On Being Involved: The Last Day Before I got Help

‘On Being Involved’ is a collection of essays written by the men and women we’ve come to know in our work. We’ve personally asked each writer to share their perspectives, in their own words, detailing a specific part of their own experiences.

Sitting with John during our interview session for ‘Officer Involved.’

Sitting with John during our interview session for ‘Officer Involved.’

So Pat contacted me and asked me about THE LAST DAY BEFORE I GOT HELP. I sat and thought a while about that... The last day before I got help, I thought…was there a last day? Did I get help? Did I really get help? Honestly I really don’t know... I sometimes feel I just learned to cope. I don’t remember getting “HELP,” whatever that is supposed to be. And then life goes on… I was no longer part of the team... You hear police officers, military, professional athletes, speak of this often… What they miss is the camaraderies and I was no different. So for me, it’s not that I got help… I just made myself part of “The Team” again that made me feel good about myself and have what I felt was self-worth. That was important to me.

Well let me first start off by saying that incident, traumatic event or whatever you want to call it is something I will never personally get over, but learn to live with daily. The incident I went through stays with me and, good and bad, has made me who I am today because of what happened.

My name is John Dempsey. I was patrol Sergeant the night I was an “Officer Involved.” I was a police officer for 13 years with the Riverdale Police department, in the south side of Chicago, the suburb of Riverdale where I was raised. The night Wally (William ‘Wally’ Rolniak) was killed, I was Sgt On duty. It seems like an eternity since that terrible night but one I can replay over and over again.

I feel everyone has different experiences with trauma, and I can only speak of my journey. So specifically, I did not get “Help,’ or specifically clinical, professional, licensed help on an ongoing, continuous basis.

Running into John at Police Week 2018.

Running into John at Police Week 2018.

After the incident, I remember going through a two day funeral service, followed by the burial. This was overwhelming, and truly a blur. After that, I recall getting flowers from the department, and literally throwing them away. I was upset because approximately a week had passed by since Wally was buried, and hadn’t really heard from the department on what I was to do next. A few more weeks had now passed and I still hadn’t “GOTTEN HELP.” So I decided to contact a police chaplain named Father Lazar from St. James Parrish in Highland Indiana. I went to speak to him about a month after the incident, hoping for some direction. Father Lazar provided comfort and support, and called a therapist friend for me to see the following day. Hoping to get help, and direction to heal, I told about what happened. I was met with shock of what I shared. We met a few more times but not consistent or frequent so I decided I was done, and would get through this on my own.

A few years passed, and there was a constant struggle to deal with this event on a daily basis… Even though I had joined a bagpipe band, I was still searching… Then I decided to take a chance, join the band that had played for Wally’s Funeral. They practiced at the Chicago Police Academy, where I had attended... The Bagpipes and Drums of the Emerald Society Chicago Police. The connections were already there. The day was January 17, 2013. 9 years later was the last day before I got Help!

John Dempsey
Police Officer, Illinois

John Dempsey is a retired police officer, now the Director of the Lake County Juvenile Center in Indiana. John has been awarded the Medal of Valor and is still a proud member of the Bagpipes and Drums of the Emerald Society Chicago Police, Honoring Our Fallen.

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See our brand new documentary Dinkheller.

Note: Not only was John in Officer Involved, but he also has a special role in our upcoming documentary Honor Chair where he shares some thoughts on his fallen partner Wally and the work of Texas non-profit Saving a Hero’s Place.

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