St. Louis area police chaplains say the shooting of a Ballwin police officer Friday has shaken the local law enforcement community, especially since the incident came hours after word that 12 officers had been shot by a sniper in Dallas. Five of those 12 officers were killed.
The chaplains are making themselves available so St. Louis officers can have a listening ear and a comforting presence.
Father Mike Boehm, who served the St. Louis County police, was one of several chaplains who spent Friday at the hospital where the injured officer was being treated.
"Everybody obviously is very, very saddened by this,” Boehm said. “What I find most important at a time like this is what they call the ministry of presence. And that’s just kind of being around. A lot of times that doesn’t require any words to be spoken, just to be there.”
Boehm said chaplains also arranged an inter-faith prayer service at the hospital chapel Friday.
As of Saturday, officials said the Ballwin officer was in critical, but stable, condition after he was shot during a traffic stop in the west St. Louis County suburb.
Boehm said the focus of his ministry so far has primarily been on the members of law enforcement directly involved with the Ballwin officer’s shooting, but the impact has been felt all across the region.
“Everybody woke up yesterday to the news of Dallas. And it seems to me that had a pretty profound effect on the law enforcement family in St. Louis, especially with the magnitude of it, it being the deadliest day for law enforcement since 9/11. And then when the incident happened yesterday in Ballwin, it magnified it because it was so close to home,” Boehm said.
Dzemal Bijedic, a chaplain for the St. Louis police department, said his phone rang throughout the day Friday with officers and community members wanting to talk.
“The officers wanted to talk about the shootings going on, what happened in Dallas. So my phone’s been pretty busy,” Bijedic said. “And also some citizens have been calling me (to say) be safe if you’re working tonight. A lot of support.”
Bijedic, who’s originally from Bosnia, works a lot with St. Louis immigrants.
“Everybody’s watching what happened in Dallas, and with all these shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana,” Bijedic said. “Everybody here’s getting together, showing support. Everybody wants peace and to stop all this violence.”
Like Boehm, Bijedic said the main thing he is trying to do is be there for officers and the community he serves.
Going forward, Boehm said, chaplains will continue to offer support, and help connect Ballwin officers and others to a group debriefing called the Critical Incident Stress Management Team. At the debriefing, law enforcement officers involved in Friday’s shooting can work things out together with the help of peers, mental health professionals and chaplains.
Boehm also said individual appointments with mental health professionals are also available through the department that employs them.
Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.