Friday, December 12, 1997
Public feels guilt, sadness

BY SUE MacDONALD
The Cincinnati Enquirer

They are complete strangers to Ron Jeter and Dan Pope, yet they place flowers, teddy bears and written prayers at the base of a downtown statue honoring slain police officers.

They hang signs of sympathy in business windows, write heartfelt letters to newspaper editors and attend the funerals.

How to channel grief
  • Send a sympathy card to the officers' families and the Cincinnati Police Division.

  • Visit the downtown memorial for officers slain in the line of duty.

  • Talk to others about your feelings, sadness and anxiety.

  • Explain to children that bad things sometimes happen to good people, and give them ways to channel their feelings through writing, art, music, talking or play acting.

  • Make donations to funds set up for the surviving families.

  • Plant a tree or donate money to a favorite charity - cause in the officers' honor.
  • They offer cash donations and talk openly about the tragedy surrounding the weekend killing of Cincinnati undercover Officer Pope and Spc. Jeter.

    Such visible outpourings of grief and support, say Tristate experts, are signs that many people who did not know the officers or their families nonetheless feel empathetic, vulnerable and guilty because of the killings.

    ''To die so tragically'' plays a role in public grief, says Ken Czillinger, bereavement manager for Vitas Innovative Hospice and longtime grief expert for Tristate support groups.

    So does the realization that Officer Pope and Spc. Jeter were two ordinary guys who worked high-stress jobs and went home at the end of each shift to families and hobbies.

    ''Most of us know a police officer,'' Mr. Czillinger says. ''It's not like the deaths of Princess Diana or Mother Teresa, where you're dealing with royalty or someone so saint-like. Police are just like us - one of the community.

    ''We may have one in our family, or a police officer may live in our neighborhood. We may worship with one or coach a ball team with one, so there's a bond there.''

    The deaths carry even more impact because of the time of year, said Steve Sunderland, social work professor at the University of Cincinnati and grief expert.

    ''I think it happening at Christmastime is just absolutely spellbinding,'' he said. ''I think it knocks us for a loop and takes a lot of energy off the holidays.''

    Guilt also plays a role in how people react to the policemen's deaths, said Lawrence Travis, professor of criminal justice at the University of Cincinnati and author of a 1997 book on police in America.

    ''. . . When officers are killed in the line of duty, they've died serving us, and so there's sort of a sense of guilt - that these officers are out there really at our request,'' Mr. Travis said.

    An opinionated public, eager to criticize and second-guess the police under ordinary circumstances, sobers quickly when officers are gunned down performing routine but dangerous tasks.

    ''When we realize the cost of the kinds of things that we're asking them to do, that wises us up and makes us appreciate them more,'' Mr. Travis explained. '' . . . It makes us stop and think that we really do appreciate having the police officers out there.''

    Tragic deaths also remind average citizens how insulated they are from the realities and dangers of crime, Mr. Sunderland said.

    ''These shootings trigger a lot of guilt and remorse in us,'' Mr. Sunderland said ''because we realize there's someone taking our place in dealing with the worst elements of crime. It's part of a 'there but for the grace of God go I' way of thinking.''

    Many times, people facing public tragedies need tangible ways to express grief, said Trena Goodwin, psychiatric nurse at UC's Central Clinic and volunteer member of the American Red Cross disaster mental health team.

    Such events often jar old feelings - previous losses or deaths, unresolved grief, emotional issues not dealt with - and may explain people's willingness to talk and grieve so publicly.

    The sight of up to 1,000 uniformed officers attending funerals as a sign of solidarity also has a visible, almost contagious, effect on people's sadness, she said.

    It's important to channel grief actively and constructively, she said.

    Today's report

    Jeter visitation: Tears burn once more
    Caller did everything he could
    Caravan will head up I-71 to funeral
    Hundreds attend killer's funeral
    Web sites, memorials, tributes

    Thursday's report

    A hero's farewell: Officer Pope laid to rest
    Homily: Faith eases hurt, anger
    Piper's sad song sends a fallen fellow officer home Cliff Radel column
    Spc. Jeter's visitation today

    Wednesday's report

    Pope visitation: Thousands pay their respects
    Witness: Killer hid gun in pants
    Pastor hopes funeral brings peace
    Spc. Jeter's organs donated

    Tuesday's report

    911 boss admits error likely
    Borgman cartoon
    Shock, grief and guilt Laura Pulfer column
    City thanks slain heroes
    Killer's family visits his home
    Many officers limited in experience
    Forces across Tristate take heed
    Names to be added to memorial

    Monday's report

    Argument preceded shooting
    Tragedy puts face on job Cliff Radel column
    Families lean on faith, memories
    Friends, acquaintances mourn
    Grief stays, say families who know
    Police deaths declining

    Sunday's report

    Community mourns fallen officers
    Suspect's family: He was 'respectful'
    Sequence of events
    Officers highly regarded
    Officers deal with sorrow, job's risks
    Chief's message: 'Take care of each other'
    Hollister St. residents shocked