Police officers and other first-responders are the “cornerstone” of society, Father Mike McCullough declared at the 22nd annual Public Safety Mass Oct. 2. “I can’t think of a profession that that’s more true of than law enforcement,” the LAPD chaplain said. “If our society is not founded on values and laws and order, it becomes very chaotic.”But the veteran master chaplain also stressed during his homily how work and family stressors these men and women face can easily lead to “overload,” which can result in psychological breakdowns, divorce and alienations from children, substance abuse and even suicide.“The author and former LAPD detective Joseph Wambaugh pointed out that the real threat doesn’t necessarily come from daily shootouts like you see on TV,” Father McCullough said at the liturgy celebrated in the Los Angeles Police Academy’s woodsy rock garden in Elysian Park. “But emotionally, it is the most dangerous profession, and there’s no doubt about that. That’s the side of law enforcement that we chaplains see.”He added that members of the general public “don’t see the victims the way first responders see them in their pools of blood with their teeth on the other side of the room, and see the viciousness with which some members of society would take a life in a heartbeat.”Such horrific job realities are hard to compartmentalize from a cop’s everyday family life, the priest said, observing: “So this is why we say that law enforcement entails a daily drop of corrosion on the soul. That’s why we need chaplains and we need a house of prayer for police officers to teach officers how to neutralize that drop of corrosion with a daily drop of grace.” During the outdoor Mass, a time-honored police tradition was once again carried out: the blessing of the badges. Members of the congregation, surrounded by tall pines against a lush hillside, stood and placed their hands on their gold and silver badges as the priest walked among the rows of folding chairs sprinkling holy water. At the offeratory, the Los Angeles Police Emerald Society Pipe Band played a haunting “Amazing Grace” with bagpipes and drums. During the meditation, Renee Roque White sang the hymn “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” And at the recessional, the pipe band performed a military medley.Father McCullough also pointed out that members of the military coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan suffering PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) faced the same severe psychological issues as law enforcement workers. And he announced that the mission statement of the Desert Refuge for Peace Officers, which he established in 1999 that sponsored the annual Mass, had been rewritten to include U.S. active and retired military personnel, especially Marines returning to their home base at Twentynine Palms near Joshua Tree. “Our goal is to teach emotional and spiritual survival tactics,” he said. “What to do to stay emotionally balanced and healthy. What to do so that you can end your career still in touch with your wife and your children, and move on from a police career. They don’t teach that in the academy. They should, but they don’t.“And the suicide rates are frightening,” he continued. “We know that cynicism is a downward spiral. And it only takes one cynic in a station to infect a lot of people. Because it’s so easy to get into that ‘we and they’ mentality. You’re dealing with the five percent of society that nobody else wants to deal with, so you need to be in touch with the other 95 present to stay healthy. Of 150 officers approximately that I’ve buried, 13 committed suicide.”Bob Elder, sitting in the first row at the Public Safety Mass, served 32 years in the Oxnard Police Department, heading up the major crimes division for almost 15. Facing life-and-death situations on a regular basis, he became a self-described “church junky” to ward off cynicism from all the evil he encountered while on duty. “Church and my wonderful wife and my family kept me going all those years, with the over 200 murders I worked and all the shootings and stabbings and rapes and molestations,” he told The Tidings. “But in bigger departments like Los Angeles, these guys are just facing one major crime after another, year-in and year-out. Of course, dealing with dead children is the worst. That’s the worst and what people do to their own wives and families. I mean, they are supposed to be your loved ones.“And like Father Mike says,” he added, “that’s that daily drop of corrosion on your soul. Without the church, without prayer, without God in my life, I don’t know if I would have made it through.” {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2011/1007/publicsafety/{/gallery}