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Chaplaincy program provides 365-day support

Chaplains keep employees alive, Sheriff says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Placer County Law Enforcement Chaplains are happy to bring on-duty officers a cup of coffee during long shifts or spend time with a grieving family that has just lost a loved one. “We provide critical instant chaplains to every law enforcement agency in Placer County,” said John Akers, 60, senior chaplain of Placer County Law Enforcement Chaplaincy, Inc. The chaplaincy is a nonprofit group, running on grants and community donations, and was founded in 1986. Akers, who joined the chaplaincy Jan. 15, said the organization is made up of three staff members and 40 volunteers who provide services 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to officials as well as community members. Law Enforcement Chaplains are trained in death notifications, crisis counseling, homicides, terrorism, crime scene logistics, public ceremonies, line-of-duty deaths and more. Community Chaplains perform death notifications, offer counseling, answer questions about the process after a death, offer community education programs and more. Akers, who moved from Sparks, Nev. where he was a part of the Sparks Police Department Chaplaincy, said the Placer County Chaplains put in about 11,000 hours last year. “On the worst day of your life we show up and try to offer a little bit of hope,” Akers said. One of the positive aspects of the chaplaincy is helping people achieve and adapt to a “new normal” after a tragic incident, Akers said. “Everything we do something bad has happened, and so the positive part is people being able to get through it … and move on with their lives,” he said. Akers said chaplains are happy to assist law enforcement officers any way possible, even if that support comes in the simple form of a cup of coffee or someone to vent to. Chaplains also go on ride-alongs with officers and attend de-briefings, Akers said. “We can do everything we can to help them do their jobs better,” he said. “We are not part of the administration … so when we ride with officers they know that everything we talk about stays there.” Akers said chaplains are happy to talk and offer assistance to anyone, regardless of their religious background. Sgt. Dave Lawicka of the Auburn Police Department said the chaplaincy assists them in a number of situations including hostage stand-offs, searches for missing people and DUI checkpoints. “We use them as advocates and counseling for (victims of) crimes and for family members of people who have died,” Lawicka said. “They really will do anything for the police department, for victims of crimes. One of the services they do offer is they will talk to an officer if the officer has spiritual concerns … or concerns with things going on in their life.” Lawicka said chaplains spend time with officers on long assignments, and will talk to arrestees as well. “They are just giving, helpful people,” he said. “They are there for anybody.” Lawicka said although officers are sometimes able to stay with and console victims or families, the chaplaincy makes that its mission. “The chaplains are there for that long-term,” Lawicka said. “The chaplains are there for that follow up. The police, we are trained in some capacities to deal with these compassionate issues, but by no means are we experts in it.” Deputy Senior Chaplain Jim Milne said in his first year he saw 14 suicides, so he can relate to the tragedies that law enforcement officers see every day. It’s important to be there for officers, because it’s sometimes impossible for those men and women to talk to their loved ones about what they go through, Milne said. “They are dealing with suicides and they can’t just go home and tell their family,” he said. “We walk with them through that. We sit there in that car with them and let them unload.” Placer County Sheriff Ed Bonner said over the years the chaplaincy, which the office uses daily, has taken a huge burden off the shoulders of his deputies. “I really think it has kept … employees alive and kept them healthy,” Bonner said. Akers said chaplains receive 100 hours of basic training and shadow mentors before going into the field on their own. Anyone interested in becoming a chaplain can contact the organization’s office in Newcastle. Potential chaplains go through a number of interviews, an extensive background check and an academy. Akers said chaplains must also have a strong faith community to support them in what they do. Anyone with fundraising ideas or interested in donating can also contact the chaplaincy or visit its website. Akers, who has been a pastor for 25 years, said his personal goals are to continue to let people know the chaplaincy is available to assist those who need it and to continue to find well-trained chaplains who can serve with excellence. “The people who know about our chaplaincy are the ones who have had to use us,” he said. “Most of the people don’t know that in the middle of the night we are working with their neighbors and friends.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com ---------------------------------------------------- Placer County Law Enforcement Chaplaincy, Inc. What: A nonprofit group assisting law enforcement officers and citizens daily Website: placerchaplains.com E-mail: pclec@placerchaplains.com To donate: Send checks to P.O. Box 1111, Newcastle, CA, 95858 For information: Call (916) 663-2427