COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - It's been almost two weeks since 6-year-old Faye Swetlik went missing, but some of the law enforcement officers who covered her case are still processing her passing.
In the hours following a call from Faye’s mom to 911, hundreds of local, state, and federal officials from multiple agencies were called to solve the case.
They worked countless hours, spoke to Faye's family and friends, and repeatedly dug into every aspect of Faye's loss.
Their goal was to solve the case and keep the community safe, but just because the case closed, some law enforcement still brought the burdens of the job home with them.
“I think of police officers as they are like athletes, they are very resilient, they are very strong, but they are also human beings,” said Eric Skidmore, a chaplain and program director with S.C. LEAP.
S.C. LEAP or South Carolina Law Enforcement Assistance Program, is a part of SLED. It’s an employee-assistance program that provides South Carolina law enforcement with training, resources, and around-the-clock access to staff and volunteers to help with any mental, physical, or spiritual needs.
“When a human being experiences the impact of a critical incident, when they experience a situation of extreme vulnerability, or they see someone get injured or killed, or their friend or coworker right beside them is injured or killed, that kind of event in the life of any normal human being would have an impact that can be long-lasting,” Skidmore said.
The chaplain said LEAP is there to answer any questions law enforcement may have, listen to them, and mostly make sure they all know they’re “normal people who have gone through an abnormal experience,” he added.
David Tafaoa is another chaplain with S.C. LEAP. Tafaoa said when trauma doesn't go addressed, it builds on itself and becomes more dangerous.
“These officers are expected to go right back to the work the very next day, and if they have been exposed to a critical or traumatic event the day before,” Tafaoa said. “That just adds to that onion effect of layers and layers until before they know it they are dealing with a bunch of critical incidents and a bunch of traumatic events that affect them not only mentally and emotionally and physically because it all works together.”
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Both chaplains said many cases that don’t get media attention can cause officers some trauma. They said if an officer has a personal connection to a case, sees a similarity between the case and their own life, or just sees a disturbing scene, it can impact them for a long time.
But no matter the size and scope of the case, S.C LEAP is there for their community.
“We try to walk with them through this journey...I don’t think anyone can ever say I tell them, ‘I know exactly what you are going through’ because I don’t,” Tafaoa said.
He added the signs of trauma take many forms. However, some of the most common include problems sleeping, mood changes, issues going back to the place where the traumatic event happened, and even physical problems like stomach issues.
STheasdfouth Carolina Law Enforcement Assistance Program is part of the state's law enforcement division, offering training and support to law enforcement officers across the state
“Every single one of us officers are made differently, we have different experiences, and we process it differently,” Tafaoa said.