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Law enforcement officers are protectors, comforters, 'the first step in healing process'

Zoe Greszler • May 3, 2019 at 10:00 PM
Typically when thinking of law enforcement agencies, most people imagine the enforcement side of the job. Not many think of the way that police or deputies respond to offer assistance in time of crises — to be the first person to arrive and do whatever’s needed to help. 

Huron County Sheriff Todd Corbin said the agencies act as first responders anytime they can prove to be “a caring and compassionate” person in a time of crisis. That includes being in an accident, a victim of domestic violence or other criminal act, a fire, medical emergency or when notifying a family of a loved one’s death. Norwalk Police Chief Mike Conney said that role could come out even with something as simple as a vehicle lock-out.

 

Comfort and security

Conney said these services are “invaluable” and many may not realize these service are part of officers’ duties.

“People think that what we do is narrow, in enforcing laws and traffic laws,” Conney said. “Everybody here can render first aid, CPR, rescue breathing to help people until the ones (who) are more skilled can get there and take over. The beauty of your police department is they’re here 24/7 on the road, in the neighborhood, waiting for someone in need.”

He said driving around looking for ways to help is what allows the officers, deputies and state troopers to be the first ones to an emergency scene many times. 

Corbin went a step further, adding that the position of any law enforcement agent requires one to be “a very kind and compassionate person.” He said the two most important aspects of the job are preservation of life and officer safety. Saving a life takes priority regardless if that life is a bystander, victim or a criminal. Corbin said sometimes the community might forget this, or just not realize what the officers “are willing to subject themselves to and expose themselves to” to ensure the public’s safety.

This is something both the sheriff and Conney hope will encourage all to realize law enforcement is just there to help. 

“Don't think all we’re here for is to enforce laws,” Conney said. “We provide a service to the community. You don’t have to be afraid to call. You’re not bothering us. We’re never bothered. We want to be here to help.”

That service goes beyond offering assistance.

“If there was one message I’d like to get across to the public, it’s that people are willing to die for your benefit — people they don’t even know,” Corbin said. 

“We’re probably the first step in healing process. We’re the first ones there to kind of console people. If they're the victim of a crime, we’re that security. We restore a lot of things that are lost to people. When you see a comforting face, someone (who is) caring, compassionate that can really pacify the situation and make it better. If you don’t respond to the situation well, you make it worse. We have to be ... that shoulder that people can lean on in their time of need.”

Both law enforcement leaders said the men and women in their respective departments do “a great job” of that.

 

It takes a toll’

No superhero is without some resulting struggle. 

Besides daily dangers and the violence involved in their work, law enforcement first-responders deal with verbal barrage, obscenities, exposure to diseases and drugs and even public scrutiny.

And despite perhaps sometimes seeming like superheroes, officers, deputies and troopers are just like everyone else in society. They have the same emotions and feelings as anyone else and aren’t immune to the travesties they see and experience sometimes on a daily basis. Conney said in order to be what the people need, the job requires that the men and women in uniform put their own personal feelings aside while on scene “and do their best to deal with it and fix whatever problem there is at that moment.”

The chief said being involved in violence is never easy for anyone, but added that an officer’s work isn’t necessarily done when they leave the scene. Sometimes families need to be informed a loved one was injured or killed. Other times, officers may be visiting victims in the hospital.

Either of these situations can “take a toll,” sheriff’s Maj. Chuck Summers said, especially when it involves children, and especially if those children are close in age to their own family. 

“It builds up over time,” Summers said. “It wears on you mentally and emotionally and I can tell you there are some things that you see and experience that make you go home at the end of the day and hug your kids a little tighter.”

“We try to keep our citizens as safe as possible, but you see a lot of disturbing thing,” Conney said. “When you see officers on the scene, they may not show it right away, but it comes out later. ... You have to hold it together when on scene, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t effect you.”

Lt. Bill Duncan though said its during those emotionally or mentally trying times that the bond between first responders — even across divisions and departments — becomes stronger. 

“First responders take care of first responders,” he said. “They’re the only ones that really fully understand it.”

 

‘Instant gratification’

No matter the price, all the men and women in inform that spoke to the Reflector agreed the job was “worth it.” 

Police Capt. Jim Fulton said knowing he’s helping someone and making a difference in someone’s life, is personal gratification enough to continue making those sacrifices every day.

Conney agreed, adding though that something as simple as a smile, wave or someone “coming up to you and saying ‘thank you for what you do,’” is “up lifting.”

“It reminds why you do what you do,” the chief said. 

Corbin said seeing things go “very well” or knowing that his job as a first responder can make people very happy, serves as “instant gratification.”

“You know when you do the job right, you’re solving problems, things are getting taken care of and you’re getting people the help they need,” the sheriff added. “There’s no bigger reward than that. The occasional thank you or ‘I appreciate what you do,’ it’s just the icing on the cake.”

 

Highlights of the career

Summers related an experience where he had the opportunity not to report the end of a life, but to save one that had only just begun. 

About 30 years ago, the sheriff’s major responded to a call where a 3-month-old boy was choking on a penny a sibling had stuck in his mouth. The child was choking so bad he quit breathing. Summers and the child’s mother managed to help open the child’s airway enough to rush him to the hospital.

“He made it,” Summers said of the boy. “They found the penny when we go to the hospital. Still to this day, I don’t know what happened to this kid. He’s got be 25 years old. I mean that impacted the kid because he lived, but it impacted me more than anything else. That’s better than all the bad guys I’ve put in jail.

“I saved a choking child. To me that was a highlight of my career,” he said.

Corbin said sometimes people don’t immediately appreciate the help they receive from first responders. But sometimes, later on in life, they recognize its value. That was the case with one man he arrested and charged with drinking and driving about 10 years ago. The man had wrecked his car near Ohio 61 and Ohio 598 due to his alcohol consumption. Recently though, Corbin said he ran into the man again unexpectedly. 

“I actually thought that we were going to get into a physical confrontation because of the way he was coming out at me,” the sheriff said. “But he came up and stuck his hand out and said ‘I just want to say thank you. You saved my life because had you not arrested me I’d be an alcoholic, or worse yet, I’d have killed myself or somebody else.’ You don’t look for those (thank yous). It’s the not the motivation of the job. But it sure is nice when they happen.”

For Duncan, forming victim relationships has been the most rewarding.

“Sometimes I’ll see a victim later on and they’ll recognize me and they don’t want to talk to me and I’m fine with that,” he said.

“I recognize that my involvement in their life was perhaps one of the most traumatic experiences in their entire life. But it’s honestly just nice to see them and to know that they’re OK and that I might have had something to do with that.”

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