Columbia County Sheriff’s Office launches chaplaincy program to help deputies, community members deal with trauma

PARDEEVILLE, Wis. – The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office is launching a police chaplaincy program to help its deputies and community members deal with traumatic situations.

“Deputies see a lot of different, difficult situations weekly, sometimes daily,” said Capt. Jim Stilson. “It’s not so much the incident and what they see. It’s also dealing with the families and humanity of it.”

Stilson said tough situations, such as notifying a family they’ve lost a loved one, can stick with you.

“I’ve often said that that notification and talking with families about that traumatic event is more traumatic than us being on scene having to deal with that,” he said.

“Folks internalize, carry it with them,” Pastor Alan Boeck said. “If we don’t have a venue, an avenue to get this out, it works on anybody, anybody, and officers are not exempt. Sometimes it plays out in not-so-healthy ways if it’s not taken care of.”

Boeck said that’s why having chaplains on standby can be a can be a help for not only deputies, but community members affected by tragedy. Chaplains’ services can include assisting with grief counseling, death notifications and simply lending an ear.

“We don’t do what officers do, but there are a lot of things on scene someone like ourselves can do. Communication,” Boeck said. “I’ve been a listener most my life.”

Boeck is volunteering as a chaplain, having done so in the past for the Portage Police Department. Former Portage Police Chief Ken Manthey, who went through training in police chaplaincy, is helping the sheriff’s office get its program off the ground.

Stilson said the county is covered by about 15 chaplains from different denominations ready to volunteer their time, some with backgrounds in law enforcement. They will do ride-alongs with deputies, as well.

He and Boeck said helping someone deal with tragedy, may it be a law enforcement professional or civilian, can be as simple as being by their side.

“It’s sitting with folks who just need someone to be there with them,” Boeck said.

“It doesn’t have to be religious-based, denominational,” Stilson said. “They can ask questions about that, but many times it’s just helping them cope, helping them deal with that traumatic situation.”