Volunteers help JPSO deputies cope with stress of job

JEFFERSON PARISH, LA (WVUE) - Working 12-hour shifts, often overnight, on weekends and holidays, the life of a law enforcement officer can be grueling.

Most days, deputies like Nick Broussard and Cody Foret ride alone.

"It can be intimidating at times to go to a place where nobody wants you there," Nick Broussard said.

But tonight, they've got company. Their partners aren't armed. They can't make an arrest. But they can lend an ear.

"We're there to support our officers," Marc Broussard said.

Broussard is a volunteer chaplain with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office.

"A lot of my role with them is just to be there to talk about whatever they want to talk about," he said. "Sometimes it's keeping it light, sometimes it's up to them to go deeper."

Marc Broussard understands the importance of providing the men and women on the street with an outlet. His son, Nick, is also a deputy.

"When we go home, sometimes we take a lot of feelings home and it's good to have someone to talk to," Nick Broussard said.

"Deputies have an 80 percent divorce rate, there is a high suicide rate among deputies," said the Rev. Kathy Radke.

Radke started the chaplaincy program back in 2010. The idea first came to light after Hurricane Katrina.

"Our officers were on the streets under high stress, and I had an officer's wife call me and was very distressed because her husband was just in constant hyper vigilance," Radke said.

Seeing a need to provide a support system for men and women on the streets, Radke began the ride-along program. It quickly grew.

"We have Catholic deacons, we have Episcopal deacons, we have a rabbi, we have Baptist ministers," Radke said.

Along with providing emotional support for deputies, the chaplains provide another critical role. One example, on a murder scene.

"We have an obligation to make sure we can collect the evidence that's going to lead to the prosecution of the person that took that person's life," Sheriff Joe Lopinto explained. "Having the chaplains to be able to come out gives the ability to go speak to those family members, pull them to the side, helps them to grieve a little bit, talk them through the process."

"In two different instances, the mother of the victims were volunteers of mine, so just to be on that scene and be able to bring comfort to that mother in the worst hour of her life, it's life-changing," Radke said.

Assisting the community is a big part of the job. But the deputies say the help they've received from the clergy members over the years is also life-changing.

"There's not many people that want to volunteer, especially now these days with police and everything and with what's going on," Nick Broussard said.

At times, it can feel dangerous.

"We have to stay in sync at all times to make sure that each one of us is gonna go home," Deputy Cody Foret said.

"They let me know they have me covered, and I don't have anything to worry about when I'm riding with them," Nick Broussard said.

But the minister said getting the chance to know the people that protect us on a deeper level is worth it.

"Yeah, they're definitely family and I would do anything for them, literally anything, any time day or night," Marc Broussard said.

For Marc, the work also strengthens the bond he has with his son. Nick agrees.

"The more overlap we have with whatever guy or gal I'm riding with, with what Nick is doing, just enhances the night for me," he said. "When I get to see him on a call and we have some overlap and some interaction."

"He gets to see stuff that not every member of the public gets to see, and it's something we can talk about and relate to," Nick Broussard said.

Marc and Nick aren't allowed to ride together. That's a department rule, in case anything should happen to Nick. But Marc knows he's there for his son in other ways - emotionally, spiritually or just to listen. Because now he understands the stresses officers face each and every day.

"I don't think you can truly appreciate how hard their job is and how well they do it unless you do a ride a long," Marc Broussard said.

In fact, although he's not armed like the young men and women he rides with, Marc Broussard knows he, too, is helping to save lives, just doing it in a different way.

There are currently 41 chaplains volunteering with the JPSO who are required to do at least one ride-along a month. Radke said she's always looking for more volunteers.

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