Q & A with a Tenn. police chaplain

By Ryan Harris
The Chattanooga Times Free Press

DALTON, Ga. - When the perils of police work become overbearing, or a victim of crime needs a comforting word, Raymond McCranie steps in.

He has worked as a chaplain for the Dalton Police Department since 1997.

Mr. McCranie previously served as a chaplain in the Army, and during a shorter stint in the Air Force.

He retired after 20 years combined military service, and now volunteers at the police department and at Mercy's Hands, a residential living program for troubled adolescent boys.

Through his work as a chaplain, Mr. McCranie duties range from riding along with police patrols to helping with Christmas toy drives. This Christmas, the chaplains supported Greenhouse, an advocacy center for abused children.

He recently spoke with the Times Free Press about the responsibilities of police chaplains.

Q: What charity work did the police chaplains do this Christmas?

A: We collected money. We put it in the paper, promoted it among businesses and handed out fliers to retailers, banks, etc. Then on Friday morning, Dec. 7, we were out front (of the police department) and people dropped off donations of money and toys. I think the total donations were $900, close to a thousand bucks. We also collected quite a few toys. We had one lady give us three plastic containers full of beanie babies.

Every year (the Greenhouse has) a Christmas party or program for these children. Most of them come from families whose resources are very limited, and they provide gifts and toys for them. I don't know how you measure success. It's more than they had. We think that is great.

Q: What are the typical duties for police chaplains?

A: Our primary mission is to serve our police officers. When there is a critical incident which is something kind of outside the range of ordinary, normal, daily experiences, sometimes we talk to them and do a debriefing. We ride along with them. We go to the hospital and visit them when they are sick. Whatever they need.

When there is a traffic fatality or a death notification, those kinds of things, the police officers know we are a resource to deal with the family. Last night at 11 o'clock, I was over at the hospital when one of the officers called me with a family whose little 8-week-old twin had died. It's those kinds of situations.

Q: Why is it important to have chaplains in the police department?

A: This is a very intense, stressful, high-energy kind of job when something goes down. Not all the time, but you are always dealing with the unknown and the unpredictable. It's not unlike what happens in the Army, because of the unpredictable nature of what you do. We just think it's good for them to know we are a spiritual resource for them, and we are an emotional resource for them.

One thing that strikes me is that our police officers, they are law enforcement officers, which means (that) enforcement implies a transgression or violation of the law, and their specific purpose is to enforce the law, so they are always dealing with infractions and the negative, sorry, sad, side of the population. What I'm saying is, most every interaction a police officer has has some negative characteristics to it, because they are responding to a public or community safety problem.

Q: How do you counsel a police officer?

A: Everyone is different. Some people it doesn't affect the same way as it does others.

There is a program we use called the Mitchell Model in which you take a person through a series of steps and actually talk about the facts and the feeling of what happened, and give them a heads up of expected emotional, physiological and behavioral changes they would experience as the result of that.

Q: What is the best advice you can give someone?

A: Every now and then, a verse of scripture jumps out at you, and it kind of becomes your watchword, or your guiding light, or your principle of how you live and what guides in what you do, and gives purpose and meaning to who you are and what you do.

There is a verse I've been using for several years now. It's Nehemiah 4:14, which I think kind of captures, at least for me, the things that are worth fighting for. I think some people fight and die for things that have absolutely no meaning, no value, no purpose. But this scripture here tells me that there are three things that in the end matter the most, and that is your country, your marriage and your family. That's what it's all about.

Copyright 2007 Chattanooga Times Free Press

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