Police Officers Need to Learn to Manage Stress Before it Ruins their Lives and Careers

Here we tell the story of Chris Prochut (pronounced “Pro-Hut”) who was a Commander for the Bolingbrook Police Department at the height of the Drew Peterson investigation, who nearly lost his life, but instead lost his career.  Watch this Fox News video then Page down to listen to our interview with Chris.

From age 10, Chris Prochut knew he wanted to be a police officer.
Upon graduation from High School in 1991, he was hired as a part-time animal control officer for the Bolingbrook Police Department.
He advanced to full-time status as a Police Cadet in 1993.
In 1995, Chris was selected to serve the Village of Bolingbrook as a 911 Police & Fire Dispatcher.
After graduating with a Bachelors Degree in Criminal Justice Chris was hired as a Bolingbrook Police Officer in April 1996.
In August 2002, Chris was promoted to the rank of Sergeant where he supervised the C.O.P.S. (where he had worked) Unit, Animal Control, and Code Enforcement Unit.
He attended the Northwestern University School of Police Staff and Command in January 2005 where he was chosen as Class President and was selected to receive the Kreml Leadership Award…
In January 2006, Chris was assigned as a Patrol Platoon Supervisor. During this 6 month period, Chris, along with Sgt. Drew Peterson, supervised a patrol shift of approximately 15 to 20 police officers. That same year, Chris was promoted to Lieutenant and remained in the Patrol Division for the next two months until Chris was assigned to the Office of Professional Standards. In this position, Chris was responsible for Training, Internal Affairs, and assigned as Public Information Officer (PIO).
Some of the local news stories Chris handled media relations were:
• Fatal traffic crash where 3 teenagers died
• Weathersfield officer-involved shooting
• Fatal school bus accident
• US Adventure RV fire
• “Pixie” the stolen Pug
• Tornado’s in Bolingbrook
Chris Prochut, he was appointed by the Chief of Police and the Village Board to the rank of Commander on August 28, 2007
0n Monday, October 29, 2007 Chris attended the daily 8:30am Command Staff meeting where he was informed that the wife of Sgt. Drew Peterson, Stacy Peterson, was missing. Chief McGury assigned Chris to handle the media in this case and to help the Lieutenant who was new to the position of PIO.
The Story went statewide later that day and hit the national news the next day.
By Wednesday, October 31st the IL State Police stated they would handle all media inquiries; we were told by the State Police not to speak with the media.
This statement worked in theory, but not in practice. When the State Police would not answer media calls, they called Chris or Ken Teppel. When the media came to the Police Department, they met with Chris or Ken. With no comments being made by the State Police, the media began to make their own stories without facts from any official sources. Rumors of all kinds, and one-sided opinions, began to swirl in the public about the Bolingbrook Police Department.

Flashing ahead Drew Peterson has now been charged with first-degree murder in the death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio, and is still a under suspicion in the disappearance of his forth wife Stacy. He has pleaded not guilty to murder and denied involvement in Stacy’s disappearance.

For approximately the next 3 months, Chris spent the majority of his working day fielding countless media inquiries and interview requests, setting-up video shoots at Village Hall, meeting with Dateline NBC producers, advising the command staff of broadcasted views of the department, and numerous other media-related activities.

During this time is when Chris began to have many sleep interruptions per night. He first attributed it to the long hours spent at work; many days were 12 hours in length. Chris recalls may times awaking at exactly 1:13am, mind racing with what he calls “40,000 things”, and could not fall back asleep for hours. When he did awake for work, the Peterson case was immediately on his mind. He would try to predict the new questions he would be asked by the media based upon the news reports from the night before.

Irritability became the norm as soon as his morning alarm when off. He could not focus on family activities, hobbies, or other work tasks as the media assignment enveloped Chris. Chris became extremely withdrawn physically and emotionally.

Before the Peterson case started to consume him and his department Chris had everything going for him as evidenced by being the youngest officer promoted to Commander; he had just celebrated the birth of his second child after 10 years of marriage. Chris was probably in the best shape and health of his life as he trained for and ran in the Chicago Marathon in early October 2007.

Chris had handled many high profile news events and protected the image of the Village and the integrity of the department. He was confident that this precedent would carry over into the Peterson event as well.

What no one could have predicted was to toll that this assignment placed on Chris’s mental health. Chris had a plan to commit suicide but on April 17, 2008, Chris was involuntarily admitted to Linden Oaks Mental Hospital. He received 15 days of in-patient care and upon discharge was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder.

Chris believes that all of his distress was triggered by the intense pressure of the Peterson case

Upon release from Linden Oaks Hospital, and following IL State Law, Chris’s Firearm Owner Identification card was revoked for being admitted to a mental hospital. This very provision was the reason Chris did not want to go to the hospital; lose your gun, lose your job. With Chris’ doctors believing that returning to work would bring on a relapse, Chris filed for a disability pension.

The Pension Board sent Chris to three independent psychiatrist to determine the cause and to offer an opinion if Chris was disabled or not. All three doctors determined that the Peterson case caused the disability, however there were disagreements on the ability of Chris to return to work or not.

After three hearing dates (last one in January 2009), the Board did not award any disability pension (Duty or Non-duty related). In layman’s terms, Chris was not, or no longer disabled.

Chris was now faced with a dilemma. According to the Pension Board, Chris was not disabled. According to the Police Department, Chris was disabled because he could no longer perform all the duties of a Police Officer.

Facing termination proceedings, Chris resigned from the Bolingbrook Police Department on May 1st, 2009 and is actively seeking a new career.

Chris and his family have suffered through this ordeal. He lost the job he loved and has filed for bankruptcy. He was the breadwinner in the family making a very good salary of $113,000.00 a year. Chris’ purpose now is to help Officers who are suffering with mental illness (bi-polar, depression, stress, anxiety, etc.) and to develop an understanding with their employer on a treatment plan.

Many law enforcement officers suffer from excessive stress and don’t know how to deal with it, but this story may encourage you to seek one of the many resources available to police officers mentioned in this article before the stress in your life takes it’s toll on you and your family. In this story, Chris Prochut who was a Commander for the Bolingbrook Police Department at the height of the Drew Peterson investigation, nearly lost his life, but instead lost his career.

If you would like to listen to our interview please click the replay button below or RIGHT CLICK HERE to download (that’s CONTROL CLICK if you use a Mac then SAVE LINK AS…) a copy of the mp3 file.

You can email Chris directly by CLICKING HERE

To See The Fox News story about Chris CLICK HERE

For the Fox News Resources from Chris’ Story on a page entitled “Mental Illness Sources of Information”
CLICK HERE

The two hotlines I know of are “SAFE CALL NOW at (206) 459-3020 which is staffed by first responder volunteers many of whom are police officers and

COPLINE 1-800-267-5463 but I’m not sure they are operational yet.

In our Interview Chris mentioned the organization Bring Change to Mind

Homepage

Here are a couple of other national suicide hotlines: 1-800-SUICIDE(784-2433) OR 1-800-273-TALK(8255)

The Veterans Administration National Center for PTSD website that I haven’t had time to read through yet but they might help. Check the area in the lower right of the page labeled “Search PILOTS to find published articles: PILOTS (Published International Literature on Traumatic Stress) is the largest database of publications on PTSD.” There is also a box labelled “Where to get help for PTSD”.
CLICK HERE for the VA site: http://www.ptsd.va.gov/

The “Tears of a Cop” website also offers “Signs and Symptoms of PTSD” at http://www.tearsofacop.com/police/ptsd.html

Lisa Wimberger is our CopsAlive Contributing Writer on Stress Management.
You can visit her website at http://www.tpconsultinggroup.com

CopsAlive.com was founded to provide information and strategies to help police officers successfully survive their careers. We help law enforcement officers and their agencies prepare for the risks that threaten their existence.

We do this by Helping Law Enforcement professionals plan for happy, healthy and successful lives on the job and beyond. We think the best strategy is for each officer to create a tactical plan for their own life and career.

About Editor

John Marx was a Police Officer for twenty-three years and served as a Hostage Negotiator for nineteen of those years. He worked as a patrol officer, media liaison officer, crime prevention officer and burglary detective. Also during his career he served as administrator of his city's Community Oriented Governance initiative through the police department's Community Policing project. Today John combines his skills to consult with businesses about improving both their security and their customer service programs. John retired from law enforcement in 2002. When one of his friends, also a former police officer, committed suicide at age 38, John was devastated and began researching the problems that stress creates for police officers. He decided he needed to do something to help change those problems and he wanted to give something back to the profession that gave him so much. He started a project that has evolved into CopsAlive.com. Put simply, the mission of CopsAlive is to save the lives of those who save lives! CopsAlive.com gathers information, strategies and tools to help law enforcement professionals plan for happy, healthy and successful careers, relationships and lives.
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8 Comments

  1. Thanks for presenting to our C.I.T class in Ozaukee county. .i still can see the pain in your face..but know you are making a huge difference in each person you share your story with..stay strong.
    C.Rafferty

  2. Hi Chuck,

    Thank you as always for all that you do to contribute to CopsAlive.com!

  3. Tough story. It’s great what you are doing John by bring these stories together to make other officer know they are not alone.

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  7. This is a huge issue that is a taboo subject among most LEO’s.

    I am an 18 year veteran of LE, quit after the line of duty death of my best friend. It was not THE reason i quit, it was the straw that broke the camels back.

    I know of several officers who suddenly quit or retired and after talking to them or the people who knew them best, undiagnosed stress disorders were likely the cause.

    In my case, I was unknowingly suffering server symptoms. Upon my request, I even went to a department shrink but I did not understand the symptoms so I did not tell him. I figured it was time for me to quit, so I did. Two years later, I realized I was better (not totally healed but better) than I had been.
    I should have gotten a medical discharge or leave of absence, instead, I suffered even more setbacks due to finances and divorce.

    The stigma for stress disorders will prevent officers from coming forward. The lack of training will prevent officers from recognizing the early stages. It is time that this changes, we must begin to protect those that are charged to protect us.

  8. I have had the honor of working with Chris through BringChange2Mind and I have been so touched and inspired by his story. Chris has conquered not only his disability, but also used it to reach out to so many who are facing similar struggles and inequities. Every person that Chris reaches out to feels the sincerity, the hope, the empathy that he is so uniquely qualified to give.

    Chris has tremendous courage to openly share his story. This should be a blue print for other law enforcement agencies as well as employers in general to re-examine their policies regarding illnesses of the brain. The brain is a part of the body, part of our physical being. Why then do we have separate policies and rules for brain disorders as opposed to physical disorders?

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