The nightstand phone rings and the police chaplain knows it is probably not good news. Incoming calls are restricted on this line—it is either one of his fellow chaplains or the Chicago Police Operations Command. It’s 1:30 AM as he lifts the receiver.
“Good morning Father, sorry to wake you but we have a police officer shot on the north side. He’s en route to the hospital now—no word on his condition, but he’s headed for a Level I trauma center. It should be on your Blackberry now.”
The chaplain rubs his eyes, swings his feet to the floor and picks up his dormant Blackberry. With press of a button it comes to life. The screen fills with notifications from the past several hours; a water main break, an extra alarm fire, a power failure and, at the very top, a police officer, age 26, shot while serving a warrant.
“Okay, I’ve got it—I’m on my way.”
The unmarked Ford sedan speeds north on the Kennedy Expressway. There is no traffic. At the Kennedy/Edens junction the chaplain heads the car north on the Edens but suddenly his brain begins to clear. Where am I going? he asks himself. I’m heading north… to a Level I Trauma Center… Saint Francis Hospital maybe… Evanston Hospital?
He pulls his car to the shoulder, calls up the notification on his Blackberry and smiles—it’s Saint Francis—his cerebral autopilot was correct.
The Emergency Room is a beehive of police activity with supervisors and command members of the department. In the examining room it is only slightly less hectic—two detectives at the officer’s head, a portable x-ray machine just departing and a cluster of medical people. The officer is clad only in a tee shirt and boxer shorts. His right foot rests in a stainless steel basin of betadyne solution and as a nurse gently lifts his foot to a fresh basin, the chaplain sees a badly mangled foot with a middle toe mostly detached. The officer is arguing with a police supervisor.
“I’m t-t-tellin’ ya, I g-g-gotta call my wife! If you send a car out she’ll f-f-freak. I g-g-gotta tell her I’m okay. Its gotta to c-c-come from me!” The officer’s teeth are chattering and the supervisor is shaking his head.
“He’s in shock, he’s in no condition to talk to her,” says the impatient sergeant as he turns to the chaplain.
“What happened?” asks the chaplain as he moves to the head of the gurney, between the officer and his sergeant, with an eye to at least momentarily diffusing the argument.
“I sh-sh-shot myself in the f-f-fuckin’ foot Father, with a sh-sh-shotgun! Goin’ through a door…”
“He was on a team serving a warrant,” added the sergeant. “The arrestee was behind the door as they went in and he tried to slam it on them. The door hit the shotgun”
“Are you cold?” asked the chaplain.
“N-n-no… I just sh-sh-shake like this whenever I g-g-get shot.”
The officer had lightened the moment.
“Nurse! Can we get this man some blankets?” called the chaplain.
Moments later the officer was covered in heated blankets and within 15 minutes he was talking calmly with his wife and explaining why a squad would be coming by to pick her up.
As police shootings go, this probably was an unexpectedly good outcome but the chaplain knew that all too often the call might have well morphed into a full honors funeral where the challenge would be to prevent the pomp and circumstance from overshadowing a meaningful service for the family. Line of duty deaths, suicides and catastrophic injuries inflicting permanent disabilities—those are the worst of times.
A retired officer recalls an ancient Egyptian blessing:
“God be between you and harm in all the empty places where you must walk.”
“That’s what the chaplains mean to me,” he said. “So many times, they stand between us and the dark side of our work.”
There are good times to be sure. Officers frequently ask department chaplains to officiate at weddings, baptisms and other family functions. Lasting bonds are formed and cherished family memories are created.
Another highlight for the chaplains is their regular interaction with the officers on the street. They will tell you without hesitation that this is where they get a sense of what their flock is about, especially when officers discover that the unmarked car entering the opposite end of the dark alley is occupied by members of the Chaplains Unit. Chaplains cruise the streets regularly and monitor the radio and yes… respond to calls where they sometimes become a most welcome assist. There are more than a few “chaplain assist” stories out there for sure.
The police department is a group of men and women of all faiths and the members of the Chaplain’s Unit are representative of that diversity. Within their unit they work closely together for the common good of their mission and the people they serve. Their service to individual officers in times of crisis generates a whole other collection of chaplain stories, most of which will be forever untold. But sit with a group of cops on most any occasion, prod them gently, and they will tell you poignant, heartfelt chaplain’s stories, at least the ones that can be told aloud without opening old wounds.
The chaplains sum up work in law enforcement by telling their officers that they are the ones who stand between the weak and the forces of evil. Police are truly in a noble profession, doing God’s work on a daily basis.
The chaplain was on the street when he monitored radio traffic indicating unusual police activity at the Emergency Room of a west side hospital. Moments later he was standing with two officers, surveying a scene of organized chaos. There were shooting victims, stabbing victims and at least one DOA. The scene was repugnant testimony of man’s inhumanity to his fellow-man. Doctors and nurses, sprinkled with women in religious habits worked with urgency and efficiency tending to those most seriously injured and offering comfort and assurance to those who would wait for their turn in the triage world of trauma care. Lives would be saved here tonight.
“How can you look at this and believe in God?” questioned the one cop.
“How can you look at this and not believe in God?” replied the second cop.
Touché thought the priest silently.
Do you have a police chaplain story? If you can, as a tribute to these
men and women,why not share it with us in the Comments Section?