How a suburban police chief is using her Ph.D. in psychology to help fellow cops

Laura King knows better than most the impact a career in law enforcement has an officer's mental and physical well-being.

King, the McHenry County Conservation District police chief, grew up in a home in which both her parents were police officers, and she remembers seeing the challenges and frustrations of the job take their toll on her father in particular.

She followed in their footsteps, spending two decades with the McHenry Police Department, then serving as chief investigator for the McHenry County state's attorney before landing in her current role in January 2019.

But she never lost sight of how the job affected her father or her colleagues, and that's one reason she pursued a Ph.D. in psychology, with a focus on stress management and work-life balance.

Now, King's two worlds of expertise have come together with her book, “Officer Safety: REDEFINED.” Published last week and available on Amazon, King's book serves as a guide for police officers - or those in other life-or-death professions, such as first responders and military personnel - working to overcome the negative mental and physical consequences of their careers.

“Officer safety is not only about what we face on the street with violent offenders, but also how it effects our bodies and our minds,” King told us this week.

The evidence of those effects is clear: Police officers, on average, die younger than those in other professions, commit suicide more often, have higher rates of divorce and are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, substance abuse and chronic health problems, such as heart disease and obesity.

King makes the argument those negative consequences of the job aren't fait accompli. But police need to be given the tools to overcome them. That's where her book comes in.

“We have more control over our psychological health than we're often led to believe,” she told us. “We have the ability to protect our mental health and psychological resiliency. And we are the ones who have to take the responsibility for doing that.”

'The next bad thing'

King believes working in law enforcement literally can change the way a person's mind works. Responding to traumatic events over and over again - known as Critical Incident Exposure - trains the mind to be always on the lookout for threats, constantly guarded.

“We're waiting for the next bad thing to happen,” she said.

That, King says, makes it difficult for police officers to simply turn off and enjoy time away from their duties. So while some of her advice sounds common for anyone dealing with stress or anxiety - get enough sleep, eat healthy, exercise, make time for the things you enjoy - King said police officers need to be especially mindful and intentional about those pursuits.

“I'm really hopeful (the book) will help create healthy experiences for police officers across the nation,” she said.

Bill Prim

McHenry sheriff honored

Kudos to McHenry County Sheriff Bill Prim, who this month received the Lieutenant Rich Kozik Memorial Valor Award from the 100 Club of Chicago.

The award recognizes Prim for his work furthering the mission of the club, which provides financial and other support to the families of fallen first responders.

“Sheriff Prim has been a strong advocate for the mission of the 100 Club and was an integral piece in bringing assistance to the families of first responders in McHenry County,” Caitlyn Brennan, CEO of the 100 Club of Chicago, said in an announcement of the award.

The club expanded into McHenry County last year after the killing of sheriff's Deputy Jacob Keltner in March 2019.

Keltner, 35, of Crystal Lake, was assigned to the U.S. Marshals Service Great Lakes Regional Fugitive Task Force when he was shot to death while trying to capture a suspect at a Rockford motel. He was survived by his wife and two young sons.

"Ghostbusters," starring Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray and Harold Ramis, is one of two 1980s ghost comedies that will be shown next weekend during the "Fall Flicks in the Yard" fundraiser at the Old Joliet Prison Historic Site. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Big screen in the Big House

Susan confesses she's the kind of scaredy-cat who sometimes watches “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” through fingers covering her eyes. But she can probably handle the two ghost movies being shown next weekend at the Old Joliet Prison Historic Site.

The Rialto Theater and the Joliet Area Historical Museum are teaming for the fundraiser “Fall Flicks in the Yard,” featuring the comedically spooky 1980s classics “Beetlejuice” (Oct. 23) and “Ghostbusters” (Oct. 24).

Tickets are $50 per twosome, with additional tickets $20 per person. You'll have to bring your own lawn chair or blanket.

The money will help support both nonprofit organizations.

The show will go on, rain or shine, no refunds. The movies will be shown at 7 p.m. on a four-story screen inside the old prison's walls. There also will be self-guided tours, and food and beverages will be sold.

To buy tickets, visit

By the way

The Joliet state prison was built in 1858 and closed in 2002. It has starred in movies and television shows, including the opening sequence of “The Blue Brothers.”

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