Col. Patrick Callahan began an extraordinary career at the New Jersey State Police in October of 1994. He worked as a road trooper for seven years and then held various positions including stints in administration and Emergency Management while steadily rising through the ranks until finally being tapped as the 14th superintendent of the organization on October 31, 2017. Yet, with all of his extensive professional training and years of experience handling myriad of crises, Col. Callahan says he and his organization were woefully unprepared for a challenge on the scale that the COVID pandemic brought to him. As he bluntly says, “There was no playbook to refer to for this crisis!”
Col. Callahan says the pandemic created unique problems that law enforcement was simply not used to facing. “We were in need of PPE; we were dealing with mortuary affairs including stockpiling bodies in refrigerated trucks and at the same time we had to focus on the health of our troopers who were working extra shifts and possibly being exposed to the virus during their tours in the field.” They were even supporting the distribution of the vaccine to help get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible to reduce the infection rate. They were performing duties that were unheard of just months before.
Throughout the difficult year of the pandemic, the colonel says he and his troopers often found themselves working seven days a week and became physically and mentally exhausted. There is always an inherent degree of stress in law enforcement but the pandemic added to the strain and tension. To cope with the many demands facing him, Col. Callahan would set aside time for a jog. “It’s healthy for the mind and body to exercise and it always helps me to de-stress when I get outside for a run,” says the colonel.
The colonel also said that he relied on the support of the chaplain services available to law enforcement here in New Jersey. He found them to be a valuable asset during the worst of the crisis and often turned to them when he found he needed a moment of spirituality. “There’s nothing wrong with picking up the phone during challenging times to a clergy member or a counselor for support. It is not a sign of weakness and members of the law enforcement community need to be encouraged to seek assistance when they feel the need.”
He is a strong advocate for supporting the physical and mental health of the men and women in the organization and urges them to take advantage of their own Office of Health and Wellness, which offers “fitness assessments, exercise prescriptions, nutrition counseling and hosts seminars on health and wellness topics for both enlisted and civilian personnel.” He reminds us that the most valuable resource in any organization is the human resource and we must foster an environment of wellness to keep everyone mentally and physically healthy.
As we begin to emerge from the pandemic we are reminded of the difficult demands placed on first responders and the need to ask for help when we need help. We can’t help others if we can’t help ourselves. We are here to support you. Our RISE: NJ First Responder COVID Hope and Healing Helpline is available 7 days a week 8am-8pm at 833-237-4325. Let’s RISE together!