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Officer helps children cope with losses

By : Eric Coker

A University Police officer has reached out to assist children of slain law-enforcement personnel.

Lt. Martin Pettit spent a week in July as a mentor at COPS Camp. Located in East Troy, Wis., about an hour southwest of Milwaukee, the camp helps children ages 6-14 cope with the loss of a parent.

“It was positive, emotional and powerful,” Pettit said. “It was probably one of the most positive experiences I’ve had to date in law enforcement.”

Pettit, who works at the University Downtown Center, learned about the camp while attending a “Traumas of Law Enforcement” training session last spring in Connecticut. He contacted the camp’s national organizers, Concerns for Police Survivors (COPS), and volunteered his services. COPS paid for the airfare and travel of Pettit, who attended the camp on his own time.

According to a recent report from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 66 officers were killed in the line of duty during the first half of 2009, including three in New York. About 140-160 are killed each year in the United States.

As a mentor to seven boys ages 11-12, Pettit made sure the kids were up for morning events, such as runs or fishing, and on time for other activities with their surviving parent; helped them attend counseling sessions; and ended each day with a bonfire, songs or awards.

Perhaps most important, Pettit and the other mentors gave the children someone with whom they could discuss the nightmare they all had been through.

“The first night, all of the kids told me how their parents were killed,” Pettit said. “That was obviously emotional and powerful at the same time because it was healing for them to talk about what happened.”

Not even an officer such as Pettit, who has been with University Police for almost 10 years, was immune to the emotions of the camp, especially when his boys were asked to visit 7-year-olds at the camp.

“We went to that and I told the counselor, ‘I’ve got to be honest with you. These kids have memory books with pictures of their parents,’” Pettit said. “When some of the 7-year-olds began sharing (pictures), I told the counselor, ‘I’ll lose it. I’ll get emotional.’

“Sure enough, the little, tiny kids talked about how their parents were killed and (the counselor) said it was perfectly fine for me to express those emotions. The older boys saw that a cop could be emotional, too.”

Mentors were able to talk with one another about what they had gone through, and counselors were also available for discussions, Pettit said.

Pettit remains in contact with the children and mothers via Facebook and has sent birthday cards to the boys, who live in North Carolina, Georgia, California, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Missouri and Michigan. That connection is likely to lead him back to COPS Camp.

“The kids have asked me to come back next year,” he said, “They want me to be their mentor and move up with them to a different cabin.”

Pettit also will remain active with COPS by taking part in the Concerns for Police Survivors Walk next month in Washington, D.C., along the Potomac River. Survivors, friends and members of the law-enforcement community walk 25 miles during two days so COPS can continue its mission.

“It’s amazing to see how strong the surviving parents are,” he said. “It’s difficult for them, too. All of my moms, I applaud them for having the courage to come out and support their kids. There’s nowhere else where these kids who lost a parent in the line of duty can get together other than this camp.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08