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A chaplain’s view of cops

By Father Joe O'Donnell
Police Chaplain Arizona DPS, Phoenix, AZ

I have been asked to present a Chaplain’s view of Police Officers and the stresses of their lives and those of their families, especially in tragedy. 

I believe that being a police officer is a calling; as is being a chaplain, it takes a special person to be a police officer; it must come from inside you. Police Officers and Clergy are much alike because they are people-helpers, they are generous throughout their lives, they are presumed to be better than the rest of humanity, they are held to a higher standard. All of that is true; but cops are also control freaks, they are in charge people, they run the show, and when necessary, put on the biggest and phoniest front they can, in order to get the job done.

A few months after I became a volunteer Chaplain for the Arizona Department of Public Safety, I was called out very early one morning, at about 06:00 am, to come to a local hospital.

One of our officers had been rear-ended as he was making a traffic stop. His Crown Victoria exploded and he burned to death, even as several persons, including the person he had stopped, struggled, unsuccessfully, to free him from the flaming vehicle.

When I arrived at the hospital, dozens of officers were already there, as was his wife. She asked me to bless him, and two officers and I went to a back room, where I uncovered his burned body, and prayed for him. The next day, I sat with his wife, two of his closest officer friends (both of whom are now deceased), and the pastor of the Church where the funeral would be held. We could not believe that we were planning the funeral of an officer who had been the mentor of hundreds of DPS officers, in his 28 years of service.

Police officers are the men and woman we need to honor, always, along with our military personnel who live in harms way. I think that’s what we Police Chaplains do more than anything else, we try to be there when it hurts, and to help officers and their families during such horrendous times.

Very quickly, there is another side to police officers. I believe that the most difficult task they perform is knocking on someone’s door to inform them that a loved one is not coming home, ever. I’ve been with DPS for almost eight years, and I have done this with officers nearly 180 times, twice in the last 24 hours.

Recently, the wife of a deceased driver, a husband and a father, said she simply could not tell her children, girls ages 9 and 11, and a boy age 7. Other family members were present. I looked at the two officers with me, and their eyes said simply: “It’s all yours, Padre”. I knelt, to be at eye level with the children, and told them as best I could that their father had been in an accident and had died. One of the girls wept openly, the other became very silent and distant, and the young boy just wasn’t sure how to respond. We stayed for a long time. As we prepared to leave the home, the young boy and one of his sisters were sitting on the stairs to the second floor of the house.  As we opened the door, he said to me, “When will my Dad be home?”

For me, that’s who Police Officers are, and that’s who Police Chaplains are, men and women who give their best, and sometimes give their lives.  Thank you; Lord, for men and women such as these. God bless you, and Be Safe Out There!

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