DR. WILLIAM PETTY: The only warning I'd give us is, I can thwart this thing, I can thwart this thing. What I can't turn off is my pager.
RAYMOND: That's fine. That's fine.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: I have it on vibrate. But this is their only link to me when everything else fails, so—If it nnnnnnnn, then I'll—
RAYMOND: We'll just have to—Yeah, sure.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Okay. Let me do a real quick look at this before I close it up. I'm gonna get excited about legislative changes today, so.
RAYMOND: Okay, good. So here we are. It is November eighteenth, 2009, Wednesday afternoon. We are here at the Austin Police Department in the office of
Doctor William Petty, who is the director of victim services for the Austin Police Department.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Correct.
RAYMOND: Behind the camera is Ellen Morrissey. Can you hear through the, is the mic working? Beautiful. And the voice, the disembodied voice, is
that of Virginia Raymond. And Ellen and I are here from the Texas After Violence Project.
RAYMOND: And Doctor Petty, you've just gone through the risks and benefits, the purpose of the study and so forth, and you know that you're in charge. You
can terminate the interview at any time. I'm asking you to sign the consent form. Read it over first and make sure you don't have any—I don't know if you have any other questions or you're
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: I don't have any other questions at this time. Date of birth of person to be interviewed.
RAYMOND: And that's just so we make sure that—
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: 1960. Birth location, Austin, Texas. Date is November the eighteenth 2009.
RAYMOND: That's right.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: There you go.
RAYMOND: Thank you very much.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Okay.
RAYMOND: And you had read the brochure first and we talked. We had a meeting before this one and it was very pleasant. Again, I really appreciate you taking
the time to spend with us this afternoon.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Very happy to be here to do this.
RAYMOND: Thank you. So Dr. Petty, maybe you could just tell us a little bit about yourself first to begin with.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Okay. Well, I'm a native Texan. And—native central Texan, actually. Even though I was born in northeast Texas and my parents moved to this
area. They're both educators and ex-military, so I grew up not too far away from Austin.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And high school, went to college up in north Texas. Completely different industry. I was in the pharmaceutical industry for years and
years and years.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: My interest in the helping professions actually started with an assignment that I had in New Zealand to where I was just basically in
charge of a lot of people not doing very difficult work, but the part of it that I seemed to gravitate towards was helping people to work through the difficulties that arose on the job or that
arose in their life away from work.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: My career change happened in the early 1990s when I moved back to Texas basically to be around aging family and entered graduate school at
the University of Texas and earned my doctorate degree in counseling psychology.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And while I was there I applied for a position at the Austin Police Department as a crisis counselor primarily because it let me work at
night. Did not know that that was gonna wind up being one of my- one of my passions in life was helping people who for whatever reason and for whatever causation were at very difficult
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And certainly the difficulties of our clientele, because we work in law enforcement, was beyond the scope of what I had learned in school
and in my practicum, in my internships. I've known people who had lost loved ones five, ten years ago and were still dealing with the aftermath.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: I had never met anyone who had lost a loved one two hours ago. So it was very different application of mental health profession and law
enforcement. And I've been here for almost to the month ten years now, and my passion has only increased for those people who are particularly victims of violent crime, but also just the trauma
of everyday living.
RAYMOND: Can you talk about the trauma of everyday living?
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Sure. With Austin being, Austin in my opinion, one of the reasons why I'm back in Austin as opposed to a different part of Texas is, at
least in theory, we regard each other and treat each other what I believe to be a little bit differently than what you can see in other places.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Even people who have nothing, at least the way that I hope to continue to look at people is, they still have intrinsic value. And if they,
with assistance, could move past the current day obstacles they at least have an opportunity to succeed in life at whatever level that is to them.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: So, intuitively we know what police officers respond to. Somebody who's just despondent and don't know anywhere else to reach out to, and
one place that will always answer your outreach or your outcry is gonna be law enforcement. We don't have—that's not a choice.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Even people who are found to be in dire straights, whether that's emotionally or physically, and just somebody else notices it or we come
across it, those become our clients. So, even in a broader context in violent crime victimization we of course will deal with homelessness, we'll deal with abandonment, we'll deal with mental
health issues, we'll deal with imminent suicidality.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Those aren't necessarily crimes, but those are people who need help, and if by virtue of law enforcement showing up on the scene and now
you're in our radar, what our—because we're a resource of the city one of our jobs is to help if we can't do it ourselves,
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: we can work to first of all organize all the helpers in the community so we know who's out there doing what, but also to help connect you
if this is that time for you, you're ready for it, connect you with somebody who can help you navigate where to go next.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And those helping pathways they're very different for different populations of people and for different occurrences in people's lives. If
you've lost a loved one due to a traffic fatality or if there is alcohol or malice involved that's a whole set of helping agencies out there who will come downstream.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: If we happen to find your grandparent wandering the neighborhood at three o'clock a.m. and they don't know who they are or where they are
or who their caretakers are, that's a different helping pathway with a whole different set of agencies who are in place to help out.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: But with law enforcement response, at least in that circumstance, we may be kind of that first agency who becomes aware of this immediate
need. So when you serve an entire city without discrimination, then the issues that we have become competent at, certainly language, culture, a wide variety of either malicious acts, neglectful
acts, just bad luck.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: These are the things that me, that I and my staff have to become competent at. And certainly issues involving men, issues involving women,
issues involving sexual orientation, gender identity, all that is our purview, which keeps, at least I think, the job very interesting for my people.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: They are all mental health professionals, and we don't have the luxury of selecting just one client population and getting really, really
good at that. We can select a part of the city, or we can select a particular crime type, but even within those crime types you get all sorts of victims in there.
RAYMOND: And you talked about becoming a crisis counselor when you were in graduate school. Can you talk about that period and what you
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Sure, sure. I was a nontraditional graduate student. I was thirty-five when I started my Ph.D. and I didn't have a Masters. My degree was
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: So I had, by the time I came to work here, I had been to graduate school and I had worked with kind of community mental health, I'd worked
with children, I'd worked gay and lesbian populations, I'd worked in a university setting, and I thought that I had a good feel for what human interaction looked like even at its extremes, both
the very good qualities of human interaction, and human relationships and the very bad.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: What I found out, even during the interview phase of working for the police department is there are some extremes on both sides of
incredible acts of compassion and selflessness that I had not experienced in my clinical in educational training.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And there was also on the other end just some incredibly horrible things that human beings can do to themselves and do to other people
that you just don't learn that in school and you don't learn that in an office-based placement.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: It's— my first month of being here broadened my understanding of the human condition, and like I said earlier in both directions, both the
very, very good and also the very, very destructive.
RAYMOND: And tell me more about that. What did you see or experience?
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: I knew that domestic violence existed. I'd never— I was almost forty years old. I just, I had never seen it before. What I discovered
was that it's a phenomena that occurs all day every day.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And there were some very identifiable reasons for why, not just the number of occurrences across a given day, but the number of
occurrences within a person's life, why that number increases as opposed to what I thought was that like you hit me one time that's it.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: I mean, you only get one shot, and then the relationship is over at the very least. But the schooling of what are some of the reasons for,
the right or wrongly, for severe neglect of a child or of an elder. What are some of the factors that would permit a person to be repeatedly abusive towards those closest to them?
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: What are some of the factors that would leave a person in an abusive relationship as a victim, repeatedly and over a long period of time?
What are the pressures that impinge upon a person who has immigrated to a different country without authorization?
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: I just moved back from New Zealand, so I thought I knew about expatriate living, but it's very different when you move to a different
country and you don't have the expense account and you don't have the guaranteed visa home and
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: you don't have to fear of being deported or having your children deported or being able to control money or have access to friends and
family where you came from and new friends where it is that you are temporarily, so literally my understanding of basic humanity was turned upside down.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: My life experiences and my education and my professional training were all good preparation, but I actually had to be here in order to see
kinda life from a law enforcement side of it. You see people at their very best and you see people at their very worst.
RAYMOND: As a crisis counselor where were you working physically? Were you here or in the street or—?
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: What our crisis counselors do, and I'm speaking very specifically when I say a crisis counselor. All of my staff does crisis work but we
have a particular unit that does on scene crisis response, and that's what I did. That first year of being at the police department my primary assignment was by geographic location.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: I worked mostly in Central East Austin and Central West Austin and kind of the highlights of that band of Central Austin is, you have an
African-American and Latino and largely Spanish speaking population, and then you have the university population and its surrounding,
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: so the North campus/West campus area. And also in that central band you also have the downtown area as well, which brings a lot of people
in and which also creates some opportunities for violent crime and victimization.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: I don't know if I was actually assigned to Central East Austin because I was one of the very few African-American counselors that we had,
but I'm glad I did. Now that we're doing kind of an oral history and I'm thinking kind of in retrospect what was so special about that.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: What I found most gratifying about that first year of being an on scene crisis response counselor especially in the Central East area,
was, my gosh, the opportunities to see my own culture as it interfaces with law enforcement. There's a lot of history in that little, short sentence.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: African-American people have been dealing with law enforcement, in good and bad ways, for a couple of centuries. But now I was a part of
law enforcement. Now I'm going into people's homes because they've been assaulted, because a loved one has died, because there is a history of domestic violence, because their children have
been left alone.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And one of the things that I found most interesting was being from the South and born in the sixties I had a particular concept of what
law enforcement did and didn't do, and protect and serve wasn't really on the top of that list. But now as a part of 'em I got a chance to see and experience and be a part of kind of the law
enforcing and peacekeeping of an agency within the Black community, and an opportunity for another huge shift in perception.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: It's—there's so much more that happens when, at the intersection of law enforcement and the African-American community and the Latino
community than just what you read in the papers and what makes the national news.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Again, there are countless stories of great intimacy and compassion that you, I can't think of any good way to see it other than to
experience it without a reporter, or a camera, or a script at hand. You see it as it's being lived and so I, even though ten years in retrospect, I, just because of my experiences, I see the
role and the outcome of policing in Black communities I just— I see it from a different perspective than I would had I not worked here.
RAYMOND: Thank you, but I'm going to push you a little bit on that—
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Okay.
RAYMOND: Because not everybody who sees this interview in the future is gonna have that history, and so when you're using words like "my perceptions
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Okay.
RAYMOND: I think I might know what you're talking about.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Valid question. Very valid question.
RAYMOND: But I'm not sure.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: You don't wanna put words in my mouth.
RAYMOND: So why don't you go ahead and spell it out a little bit.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Sure. Great, great, great question. I am the youngest of three boys, and we are all two years apart. And I was born in 1960, so I have two
brothers who were born in the fifties, and very well educated and savvy parents. We grew up in our little, small hometown being taught that the best interaction with law enforcement is no
interaction with law enforcement.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: You don't want to be in a position if you can help it to need to ask them for help, and you certainly don't ever want to put yourself in a
position of being on the wrong side of the law, so live your life to where there is minimal interaction with police.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Being born in 1960, some of my earlier recollections of interactions between my community and law enforcement was what I saw on national
television during the civil rights era.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: We stayed home from school to watch that—the dogs and the fire hoses and then countless anecdotal stories from people that, everywhere
from my grandparents down to the other kids who lived in our community about that was a no win interaction if you had to, if you came up on the radar screen of law enforcement.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And I lived the first, jeez, forty years of my life adhering to that—that these, that these are—I never even really knew a police officer.
These are not your friends. They are not here to help you. Quite the opposite.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: The people who wear badges and carry guns have proven to be lethal to our community for centuries, and that edict of "put as much space as
you possibly can between you and police officers," I actually came to work here still having that.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: So, when I say that my perspective, my perspective shifted—being a part of this whole effort of providing public safety, I was an agent of
that. And the conflict of being a part of an agency whose, the net result was hurting people who looked like me, and who'd grown up similar to me and had backgrounds to me, similar to me was
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And it wasn't because I had to talk myself into seeing them differently. I was there and I had to watch it unfold and then to play my role
in being of assistance to people.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: So, as un-theoretical as it possibly can be, my view of what law enforcement was supposed to do and what law enforcement accomplished,
though, certainly with no, we're not a hundred percent, by no means, of our interactions always being to the benefit of the community.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: I mean there've been some rough spots, no question, but I have the benefit of being privy to the ninety-seven percent of the time where
what we do is, if you were to ask the people being helped, the people in trouble, I'm convinced that they would say,"Well, I'm glad they were there 'cause they really helped me at a time where
I wasn't able to help myself."
RAYMOND: You said early on, and you used this word also when we first met—passion.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Mmm-hmm.
RAYMOND: And you said when you were a crisis counselor that word became your passion. Can you talk about that?
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Sure.
RAYMOND: And tell me why?
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Sure. Most of the people that I know who are in the mental health profession, and in some, in a lot of cases law enforcement, we come into
this industry or this line of work because we do want to be a part of a change agent, either we want to be change agents or a part of change occurring for the better.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And as a kind of a developing therapist I had my ideas about where I fit into that, in this kind of this longitudinal journey of an
individual after an event had taken place. And this— I'd worked with children who were less than ten years old, but their development had gotten off track for some reason, so we were trying to
figure out how do you mitigate that.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: But I think it was an experience of seeing people in the immediate aftermath or in the throes of great emotional, and in some cases
physical turmoil, and having the skills and being in the correct place with the correct credentials and the correct—the necessary resources to actually make a difference at that moment.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: In my mind, and kind of part of our philosophy is good intervention early on can have a dramatic effect on this person's development and
their ability, I don't want to use the word ‘soar,' but their ability to, and their opportunity to live a fuller life on the other side of tragic events.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And some of the areas where that is most evident, certainly child abuse, but kind of a new area for me where it was also very dramatically
visible was in the whole area of sexual assault and what that means in Western culture. And certainly domestic violence, but also traumatic and unexpected death as well.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: In an office-based setting, you're not, unless you're— well you just don't get much of an opportunity to go into a person's home and into
their families and see how are they coping with recent events, and whether you're consulting over the phone or whether you're just bringing your own kind of bag of tools with you,
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: determining along with them what is the best intervention or what can we do that can be most helpful tonight and then having a sound plan
for what happens tomorrow and beyond—that setup is easier for me to be passionate about because it's so direct.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And not to be graphic, but in a lot of the scenes that I worked and certainly that my staff works, is kind of the evidence is still there,
so there is little question of what took place and we're not reconstructing memories or perceptions of what happened back then. It's still right there.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: So, the clarity of kind of the weightiness, there's no ambiguity about it at that place. The blood is still there. The body is still
there. We're on our way to the emergency room for a sexual assault examination.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: I'm removing the child from the home, and I'm working on placement with grandma on one ear and child protective services on the other. The
word that I'm looking for is not raw, but it is— there hadn't been enough time elapsed for perceptions to be shifted. It still, it is what it is right there in front of you.
RAYMOND: And what do you do that seems to make a difference?
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: (sigh) Gosh. If I could bottle this and put it in a training packet for all my new folks, and then a refresher for all my old hands— A
large part and the part I can't teach is, and I'm using this word on purpose, a ministry of presence.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: I'm not talking about a minister, but what do you bring to a room or in our case a scene that by virtue of who you are and where you are
in your journey that can be helpful. So calmness, attentiveness, focus.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: When my people, or when I or when my folks go into a crime scene where it's already been deemed safe, so the immediate danger has been
removed, but we are not there to collect evidence, we're not there to collect statements, we are not there to investigate, we're not there to determine guilt or innocence.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: We're there for the— to assist in the needs, mutually identified, in some cases, of what does this person need from us at this moment,
what can we provide, what resources, including ourselves, our person, do we bring with us that can be helpful at this moment.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: True, we have multiple clients. We have the victims and witnesses, and we also have law-enforcement, and we have a very defined role in
this law enforcement effort, and so were helping lots of people, but our primary focus is on the needs of the identified victims and witnesses in that case. I forgot the question.
RAYMOND: What, what do you do?
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Okay, okay.
RAYMOND: You were saying—
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Yeah, sure. There are some things it's just a matter of being experienced and knowing police protocols and procedures, and have a sound
background in good mental health interventions, and also being well versed in local resource, local applicable resources.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: I can in a months time after coming to work here, I can certainly teach you what it is that's in Austin and Travis County and points
beyond that are proven to be useful in this set of circumstances.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: I can teach you all the standard operating procedures that we use, all the general orders that we live under, all the applicable state and
local laws and best practices that are out there. But what I can't teach you to do, in that short time period before I have to cut you loose, is to be a good counselor and to be a caring
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: So it's what we do starts with who we are is I hope that everybody that we bring on board as one of our staff members that we have found
well-trained, well educated, but also truly compassionate people who have the ability to attend to those, those huge and small needs of the people that, of the myriad people we're gonna run
into, we're gonna— that we will encounter, and do that with your own well-being intact.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And that's not a static condition. We have to practice what we preach. How many times can I expect a human being to kind of gaze at human
tragedy, and in some cases human carnage, be completely emotionally present for the people who need you, which means that you can't— you don't get the ability to put up emotional walls so that
you can focus on the job—the job is the person.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Being completely human ourselves, that can start to be very weighty on even the strongest, most resilient of us, so part of what we have
to do to be responsible managers and supervisors and counselors as well is we have to be focusing also on self-care.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Ideally, I would be the first person to know when parts of my job have what we call have gotten on us, when it's spilled over onto— and
that in my experience is not a matter of if, it's a matter of when. How many kids can you take down to the emergency room to have a sexual assault examination before you start to wonder what in
the world is wrong with us?
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And how many times can you go back to the same residence and try to at least talk the victim into going to the emergency room to have that
cut taken, to have somebody take a look at that? At least let somebody talk with your children about their experiences of violence within the home.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And then maybe, whether it's tonight or whether it's eventually, kind of exploring additional options for you and your own safety as a
repeated victim. What is it that's standing in, other than the fact that this guy's hitting you all the time, what's keeping you in this relationship as it currently exists.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: I forgot, again, I forgot where I was going with that. I look at other people who do first response; police officers, firefighters,
emergency medical personnel, military, lots of first responders out there, and I'm more aware than ever of kind of the emotional toll of seeing and not just seeing kind of the tragic sides of
life on a nightly basis,
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: but having to, having some responsibility for doing something about it, whether it's cleaning up something, or whether it's investigating
and identifying the person who did something wrong, of having people continuously being dishonest with you, of, at least from a law enforcement perspective, constantly being under suspicion, of
being the oppressor in lots of different forms.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Making sure that you're doing the very best job that you can of not allowing your job to become a part of those things that weigh really
heavily on you in a way that's gonna slow you down and keep you back and not let you flourish as you would.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: I was saying earlier that I hope that I would be the first person to notice when I'm struggling, but if I'm not then I have trained
co-workers and I have a supervisor who's also a clinician who sits me down, even when I don't want to sit down because we have our regular meetings and they will tell me if something is
different, or they'll ask me about what those typical areas that are difficult for most people, just because it's outside most peoples' experience.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: "William you worked an awful lot of— I noticed last week you had lots of violent death that you had to go and see. What's that been like?
What are you doing when you get off work? How are you taking care of yourself? Are you still doing those things which I know you find enjoyable?"
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Little bit of— it's accountability but in a very good way. Just somebody to help you. What we have to do for ourselves as counselors, but
also for a large part of the first responding community is,"Are you okay?" In it's most simple terms and if the answer is no or if the answer is I don't know then,"well, let's talk more."
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And that's what we do for each other as well is it's so easy to, after awhile to start focusing on what were the missteps of the victims
in this case as opposed— which can easily lead toward victim blaming, secondary victimization, secondary trauma.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: You've seen so much heartache ‘til the heartache kinda becomes your own. Or again I'll draw a distinction between, it's one thing to hear
about it, to hear a person tell an account of a series of bad events or bad relationships once removed in an office in a prescribed location in a fifty minute time slot.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: That's a very controlled environment. That's not the environment that we work in, which means that we have fewer safeguards for ourselves
of being, I think I've heard people refer to what we do as witnessing.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: You're bearing witness to this person's story and to their experiences, and the witness has— I would like to think that the witness comes
through this experience as whole as what we hope that the client can achieve as well.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: I don't want my people because by virtue of what it is that they do and what they see and who they talk to have this additional burden in
their lives of trauma and tragedy and horrible events and pain and anguish. We see that, but it doesn't mean that it has to be woven into who we are.
RAYMOND: So what are some of the strategies of self-care that you use and that you teach and encourage other people to use?
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Nurture friendships that have nothing to do with law enforcement for one. You can't just hang out with other victim services counselors
and police officers 'cause that's all you're going to talk about. Take care of yourselves physically. We know we need sleep. We know we need to eat healthy. We know we need to exercise.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: We know we need to watch our substance use if at all. Again, make sure that your life outside of work, as much as you can, has as much
zing to it as your life at work. You're gonna get pulled into some pretty interesting affairs at the police department.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: That's just the nature of the beast, but if the highlight, well maybe not just your day, but if the highlight of your month, and the
highlight of your year are the tragedies that you got called out to, then that paints life, that can paint life in very dark tones, whereas if the highlight was,
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: "I got a chance to go to that concert I'd been wanting to go to forever," or, "I got a chance to get together with my old friends and we
went together to a spa," and, "I got a chance to spend time with my family and I don't get to see Mom as much as I'd like to. I started taking piano lessons and I'm learning to paint," or, "I
just discovered classical organ recordings and that gives me—"
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: There has to at least be a balance or counterbalance to all this bad stuff that you see. You can get it where you can while you're at
work but certainly when you're off, pursue those things which can have a counteractive effect on all this horrible stuff that you've seen and dealt with.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: I have one counselor, she's a supervisor now, but she spent the last ten years as the unit she was assigned to was homicide, but it's
basically all traumatic death which means that the people she was gonna be talking to on a daily basis had just lost loved ones, whether it was a suicide, or whether it was an accidental death,
or whether it was a violent death, homicide.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: That's her clientele. You don't do that for ten years without it tearing you apart or you have a full life outside. That's the only
way there is to continue to be a helping force in that arena and not have it pull you apart.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And just to watch for the last past ten years what she does, how she handles this type of work but also how she purses passions outside of
work has been absolutely encouraging and educational to me.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: I have staff who have been here longer than I have who work, and they choose to work in domestic violence, relationship violence, and
stalking. That's their area of expertise, yet their outlook on humanity is as positive and as affirming as any that I've met.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: I have staff who just work with child abuse victims. That's all that they do, and seeing hurt kids every day, day in and day out, and not
just seeing them but becoming very skilled at helping them, skilled in getting them through an investigation first,
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: and then kind of helping whether their parents are confederates or not, helping shape what comes next, or if our relationship is such
that's it's gonna be you and me, how do you do that over time and not get absolutely jaded about parenting or about single parenting or about inviting people into your home or letting your kid
go to visit anybody.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: It's so easy when you come to some emotional conclusions because of your experience. You can become quite rigid in kind of how you
approach the world."My seven year old," I've heard people, "My seven year old won't even go and visit my parents because I know what could happen."
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: I'm speaking hypothetically. I know what happens when kids go to visit grandparents. Bad things happen. For your work to color your life
like that, we've missed the ball in some place because we should have been talking about that from the very beginning in our supervision and just in our daily interactions.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: We do see some, I will probably say this I don't know how many times before this is concluded, we do see some horrible things that most
people probably— that I would love to spare most people, but somebody has to look at it squarely and somebody has to help.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: But it's not a given that your interaction with and your working in those situations has to be a liability to you. It's a fact of life,
it's a sad fact of life, but the better fact of life is there are people who are trained and willing to help out.
RAYMOND: How we doing on time?
MORRISSEY: We have about fifteen minutes.
RAYMOND: Fifteen minutes, okay. This is so rich. There are so many different things I want to know more about, so thank you very much. So one of my questions
is here—the ministry of presence.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Mmm-hmm
RAYMOND: to be there for the victim
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Yes.
RAYMOND: How do you know who the victim is sometimes?
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: In some cases it's clear cut, especially when we deal so much with violent crime, you know who the injured— well here's a better way to
approach this. We have primary and secondary victims. These are classifications. The person who is directly injured is the primary victim, but the secondary victims are kind of like collateral.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: The domestic violence victim, the person who got punched, might be Mom, but you have the children, Mom's sister. These are people who have
either lived in this abusive environment, this violent environment, or who have now experienced it, who have been victimized as well.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: So on most of our scenes we at least, if we have, when we have one counselor going to a scene, then you can really only work effectively
with one, maybe two people.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: So just by the nature of the way the penal code is written you can identify who at least the primary victim is, but in reality
victimization and certainly traumatization experienced just not by that person who was the most injured but by the family, by the neighborhood, and by the community as well.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And depending on the event, some of the things that are in the spotlight now where victimization affects so many people is certainly the
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: That has reverberations through the entire military. That goes beyond the people who lost their lives, and their co-workers and their
family, but the entire community of Killeen and Copperas Cove, your sense of security is shaken, but also the military from the new recruit all the way up through the top brasses.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: What did we miss? Is this beginning of a tragic sequence? So victimization can be as broad as however we define communities. But in
some cases victimization could represent, be represented by degrees of loss. A good example is years ago there was a local pastor.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: He was up in age and he had several disabilities, but his house caught fire, and he lived for awhile, I'm talking about during the course
of the fire, because people who lived around him heard him. But he died in the fire, and my job was to go and inform his wife that this had taken place and then take her back to the
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And one of the things that I was most conscious about was, well certainly who he was in the community, but their entire congregation was
gonna be at that house when we got there with her.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: So when I talk about ministry of presence, not mixing metaphors with him being a minister, but how can my presence here be as helpful as
possible to the most affected people?
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: If I get to a scene or if my people get to a scene, and we're more emotionally impacted than even those who have suffered the immediate
loss, then our ability to be effective is severely compromised.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Now, if you ask any of my staff and probably any of our volunteers about the one time where you lost it emotionally, we'll each have a
story to tell about it.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: For whatever reason, whether it reminded us of something, or—everybody has their own tale of which one got away from ‘em, and what did you
have to do in order to still be effective.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: That's absolutely gonna happen, but in that particular case of the house fire, my role was not to necessarily mourn and weep with them,
but how do we mobilize the people that are here so that those who are natural helpers kind of get invited into the other side of the tape?
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Obviously, the newly bereaved widow needed all the support that she could, so when you're looking at the immediate family who's there,
whether it's her children, or in this case, her children's spouses, who in that real quick scan of when you get to that scene, who seems to be in control enough to where the bits of information
that need to be disseminated, you can give that to them first and then let them pass it along.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Or when you go to check in at a later date, of course you'll ask the people who are most directly affected, but then you wanna also check
with somebody who's a little bit removed."What's it really like in the house or how are people actually coping?"
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Another word that comes to mind is poise and graciousness, and what that really means is just the opposite of falling apart.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: You want to be not just you want to be perceived as being strong, but you're still thinking and you're still asking the right questions,
and you're still making connections so that whatever strengths this person or these people have, you can help mobilize that because people aren't necessarily in the—can you imagine somebody
coming and getting you out of the dentist chair and taking you back home because the house has just burned down?
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: You're not at your sharpest at that moment. As a matter of fact, there's not a lot you can do, so someone, if we're fortunate, can kind of
help steer that at that moment. So when I talk about our ministry of presence it is keeping your good head on at least until you've done your job.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: If you wanna drive away and break down and cry, that's fine. We're gonna talk about it not because anything's wrong with that, but
because it obviously touched you emotionally and we need our psychological, our psychology is no less complex than our clients'.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Some things you just have to process so that it doesn't develop a life of its own. We've had staff who, some people get off at four
o'clock in the morning, and for the last past couple weeks, they're driving home, they burst into tears and have no idea why.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Something is bothering you, and if it is an infant death, and what I don't want is you're gonna have to do that again, is I don't want you
now to be in a position of becoming so despondent because you're on your way across town to another one, or you're having such anxiety because of what you've already experienced.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: I do want people to, my staff to feel very capable, and feeling and being capable certainly shines through when you're dealing with people
in distress because they're looking at you, and if you can still muster a sympathetic smile, an appropriate touch, or a nice turn of phrase, but keeping focus on the issue and the solutions
rather than presenting your own experiences with trauma.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: "Well, God that happened to me." That's just not helpful at that time. And being professionals. There are ways to approach this that we
know are facts, and there are certain things which we know just aren't going to be helpful.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And in keeping those things in mind and carrying those onto each scene with us or into each investigation kind of adds to what I consider
to be our ministry of presence.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Part of it is because we work at it, but it's also because—the truth of the matter is it's not happening to us and being able to put that
little bit of truth in between you and the actual events that have unfolded in front of you, it can help us keep our own emotions from overwhelming us. As sad as this is, my job is to assist,
as opposed to join in. [End of tape 1]
At the time of this interview in November 2009, Dr. William Petty was head of Victims Services at the Austin Police Department in Austin, Texas. In Video 1 of this interview, Dr. Petty describes how he came to work in Victims Services and the difference between what counselors can do during a crisis or tragedy as opposed to months or years after the fact. They can offer resources and also -- more importantly -- what Dr. Petty calls "a ministry of presence." Dr. Petty also talks being a Black man working for an institution that he, and many other Black people, have had strong reasons to distrust and stay away from. He discusses, as well, self care and changes that have taken place in policing and victims services. Video 2 includes a discussion of what happened among people who found themselves at the Austin Convention Center after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In Video 3, Dr. Petty talks both about being an advocate for victims for marginalized people as well the pressures on police officers, chief among these being attitudes of the public and accusations of misconduct, and the stigma associated with seeking help.
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William PettyRole: Narrator
Texas After Violence ProjectRole: Collaborator
Virginia RaymondRole: Interviewer
Ellen MorrisseyRole: Videographer
Jennifer MorrisRole: Transcriber
Courtney LandesRole: Transcriber
Alexa SkillicornRole: Transcriber
Virginia RaymondRole: Transcriber
Kimberly Ambrosini-BaconRole: Proofreader
Maurice ChammahRole: Proofreader
Texas After Violence Project
University of Texas Libraries
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