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Richmond County officers cope with death on the job

Sunday, April 8, 2012 3:35 PM
Last updated Saturday, April 14, 2012 1:16 AM
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Investigator Ashley Pletcher remembers the first death she saw as an officer.

It was one that gave her nightmares.

She had just joined the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office as a road deputy and was called to the Savannah River, where a 5-year-old was drowning. She was first on the scene.

“The first thing I did was take off my gun belt and jump in the river even though I’m deathly afraid of water. It was instinctual,” she said of the day in 2004.

Pletcher was unable to save the child.

For a year, a picture of the girl reaching her arms out for help haunted Pletcher’s dreams.

“My husband said I should have gone to therapy,” she said.

Nearly eight years later, Pletcher, like others in her line of work, has learned to try to stay numb to the frequent deaths in a career that deals with homicides and traffic accidents.

“Those images never go away. You just have to learn to deal with it,” said Sgt. Danny Whitehead, of the sheriff’s Serious Traffic Accident Re­sponse Unit. “When it’s all said and done, you have a job to do.”

One of the main mistakes he sees is when someone tries to take the “macho man approach” and bottle up what he’s seen. That approach tends to end careers, he said.

In the traffic division, it’s not uncommon to respond to crashes where there are broken bones, smashed bodies or even decapitations.

Cpl. Bill Adams said he tries to put it in the back of his mind and not think of the subjects as real people. If he did, it could hinder the investigation. Later, he tries to discuss it with other officers to clear his mind.

It’s more difficult, however, when someone dies in front of an officer.

“When you first get here, you feel like it’s your job to protect everyone,” Adams said. “Then when you’re here, you realize there’s only so much you can do.”

Investigators in the Criminal Investigation Division said they sometimes cope by thinking of the dead as wax figures.

“There’s a certain degree that you have to (numb yourself) to do this job,” Sgt. Dan Carrier said. “If you let your emotions take over, it would drive you crazy.”

Most bodies don’t bother Carrier, who was the son of a firefighter and served in the Army before becoming a police officer.

The sergeant saw his first death at age 4 when he rode with his father to a house fire. When no one was looking, he peeked underneath the sheet at the body that had been burned beyond recognition.

Children, however, still bother him.

“It makes you think, ‘That could be my kid,’ ” said Carrier, a father of two.

Despite the scenes officers face on a daily basis, Lt. Pat Young, of Internal Affairs, said he doesn’t recall any officers seeking desk duty or days off after seeing a traumatic death. The only death that comes close was when Deputy James D. Paugh was gunned down Oct. 23.

“That’s the only instance I saw that really traumatized people,” Young said. “The thing is, how many people have problems and never say anything?”

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AGA2424
12
Points
AGA2424 04/08/12 - 05:42 pm
1
0
ALL YOU OFFICERS THAT HAVE TO

ALL YOU OFFICERS THAT HAVE TO DEAL WITH THESE TYPE OF SITUATIONS STAY STRONG!!! YOU MEN AND WOMEN SHOULD BE GIVEN METALS FOR WHAT YOU HAVE TO ENDURE JUST TO MAKE A LIVING,AND A DIFFERENCE IN OUR COMMUNITY. AUGUATA,GA HAS BEEN MY HOME FOR 46 YEARS I WAS ON THE ROAD WORKING TO SUPPORT MY FAMILY, WHEN I HEARD ABOUT MY FRIEND AND ONE OF RICHMOND COUNTY'S FINEST HAD BEEN SHOT FOR NO REASON AT ALL.THAT FRIEND WAS J.D.PAUGH!! JUST TO HEAR THAT NEWS AT 250 MILES FROM MY HOME PUT A CHILL UP MY SPINE,SO FOR ALL YOU OFFICERS IN MY C.S.R.A. MAY ANGELS FLY ABOVE YOU, AND GOD PROTECT YOU FROM ALL THESE TROUBLED CRIMINALS THAT HAVE LOST SIGHT OF WHAT LIFE IS REALLY ABOUT!!!!
P.S. WE LOVE MR. RONNIE SOOOO RUN MR. SANDERS RUN!!!!!!!!!!!!!

madgerman
236
Points
madgerman 04/08/12 - 06:37 pm
0
0
Every deputy in the RCSO that
Unpublished

Every deputy in the RCSO that I have met were the top of the line and extremely polite, helpful and professional. I appreciate and support them 100% and hope everyone else has the same feelings. What I don't understand is why they have to work the extra hours that the do. When will be have a budget that we can all see where our money is spent? If we had a proper budget maybe these folks would make a living wage for the struggles they face daily.

Walden
41
Points
Walden 04/08/12 - 09:16 pm
1
0
You try to stay numb, but

You try to stay numb, but sometimes you just cant.

csraguy
2085
Points
csraguy 04/08/12 - 11:38 pm
2
0
Officers need to be provided

Officers need to be provided with proper therapy after such tramatic incidents. For many situations, it should be mandatory until they are cleared by the doctor as this is in the best interest of the deputy and the community as a whole.

Our deputies deserve so much more than we currently offer them and that should change.

TheVolunteer
12
Points
TheVolunteer 04/09/12 - 08:37 am
0
0
Nice thought CSRA, but we'd

Nice thought CSRA, but we'd be in therapy all the time!

PacerAlumna
4
Points
PacerAlumna 04/09/12 - 10:48 am
0
0
They shouldn't be given

They shouldn't be given medals, they should be given pay raises. Or better yet, medals and pay raises.

akmoose
117
Points
akmoose 04/09/12 - 03:17 pm
1
0
I can't even put into words

I can't even put into words how much respect I have for law enforcement. The people who feel negatively towards them are usually the ones that have dealt with them while being on the wrong side of the law or has a bad attitude. Think of what they deal with, like this story just explained, they have to keep so much inside and some people will never get it. I am a military spouse, we are in the beginning of deployment #4 and I consider law enforcement heroes just as much as our soldiers.
My heart just aches for the things you have to see and go through. I try and say thank you every chance I get, wish there was more I could do. The death of JD affected me very deeply even though I never met him, and it still makes me cry. I just pray that St. Michael continues to watch over and protect all of you. Angels with badges here on Earth.

Cdr4500
20
Points
Cdr4500 04/09/12 - 03:34 pm
1
0
Most of the cops I know
Unpublished

Most of the cops I know deserve more money but you can't base their pay on the danger factor alone. If you did police and firefighters would all be getting 100K a year, soldiers would be getting 3 or more times at much, certain other professions have an even higher mortality rate. The fact is you can get officers to work for less because they love the job. If you want a higher caliber of officer, one that is educated and qualified to do the diverse functions of an officer, then you have to pay enough to attract applicants that want to do the job and will be able to do it well. These qualities are hard to determine sometimes as formal education, although it's good, is not a reliable prerequisite for a good cop.

Be more selective in recruiting only the best candidates who want to be police, not any one who finds it an opportunity to make money and nothing more.

Be strict with the passing out qualifications. Fail and kick out those who are not committed to this job.

Be fair in evaluation and promote those who excel in the duties as a crime beater. Demote those who slack in their jobs. These people must be fit for their jobs, so there must be annual physical and health examination to ensure that they are fit for their jobs.

Put them on the beat. Let the people judge them for their efficiency. Let feedbacks from the public like appreciation letters and awards push them to do well in their jobs and increment in their pay.

If they do a good job, the public will always give them their moral support. But when the police are bias in their duties, how do you expect us to respect them?

palmetto1008
9782
Points
palmetto1008 04/14/12 - 05:47 am
0
0
Thank goodness for men and
Unpublished

Thank goodness for men and and women who so willingly perform necessary duties that so many of would not, and for such modest compensation.

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