Imagine having to knock on someone’s door at 2 a.m. to tell them their loved one was in a fatal accident or in a homicide.
The lives of those inside the house will be forever devastated.
Most of us would not be able to knock on the door to deliver the sad news.
But it’s a thankless, stressful job that someone must do in every city throughout the world.
In Placer County, 55 chaplains are the ones making that hard knock on the door.
Those 55 chaplains comprise the nonprofit Placer County Law Enforcement Chaplaincy.
“We’re the ones who show up at the worst day of your live. It’s always around death,” said John Akers, the chaplaincy’s executive director/senior chaplain. “They lost their loved ones. We spend between 12,000 and 14,000 hours a year on scene working at suicides, homicides, major critical incidents and accidents.”
Besides being difficult to witness, the calls are also unpredictable.
“Yesterday, we had three calls. We serve every law enforcement agency in the area, including the FBI, probation, police departments and the Sheriff’s Office,” Akers said last Friday. “We’re always called out by law enforcement. If there’s a suicide in an office, we’ll come out and do a debriefing. We spend hundreds of hours each year with law enforcement and other first responders, following critical incidents, debriefing.”
A few years ago, the chaplaincy dealt with 80 suicides in just one year. The chaplains also talk to school officials and students when a student is involved in an accident or suicide.
The Placer County Law Enforcement Chaplaincy’s mission is to provide spiritual, emotional and mental support to law enforcement, their families and residents in this county.
But the chaplains also meet tangible needs, such as providing food and water to officers working a crime scene or trying to talk down a Foresthill Bridge jumper.
During the 48-hour Lincoln tanker fire crisis in August 2011, chaplains were there, first telling residents nearby to evacuate and then at the evacuation center listening to anxious residents and serving as communication liaisons.
And the chaplains do it as volunteers. There are two and a half paid staff; the other chaplains make the calls as benevolent residents. Many volunteer after they’ve put in a full day of work or in between their day jobs.
They will leave their families, homes and jobs when they get an unexpected call.
Most of us could not serve on the chaplaincy’s team.
Chaplaincy volunteers must finish a 16-week Community Chaplain Academy.
“In our academy, 50 to 60 percent continue on in this program. Some don’t have the right chemistry or personality to do the work. Knocking on the door at 2 a.m. to say that your son was killed in an accident is difficult,” Akers said. “There’s no good way to give bad news. There’s better ways to do it where you won’t cause more damage. Our volunteers have to have empathy but also have to be the one who’s strong and helpful in the room. They have to be the rock.”
Volunteers train for a year before taking calls by themselves. Besides attending the academy, volunteers go out for 30 hours with another chaplain and pass a background check through the Placer County Sheriff’s Office.
We appreciate the Placer County Law Enforcement Chaplaincy.
“They’re on call 24/7. The streets could be flooded, a propane tank might be on fire,” Akers said, “but that doesn’t keep them away when someone needs support. They’re on the scene usually within 30 minutes of being called.”
And now the chaplaincy needs our help.
The nonprofit organization is holding its annual eighth Blues and Barbecue fundraiser May 31 at High Hand Nursery to help with operating costs. The chaplaincy is not part of a law enforcement agency and not part of the county, although law enforcement and residents benefit directly from the chaplaincy.
Akers hopes the annual fundraiser raises at least $20,000 through ticket sales, raffles, auctions and sponsorships.
Sponsorships are from $100 to $1,000. The bronze sponsorship for $100 includes signage and one ticket. The silver sponsorship for $250 includes signage and two tickets. The gold sponsorship for $500 includes signage and four tickets. The platinum sponsorship for $1,000 includes signage and eight tickets.
Event tickets and sponsorships can be bought on the Placer County Law Enforcement Chaplaincy’s website at placerchaplains.com or by mailing a check with BBQ in the memo line to P.O. Box 1111, Newcastle, CA 95658.
It takes a special person to be in the Placer County Law Enforcement Chaplaincy. We should support them through their events and donating year-round. We have the easy side of the equation.
Agencies served by the Placer County Law Enforcement Chaplaincy
- Placer County Sheriff’s Office
- Auburn Police Department
- Lincoln Police Department
- Rocklin Police Department
- Roseville Police Department
- California Highway Patrol
- Placer County District Attorney
- Placer County Probation Department
- California State Parks and Recreation
- Office of Emergency Services
- Federal Bureau of Investigation