and compassionate, and it is her hope that they can somehow make a difference and help make each situation a little better, in some way.
Lt. Tom Keleher Jr.
Like Findlen, Lt. Tom Keleher Jr. also comes from a long line of police officers. His paternal grandfather, Dan Keleher, was a former police chief who served the CPD for 38 years. His father, Tom Keleher Sr., retired after serving 34 years. Keleher Jr. has been with the department for 19 years and is currently the officer who reviews all firearm permits.
The one incident he does remember influencing his father was the 1986 murder of then CHS freshman Shaun Ouillette. He remembers that his father lost his appetite for days, although he never spoke about his job in front of his family. “He did turn to me when I was older and knew I was entering the police department and said, ‘You will see things you will never forget,’” said Keleher.
“He was right. While we live in a great community and we don’t have the high crime of other communities, still you see things you might not expect — the breaks, the domestics, many sad things.”
“I was lucky my rookie year,” he added. “I had great mentors — my father, Tommy Mac (the late Lt. Tommy McDonnell Jr.), [Lt. Findlen], [Chief Berkowitz], Glen Piro, the late Earl Newhouse, Detective Chip Callery. These are people you could go to talk to.”
The one incident Keleher will remember for the rest of his life occurred some 16 years ago on a Saturday night around midnight on Washington Street, ironically in a private residence next to the property that later became the police station. During a party at the residence, an altercation erupted and nine people were stabbed, including one who was fatally wounded, and two were struck by a car. Keleher worked through the night on the case and didn’t get home until 3 p.m. the next day.
“It still sticks with me,” he said. “I still think about it. I can’t forget the smells of that night. Sometimes it’s the little things that happen during the day that bring back memories of that night.”
“You know, I remember going home at some point to my roommate, and he was washing the dishes,” added Keleher. “The dishes were so loud. Senses were so sharp.”
He noted that then Police Chief Bright offered everyone counseling the next day, but Keleher declined. “I just didn’t want to talk to anyone,” he said. “Talking didn’t help me. Time helped me. Fortunately, in time I had great support from my girlfriend, who became my wife, and great support from my fellow officers.”
Lt. Keleher, in turn, makes a point to be there for his fellow officers. “Everybody, I think, is different,” he said. “Some need someone to listen to, some don’t. People handle things differently.”
“I think when I have a tough day, thankfully I can go home to family and friends,” he added. “I have three great kids, a beautiful wife. That helps me.”
Short URL: http://www.thecantoncitizen.com/?p=16315