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Officers Can Turn To Police Chaplains In Time Of Need


Throughout this week, many people have turned to social media, vigils and demonstrations to share their grief. But what about police officers? We thought their chaplains might have some answers, so we called Mark Clements. He's president of the International Conference of Police Chaplains. He was at a training seminar in Albuquerque when we reached him, and he told us about the support police officers need from people like him.

MARK CLEMENTS: They have great peer support networks. But very commonly they will come to us, and they'll talk about their fears. They'll talk about issues and problems in their families, with teenagers, in their marriage. They'll talk about affairs, they'll talk about alcohol issues and things like that. They know they can come to us. They know it's private. They know it's privileged. They know it's confidential.

And they won't even go to their own minister because he doesn't understand me, he doesn't understand what I do. You know what this life is all about. You know the unique stresses and the things that challenge us the most. We can talk to you. Sometimes, to them, that chaplain is the only person they can go to.

MARTIN: Have you had conversations, interesting conversations, with some of the people that you serve in the wake of - look, it's not a secret that over the last two years in particular the conduct of police officers has been under scrutiny. I mean, I would venture to say that in some communities it's always been under scrutiny, right? But this has become a national issue. Has that been something that people have talked to you about?

CLEMENTS: Absolutely, it has. And I have a very close friend that's in the fire services, and his son went into law enforcement work. And after only six years - he recently retired. He just resigned. He said, it's not like I thought it would be. I got into this to help people. I got into this to make a positive difference.

And I would walk by the playground two years ago, and the junior high and high school kids would be out there during the summer shooting baskets, and they'd all come over and shake my hand. He said, in the last two years, they've gone to flipping me off. They've gone to cursing me. They've gone to calling me names.

And that's just community-wide. It's come to be all of a sudden this great negative to be a police officer. And you're exactly right. The microscope is on every decision that they make. And when you're with them, when you go on their calls with them and you ride with them and you're there when they do their work, you understand better than I ever imagined I could how moment by moment they have to make just split-second decisions.

MARTIN: What do you see as your job at a time like this? Because wouldn't people often say of the clergy, your job is to both affirm but also challenge? How do you see your job?

CLEMENTS: I remember back, Michel, to a morning - September 11 - and I saw my job at that point during a massive national critical incident - terrorist event attack. And I watched the impact, I watched their faces. I mean, these are the police, you know. To me, they're the people in control. They're the people in charge. They're the people going to take charge of the situation.

But I saw it in their eyes. I saw they were shell-shocked. You know, just like everybody else, how can this happen? Sometimes we forget they're human beings. They're just human beings that want to go home at night. They've got their kids who have baseball games and piano recitals. You know, they're just humans that have a church to attend. They've got parents and brothers and sisters and family. And then they put that uniform on, and we expect so much out of them. But underneath that uniform, they're just a human.

MARTIN: What - sort of in the days and weeks ahead - can you offer us some thoughts about what you think your job will be and those of the other people that you're working with right now?

CLEMENTS: In our agencies and our departments, it's going to be a time of encouragement because I've never seen the morale this low. I've been a chaplain for 16 and a half years, and I've never seen morale across the board in law enforcement as low as it is. The appreciation, the honor in what they do - they're having to work hard to drum that up. And that's going to be part of our - as chaplains, that's going to be part of our responsibility to help them see, no, what you do is valuable.

MARTIN: That's the Reverend Mark Clements. He's the president of the International Conference of Police Chaplains. He serves a number of law enforcement agencies in Wisconsin. We actually reached him in Albuquerque, N.M., where he's at a training seminar for a couple of hundred police chaplains. Reverend Clements, thanks so much for speaking with us.

CLEMENTS: Thank you, Michel, and thank you for what you do. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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