Chaplains minister to police, victims
"To carry each other's burdens, we must care for one another."
Those words by author Lailah Akita are true for even the strongest in the Lawton Fort Sill community including law enforcement. Regardless of how much training police officers undergo or how much experience they gain, they inevitably carry burdens day in and day out. They respond to the 2 a.m. domestic call in which a child is abused and the 7 p.m. shooting in which a victim is injured.
They face dire situations, which most people avoid, head on; for this reason, Police Chief James Smith, with the assistance of Bishop John Dunaway, created the Lawton Police Department chaplain program in 2012-13. The chaplains provide support and listening ears to both police and crime victims.
Two or three people from the community currently volunteer as chaplains, but the department needs more. Smith would like to have a total of 10 chaplains, and he invites those interested to jump on board and complete the program.
"In law enforcement, of course you see that we arrest people, or we write tickets," Smith said, "but that's only a small piece of some of the things that we do. I'd like to say that we're less in the 'enforcement' business and we're more in the 'people' business. Our main goal is to help people in all facets of life. ... If they need some type of spiritual guidance, if they need prayer (or) if they just need somebody to talk to, we want to be able to provide that."
In recalling his own past experiences on the job, Smith said officers most often deal with "the most terrible things that society has to offer," and during those painful times both the victims and the officers need support.
"One of the hardest things that I've ever done was deliver a death notification. It's very emotional and traumatic to the family, but it's also traumatic to the officer," Smith said.
Dunaway, an Army veteran and pastor of Abundant Life Christian Church, has served as a volunteer chaplain for the department since the program's inception. "Just the presence" of a chaplain, Dunaway said, may offer solace to those in pain or shock, even for those who are not religious or spiritual.
"This is for everybody," he said. " ... A chaplain must always realize that he or she does not always have all the answers. Sometimes they have no answers whatsoever."
Dunaway remembers reading a news story in which a fire chief said one of his firefighters encountered an incident that involved the loss of a child. The trauma was of such a magnitude that the firefighter remained silent afterwards, so the chief did, too.
"Chief said he sat in a room with him (the firefighter) for three days. They never said anything. On the third day, the firefighter was ready to move forward," Dunaway said. "He got up and left out of the room."
Dunaway stays with an officer or a victim for as long as he is needed. He prays. He counsels. He listens.