Sheriff’s Office chaplain works to help officers, victims

Patricia Geyer spent more than 20 years helping people advance their careers by dealing with the superficial, she says. Now, she helps police officers and crime victims when they need it most, dealing with spiritual and psychological problems.

Geyer serves as a volunteer chaplain for the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office. She works with deputies on assignments that include notifying family members when someone has died. She helps people deal with violent or tragic events.

Geyer said she hopes to provide a “buffer zone” for the deputies, staying with victims or their families and freeing up the deputies to spend more time dealing with law enforcement issues.

For example, Geyer said she can stay with a family after a death notification, helping them inform other family members of what has happened or going with them to identify the body.

Geyer said she’s found that people in a crisis tend to find comfort in some kind of faith. But in an emergency, she has to be able to minister to people of any faith, or people of no faith.

Her training requires her to be well-versed and knowledgeable about the Bible, but she’s received training in how to respect various other faiths as well.

Someone to talk to
Geyer said she can also provide deputies with someone to talk to about the sometimes traumatic and troubling things they see.

A lot of stress can be relieved just by acknowledging a problem and talking about it, Geyer said. She hopes to fill that role for the deputies.

Geyer’s position is part of a Sheriff’s Office effort to improve basic resources available to its deputies, said Amanda Dell, a human resources coordinator for the Sheriff’s Office.

The public expects police officers to always be in control of a situation, and of themselves, but they can forget that officers are human beings first, Dell said.

When an officer is out on a scene, he or she is expected to just be able to deal with the stress of the job, as well as any personal issues or problems they might be dealing with, said Cpl. Jon Light, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office.

Police officers tend to be unwilling to show any sign of weakness, so it’s important to give them a confidential way to release some of the emotions they’re feeling, he said.

Called to serve
Geyer, 64, spent 23 years running an image consulting business, advising people on how changes to their hair, makeup or wardrobe could advance their careers.

She was motivated to go to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to see what she could do to help.

Listening to the first woman she sat with, hearing the pain in her voice as the woman talked about what she’d lost, the seeds of her transition from image consultant to chaplain were sewn.

She spent considerable time volunteering in the community and getting trained in critical incident stress management.

Now, Geyer is a member of the International Fellowship of Chaplains, a group focused on working with emergency service personnel and “providing a bridge between the secular and spiritual environments of community life throughout the world,” according to the group’s website.

Along with her Sheriff’s Office work, she also travels around the United States with various emergency response teams, following up after incidents such as Hurricane Ike in 2008, the spring floods in Nashville, ice storms in Missouri and tornadoes in Mississippi.

Geyer said she regularly rides along with deputies when they’re on the road, and is inspired by the passion they bring to their jobs.

“[Police work] has to be a passion, or you wouldn’t do it, because it’s not easy,” she said.

Posted: Sunday, July 11, 2010 12:00 am
By Ryan Marshall, Times Staff Writer

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