North Fayette patrolman doubles as chaplain
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When tragedy strikes, it's good to see a friendly face.
In North Fayette, that person just might come from the police department.
Kevin Haggerty is a full-time patrolman who doubles as police chaplain, offering aid, comfort and resources to people experiencing a crisis or difficult situation.
Officer Haggerty's uniform bears two silver cross lapel pins, indicating he is prepared to offer confidential counseling to residents and fellow officers.
"I have to enforce the laws, but at the same time I'm a human being dealing with other human beings," Officer Haggerty explained. "My main job is to give people hope and encouragement, whatever crisis they may be going through."
On addition to his police duties, Officer Haggerty, of Findlay, is on call 24 hours, seven days a week for chaplain services. He is not a pastor, clergyman or ordained religious leader, but his Christian background informed his decision to serve as a chaplain.
Police chaplains are uncommon in Western Pennsylvania, and as far as the North Fayette department knows, Officer Haggerty is the only one in Allegheny County.
Several years ago, Officer Haggerty -- armed with the personality of a good peacekeeper -- began researching ways he could offer more caring assistance during traumatic situations he encountered as a patrolman.
In 2009, he became the North Fayette chaplain. His qualifications included being a credentialed member of the International Conference of Police Chaplains, a Florida-based professional organization that holds training seminars and a yearly conference. According to the organization's website, chaplains must be open to ministering people of all faiths, or no faith.
Officer Haggerty also received a letter of ecclesiastical endorsement from Montours Presbyterian Church in Robinson, part of the West Allegheny Ministerial Association.
"Chaplains respect the persons they serve, even though there may be profound differences in race, gender, economic status, religious experience and many other factors," the website says.
Officer Haggerty said his training has covered topics such as post-traumatic stress, suicide, death notification and shootings and deaths involving police officers.
About once a week, Officer Haggerty acts as chaplain in the North Fayette community. Sometimes he responds to an emergency, other times to a pattern of 911 calls that points to an ongoing problem. People are not required to accept his help, but nine times out of 10 they welcome it, he said.
His assistance often involves talking and listening, providing references to social agencies, helping to navigate red tape, ensuring connections with support networks and following up on a person's well-being.
"It creates more of a personal contact with police officers and the public," Officer Haggerty said.
Within the police department, he works to build trust with fellow officers, who may discuss matters with him confidentially.
"[Police officers] get subjected to an amount of stress and you don't even realize it," Officer Haggerty said. "It can affect your families, it can affect your jobs, and lots of other things if you're not careful."
He said many officers are receptive to talking, but some brush off a problem and say they'll be fine.
"That's an old way of thinking, that if you ignore it, it will go away," he said.
Officer Haggerty, 50, has worked for North Fayette police for 20 years. He and his wife, Kathleen, have four children -- Paul, 28; Sharayah, 26; Gavin, 12; and Tessa, 10.
He said the same desire to help people that led him to becoming a police officer led him to adding the duties of police chaplain.
"I can arrest people, but I can also offer them counsel," Officer Haggerty said with a laugh. "People say, 'I've never heard of that.' "
First Published January 24, 2013 6:00 am