A calming voice on the job

Louisa County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Daniel Clore and Chaplain Mark O’Donnell with two members of a French TV crew working on a documentary in 2019.

The Louisa County Sheriff’s Office Chaplain Corps, launched in 2019, includes 16 chaplains from different racial and religious backgrounds. The participants aim to be representative of the community’s population.

Chaplains in the program offer confidential counsel to law enforcement officials and help them notify relatives in the event of a death. The chaplains also help members of the general public with emotional pain due to trauma.

The program took a year of planning, organizing, recruiting and training. The chaplains completed the Citizens’ Law Enforcement Academy, a 13-week course presented by the sheriff’s office. The academy is open to those in the community who want to better understand how law enforcement works in Louisa.

Sergeant Chuck Love spearheaded the Chaplain Corps program, working with Pastor Tim Radmore of Memorial Baptist Church, who has been a chaplain with the Hanover County Sheriff’s Office since 2011, and Rev. Richard Sandberg of Louisa Baptist Church. Most of the chaplains represent a denomination of Christianity, including Baptist, Methodist, and Catholic.

Chaplains play multiple roles for the sheriff’s office. Their main role is to support deputies, lending a listening, empathetic, confidential ear to help them process what they see and witness while on the job.

“Officers see a lot of pain, a lot of suffering, and a lot of death,” Love said. “Other than each other, they don’t really have a venue where they can go and talk about things that are going on. They have resources out here for officers, but [they may not] want to be seen as needing that kind of assistance.”

Chaplains can be a resource for officers to talk about some of these hardships and cope with emotional stress.

“[Officers] see a lot, and they have a lot of mental stress that goes along with the job,” said Sandberg. “And having somebody that they can talk to off the record and just be a listening and supportive ear is one of the opportunities that we have to minister not just the community, but also to the officers themselves.”

Chaplains also play secondary roles where they interact with the public. Before the pandemic, chaplains sometimes rode along with deputies on patrol. They could offer counsel to a deputy during their shift and accompany the officer on calls.

“My job is not law enforcement, so I’m not arresting anybody,” Radmore said. “Our main focus is to provide the innocent people in situations with comfort and a safe space and a sense of calm.”

While a deputy is questioning someone involved in a situation, such as a domestic quarrel, and perhaps placing them under arrest, the chaplain might be talking with other people at the scene, offering information on next steps or being there to comfort them.

“The sheriff’s office sees people at their worst – we very rarely see people at their best,” Love said. “In those instances, having a compassionate individual to listen and redirect a person to a different avenue of thought is always a positive thing.”

The ride-along portion of the program was suspended at the beginning of the pandemic and remains on hold until it is safe for it to resume.

While chaplains are religious people, they don’t automatically talk about religion, God, or their beliefs. Pastor Radmore says that first, chaplains are to be a source of calm and comfort for people.

A recent documentary about religious evangelism in the United States that aired on the German DW television network featured a clip about Louisa’s Chaplain Corps.

The three-minute clip features Chaplain Mark O’Donnell, who sometimes preaches at Memorial Baptist Church, on a ride-along with sheriff’s office Deputy Daniel Clore in 2019. In the clip, the officer pulls over a car and finds the driver, a young woman, in possession of marijuana. She is handcuffed, read her rights and then un-handcuffed. As the officer fills out paperwork, O’Donnell talks to her about God and the consequences of her choices. At this time, the woman is not handcuffed, but it’s not clear if she is free to leave, either.

Radmore, Sandberg and O’Donnell said they don’t talk about religion with people unless asked or unless the person opens the conversation to talk about faith. When asked about the scene in the documentary, O’Donnell said there was a lot of context missing from the scene, but he doesn’t remember exactly what led the conversation with the woman toward religion.

“Our job is not to proselytize people,” O’Donnell said. “I’m there for the deputy … If somebody brings it [religion] up, then I’m obviously going to talk about it.”

Love agreed that the job of a chaplain is to counsel, comfort and listen, not evangelize.

“The role of a chaplain is to serve the community, not to preach,” he said.

Another way chaplains interact with the public is by responding with deputies for death notifications, when a member of the community dies and the deceased’s relatives need to be informed.

This can happen in the event of a suicide, or a car accident that occurs outside the county. In the event of a death, a chaplain can be called to notify the person’s relatives to help inform them while offering grief counseling as they process the news.

“[Death notifications are] part of the job and that’s something that can take the pressure and strain off the deputy,” O’Donnell said.

“The Chaplain Corps is an extremely valuable resource to our officers, to the community and to the Louisa County Sheriff’s Office,” said Sheriff Donald Lowe.

“Chaplains ride along to get to know our deputies and get a better understanding of the intricacies of their work. They are also available to be called upon to give comfort to them, to grieving victims and also the relatives of victims in our community.”

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