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Homicide Detectives & The Emotional Fallout of Serial Killings

Police must cope with grisly tasks

By Michael Puente, The Gary (Indiana) Post-Tribune

HAMMOND, Ind. -- One house. One basement. One suspect. Three bodies.

A lifetime of grief for the families of the victims, and possible nightmares for the police officers, detectives and work crews called to the scene for years to come.

While some of Hammond's most seasoned homicide detectives had the unenviable assignment this week of investigating the deaths of three teenagers at the hands of a possible serial killer, dealing with the emotional fallout from the ordeal may be equally tough, experts say.

"I can handle this," says Michael McCafferty, a former Chicago police officer, in reference to what many police officers say about such a difficult crime scene, often referred to as a "heater" by cops.

McCafferty is director of the Law Enforcement Management program at Calumet College of St. Joseph in Hammond.

According to McCafferty, the training officers receive at the police academy may not prepare them for dealing with the emotional stress from a multi-homicide scene.

"You only learn what is in the book. You get that generic type of training," McCafferty said. "That emotional part, that only happens by working the street. ... At the scene (in Hammond), there is not a detective that is six months on the job. They go to the old pros so that the emotion does not overwhelm them."

But even the best homicide detectives can have emotional fallout from such crime scenes.

Often, according to McCafferty, police talk to each other over coffee or beers.

"At the station, this is what they are going to be talking about... They will process this among themselves," he said.

Although counseling services are available, McCafferty says usually officers won't take advantage of such programs.

"There are professional counseling services but police officers are loathe to take advantage of them," McCafferty said. "They say, 'I can handle this, this is part of my job.' "

For some, when the stress gets too high, they turn to a chaplain that's on staff.

Jack Anderson, chaplain for both Hobart and Portage police departments, says many area departments have critical incidents stress management programs.

More times than not, police officers do not like to take their worries back home, he said.

"It's to get them to sit and talk about it," Anderson said. "Usually, they don't want to have to talk about that with their families. I believe (Hammond) has a police chaplain. I'm sure he has talk to them about this."

Anderson put his counseling services to use in New York City at Ground Zero following Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

He spent 23 days in New York City helping officers and other emergency responders deal with the stress of clearing the sight and looking for victims — some of whom were colleagues.

"Officials there had a hard time dealing with it because it was their own," Anderson said.

Back in Hammond, as the media and neighbors begin to ask what more could have been done to prevent the deaths of the teens allegedly at the hands of David Maust, officers too may start asking, "What if?," Anderson said.

"Ifs will get in there. 'If I had checked this out sooner'," Anderson said." I usually go out and ride with the (officers). Whatever is said to me, stays with me. Officers are human and they have the same emotions like everyone else."

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