The Church and the Thin Blue Line
By CIT Chaplain Kenneth Koon
During a 90-day period from April to June 2017 Armed Forces Mission conducted suicide intervention training for 175 law enforcement and Fire/EMS personnel from a dozen agencies in seven cities in Georgia and South Carolina. Participants included 4 law enforcement recruits, 6 911 operators, 37 Fire/EMS, and 128 seasoned law enforcement personnel.
Of the participants only the six 911 operators, and 3 law enforcement personnel with prior military experience had ever participated in suicide intervention training. The other 91% had never had training. Most were well into their careers. Additionally, many shared that they had attended numerous calls that involved a loss while they were present or the risk of loss. One of the agencies had lost two of its members to suicide since December 2016.
A pre-training survey of the most recent class of 18 LEPs found that 50% of the participants attended the training because it was mandatory. However, after the second day of training in Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training all participants were grateful that they had taken the class, felt that skill levels were stronger, and that the knowledge gained would be of value to them in their job. Several suggested in exit surveys that the training should be mandatory for all in Emergency Services.
What does the training of the First Responders have to do with the faith community? Three things!
First, as beacons of hope the faith community can host the workshops for the benefit of local law enforcement and encourage faith group members to attend. Some agencies will want to conduct closed workshops for their personnel. However, in open workshops officers have expressed a greater connection to community after participating with others. It is all about developing a network of care. The workshops provide a wonderful outreach to law enforcement and others that helps strengthen all within the community.
Secondly, the faith community can train their own members which helps to relieve the burden on law enforcement. As Pastor Jim Thomas of the First Baptist Church, Fayetteville, says, “The workshop provides the necessary tools to 'stand in the gap' in helping others consider life. I highly recommend this workshop for pastors, lay leaders, and anyone who serves as a caregiver in the life of the local church.” Fayetteville First has hosted the Intervention workshops for the past five years and hundreds of community members have been trained.
Finally, hosting a workshop helps raise awareness for all in the community that suicide is not the result of a person wanting to die, but is the result of losing hope because of pain or loss of some kind. The workshops help participants better understand mental illness and the events of life which can lead individuals to thoughts of suicide. In this way, the faith community can do its part to help build a positive culture of health that turns the tide on suicide. Imagine a community where suicide has been eradicated. What would that mean to those who stand on the thin blue line?
To learn more about hosting a workshop for your faith group visit 1Reason2Live.org.
Dr. Kenneth Koon is the Executive Director of Armed Forces Mission and Crisis Intervention Team Chaplain for Peachtree City Police Department. He is the 2016 recipient of the Trinity Award for Emergency Responder of the Year, for his work in conducting more than 600 successful suicide interventions and training of over 7,500 community members in suicide intervention.