Rupert Howell Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Rupert Howell

Those who protect and defend us need our empathy

It was an eerily familiar scene.

Sheriff’s deputies standing around, leaning on automobiles, saying little but all wondering why.

September 27 of last year, their boss had surprised most everyone and taken his own life. Now, 10 months later, fellow deputy Michael Downs had confounded them again by apparently taking his life at his rural  Panola County home.

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Interim Sheriff Otis Griffin said situations involved in law enforcement may sometimes be more stressful than the mind is ready to process and noted that Downs had recently been the first person to arrive at another suicide on a late night call.

The sight of mangled bodies from an auto accident or violent crime may leave an unnatural memory in one’s mind. A call to check on a heated domestic argument  or mistreated child may put law enforcement officers in a difficult mental state. And each person also carries their own set of personal woes.

It’s a well-known fact that most law enforcement officers are males who are prone to keep their emotions inside rather than exhibit them in public or express them to others. It’s a natural, macho, thing that’s as common as dirt, but we’re told it’s unhealthy.

Batesville Police Lieutenant Jimmy McCloud, a second-generation law officer, is a certified peer counselor. He and other officers attempt to be available to their fellow law enforcement officers for confidential discussions and guidance.

“A lot of times, people just need to talk,” McCloud says and mentions that psychologists have volunteered and are available when needed for officers.

According to MS LEAPS website, “No one understands cops like other cops. We are motivated by our compassion for our fellow officers, and are here to help them confront the realities of law enforcement. Many of the hazards we face are the unseen effects of the life of a law enforcement officer; the inherent stresses of the career and lifestyle of a cop affects us in ways that only another cop can understand.”

Another certified counselor is Jimmy Anthony. He understands the problems first hand as he had a life-changing experience when he was wounded while serving as a Batesville City Policeman. He now volunteers his service with the Panola County Sheriff’s Department.

Counselors are a team of trained officers from all areas of law enforcement who make themselves available to help and are not sponsored by any particular agency.

Deputy Michael Downs was as likeable a person as anyone will ever meet. His departure, like that of his former boss, caught most who knew him completely by surprise.

Two upcoming sheriff elections, one in November of 2010 with another following during the regular election cycle, will put additional stress on the department as candidates jockey for position and employees wonder who will be their next boss or if they will even have a job.

And this is another good reason to keep true issues out front and personal attacks and rumors brushed aside for the sake and health of our law enforcement officers.