By Gordon Nary
Gordon: Dave Luecking of the St. Louis Review wrote a great article on your service with the Dallas Police Department and your current position as an instructor in criminal justice. When were you appointed as a deacon at St Joseph Catholic Church and what are your primary responsibilities as deacon?
Deacon Mark: Gordon, yes I agree. I was assigned in May (2016) to St. Joseph parish in Farmington. Prior to that, I served the last six years and my formation years at St. Joseph parish in Bonne Terre, about 15 miles north from where I am assigned now. Right now my primary duties centered around the Mass and this fall teaching. I enjoy preaching and find the process of developing my homilies both spiritual and educational for myself and I hope the end result the same can be said by those who hear it. As is the case for permanent deacons are responsibility is only partially the parish, we are in the work place as well.
Currently my ministry is Peace and Justice with my work focusing on working with those in the Criminal Justice profession and those who would encounter the profession on a daily basis. For the last two years my focus has been on peace and nonviolence work with area police agencies developing a retreat for first responders as well as working with various organizations to educate them on the role of agencies in their communities.
Gordon: How have the recent police murders affected the police whom you know and their families?
Deacon Mark: Gordon for the most part the families seem to be at a heighten sense of concern for what many would say is obvious. This concern has affected the officers since often the stress which may result is PTSD is demonstrated at home with the family. As is the case when situations like this occur the officers work to be the center of control and strength for their love ones while inside the struggle between making sense of it all rages. For the last few years since the events of Ferguson and Baltimore many officers were feeling very unappreciated while those of us who no longer walk the beat but work to support our brothers and sisters saw the danger that was building by the increase of media coverage and commentaries that attack all police for allegations not yet proven of the actions of a few.
Our officers desire to serve, they desire to bring peace to their communities. Law enforcement is but a part of their job and unfortunately it gets lost in all the negativity that the officers face day in and day out. I think whether or not officers will admit we go through survivor’s remorse every time a fellow officer is killed. It doesn’t even have to be with your department, but you question what could I have done.
Gordon: Could you comment on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that affect many of our police, its symptoms, and treatment options?
Deacon Mark: First of all, I am not an expert and for sure it is not my field of study. My approach as you would imagine is spiritual. But the symptoms generally are insomnia, fatigue, loss of appetite, nightmares or thought of nightmares when deciding to try and sleep, anxiety, depression, what some call numbness or a lack of concern or emotion, and for sure a fear of personal safety beyond the normal level.
There are various treatment options that range from medication to counseling. Although, some techniques such as retreats as well as breathing exercises in the form of meditation has shown to reduce the stress levels and help deal with preventing PTSD although anyone suffering from PTSD should consult with a professional not simply a spiritual director of physical trainer.
One has to always remember that the image of officers male and female like soldiers are people who a tough and can handle anything, so to be at that level of asking for help or confronting PTSD one as to overcome the stigma association with PTSD.
Treatments such as associated with psychotherapy with group or individual, recreation therapy, and as mentioned before meditation in the form of trauma sensitive yoga and various forms have helped. Taking the foundation of the Ignatius Spiritual Exercises and the use of silence for extend retreats over a three day period as in the case of the St Michaels Retreat have shown to help attendees reach that level of recognition where stress is in their lives.
Gordon: How can police chaplains help address PTSD among our police?
Deacon Mark: For the most part they are there to listen. Not to talk or provide words of wisdom as much as being there to provide a source of venting and support and then if the moment provides for it, that period of grace working in the officers lives to see what is there for them. Faith is key in recovery. To take that void or hole that lies in the center of ourselves and remove all the junk that people try to fill it with, especially as officers are known to do, “boys and their toys” and see the importance that their faith plays in keeping hope alive in their lives, in their family, and their community. Once an officer confronts his or her part in the situation, takes responsibility faith becomes key to the road to recovery.
Gordon: As a specialist in criminal justice, could you share with us your suggestions on what public policies our political leaders consider to improve our criminal justice system?
Deacon Mark: I am not sure if there is enough space or time to answer this question. Over the last few years as has been the case since the development of police agencies in this country the police departments have been looked at by many as the single responsible agency to handle any and all domestic problems that come about on a daily basis. An officer is looked at by the average person as the representative of the government. All that a person has been promised by the government falls on the shoulders of the officer or fireman or EMT when they arrive at the scene. They are to be counselor, mediator, public works repairer and even trash collector as well as private security. On the reverse end, the government has seen fit to simply place the label of law enforcer on their shoulders. And then there is the media who simply want them to be both superman and saint, not to mention to do all this with perfection.
To put all this back in place, officers must have a solid foundation in morality and who they are and their role. To be public servants is asking a lot of each individual far more than being an enforcer of the law. For this they need a support system that allows time to process and deal with the ever growing violent society as well as establish the tools in each of them to work through all that they encounter on a daily basis. They as well as those who work with them and especially the citizens must be reminded they are only human and not machines nor are they miracle workers.
Proper recruitment of personnel, beginning with education and followed by training is the start. All policies as well as political leaders must hold themselves first accountable regarding policies and laws before placing those on the frontline accountable for enforcing and upholding such policies and laws. They as well are to be the examples which they expect others to be, before they call upon perfection from those who wear the uniform. It is not an “us vs them” mentality, we are all citizens of the world and most importantly we are all God’s children. No matter our color, our gender, our religious affiliation or where we come from and live, we are all brothers and sisters. If we approach the situation with a clear understanding that we are all connected and sharing this world together then we can begin to solve issues because there is no issue that we can truly separate ourselves from. In the end every one of us are responsible. Each life lost to violence, each act that ends with violence is a failure not on the police but on society and God weeps for all who die each day at the hands of another. Every life is a creation of God and is precious.
We need to do away with those policies that wish to divide and cast blame on those only because of the uniform they wear, the position they hold, the color of their skin, or the community they live in. Policies and laws need to address the injustice that is taking place for all. We cannot claim to address a policy or law that labels all who wear a uniform guilty before the facts and then cry out for justice when others claim the same discrimination because of the color and gender of a person. We must open our eyes and see what is truly wrong in our thinking when it comes to the criminal justice process, the public policies and the actions of political leaders. No policy, no law will ever end racism and violence, only man can do so in his heart and then his mind and there he will find God was waiting for him all along.
Gordon: Thank you for a great interview, your service and leadership, and especially your insights into the challenges that we all share to better love and care for each other and reduce the violence that scars so many of our communities.