Special Report: Stress in the line of duty Pt. 2By Mike Berger
Editor’s note: Below is the second 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.
Lt. Patty Sherrill
Perhaps more than any other officer, Lieutenant Patty Sherrill, who heads the department’s domestic violence program, has seen her share of stress and sadness, not only in actual cases, but in dealing with the courts and the various social service agencies.
But like Lt. Helena Findlen, Sherrill fondly recalls the wisdom of the late Officer Earl Newhouse, who found “the good in bad things,” and the late Lt. Tom MacDonnell, who believed that “if you treat people with respect, you will earn their respect.”
Sherrill has learned to deal with each situation in a professional way with the mentality of “not wearing it on your sleeve.”
She relieves stress by running and working out, and she is pleased that Chief Berkowitz has allowed each officer the opportunity to work on fitness (30 minutes per shift) with the stipulation that everyone must be ready to respond to a situation at a moment’s notice.
Like Lt. Tom Keleher Jr., Sherrill still vividly remembers the fatal stabbing incident that occurred at a house party on Washington Street in the fall of 1996. She said the memories of that night stayed with her for a long time, and she even had dreams about it for a while. However, she was able to pull through by keeping busy.
Most recently, she was the lead commander at the scene of a serious traffic accident on York Street that injured six Canton High School students. She remembers calling the father of one of the accident victims and staying with the man until he could get to the hospital to see his daughter.
“We are all human, and these incidents do have an effect on us,” said Sherrill. “But we have to remember how we would like to be treated if we were the mother or father, wife or husband.”
Sgt. Kenny Drinan
One of the more affable personalities in the Canton Police Department, Sergeant Kenny Drinan is often on the desk, answering the phone and greeting the public at the station.
Drinan was part of a wave of new officers that joined the CPD in the late 1980s, along with current Police Chief Ken Berkowitz and lieutenants Findlen, Sherrill and Tom Keleher Jr.
Although he gained valuable knowledge and training from the police academy, Drinan said the best training he received came from the job itself and from riding in the car with a senior officer. He is particularly indebted to the late Officer Newhouse, who had a special talent for communication and for diffusing emotional situations.
Today, Drinan advises the younger officers on the street how to handle domestic cases. Drinan said the officers are taught to diffuse the situation, make sure no one gets hurt, and to gather the facts of the case.
When a rookie makes a traffic stop, Drinan wants to know the officer’s exact location and the license plate of the vehicle. He also wants to ensure the officer has adequate back up.
The most recent traumatic incident that Drinan remembers occurred when a man committed suicide by setting himself on fire. He recalls that talking to fellow officers was the best remedy, although professional counseling was available. “I think the officers knew resources were available if they needed it,” he said. “We left it up to the officers.”
Detective John Ruane
Police work is a big part of Detective John Ruane’s heritage. Both his father, Jack Ruane, and his grandfather, John Sr., served as police chief for the town of Canton. Jack Ruane was also a detective for many years and although he rarely discussed his job with his family, John does remember seeing his father’s crime scene photos hanging to dry in his at-home dark room.
John Jr. has been on the force for almost two decades — serving the past six and a half years as a detective. The creator of the department’s website, Ruane has done a lot of work on computer crimes.
Ruane recalls “learning on the go” during his first year as a police officer, and counting on the senior officers for help and advice.
His role has changed as a detective in that he is no longer the first to respond to a scene. “My role now is to figure out what happened and sort it out,” he explained. He and the other detectives are the ones who respond to a homicide, a drug investigation or a sudden death.
One thing he has learned from his senior officers and those who served before him is the importance of “keeping emotions in check.”
“When you respond to an incident, obviously the people who suffered are very emotional,” he said. “Your job is to settle down the victims as much as possible and get the facts to help you in the investigation.”
Ruane admits that he has seen his share of tragedy, and what he sees sometimes lingers in his mind — like the scene of a fatal plane crash off Neponset Street. But he leaves the job behind when he gets home to his wife, Renee, and his son Trevor, a junior at CHS and a member of the football team. Ruane’s older son, John IV, is currently a sophomore at Westfield State, where he is majoring in criminal justice.
Officer Brian Ronayne
Brian Ronayne, a veteran of the midnight shift for the past six and a half years, is now a senior officer, working with the rookie officers. He is the son of soon-to-be retiring Sgt. Mark Ronayne, and — like his father — he does not take his job home with him or bring it up to his wife and three children.
Ronayne got a taste of law enforcement when he worked as a corrections officer at the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Department for two years. With that experience and his training at the police academy, he technically felt prepared for his job as a police officer. What his first two years in Canton taught him was how to deal with “real life situations” — calls of sudden death, suicide, and emotional domestic situations — and he appreciates the mentoring of the senior officers who helped him.
“I think some of the traumatic situations do stay with you at first, but you tend to block it out,” he said. “Myself, I keep this stuff to myself. I don’t want my wife to deal with it. I know the department helps us. They make it clear that help is there if you need it.”
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