The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 23, 2013

Police chaplains bring comfort

Mankato hosts chaplain training conference

By Dan Nienaber
dnienaber@mankatofreepress.com

---- — MANKATO — When a police officer calls Ronald Maynard late at night, he doesn't know where he will be before another hour passes.

He does know it won't be a pleasant situation.

Maynard is one of five Mankato Department of Public Safety police chaplains who takes turns answering that call whenever it comes. It could be for an officer involved in a shooting or for the family of a firefighter injured or killed on duty. Most often the chaplains are asked to provide a death notification to a family — breaking the news to survivors who have lost someone in a car crash, to suicide or through some other tragic event.

While serving as a chaplain in another community, Maynard once spent three days at a lake. Police officers and firefighters were searching for a drowning victim. He was comforting the victim's family.

"It always comes in the middle of the night," Maynard said. "You never know where you are going to be or how long you are going to be there. You have to bring your lunch."

Maynard is also one of about 50 police chaplains from Minnesota and its surrounding states participating in a regional training seminar through the International Conference of Police Chaplains. The seminar, which is taking place this week in the Public Safety Center, was organized by Katie Menne, the lead chaplain for Mankato.

"I volunteered to do it," she said. "They called me and asked me if I would host this thing and I said I would love to."

Since taking that call in January, Menne said she has spent hundreds of hours planning presentations, organizing hotel space, arranging meals, notifying participants and all of the other things required for hosting a large seminar. Wednesday's presentations were about dealing with an officer death or injury, self-defense, ethics and media relations.

Menne's day job is serving as a hospice chaplain for Allina Health in New Ulm. She lives in Mankato and has been a police chaplain since the current program started eight years ago. Maynard said there was an earlier version of the program that was started by Mayor Herb Mocol in 1989, but it faded away during the 1990s.

It's volunteer work, but Menne said it's worth her time because it's a way to serve police officers and the community. She described her service as a calling.

"Our job is to listen to people and provide them with any spiritual or emotional guidance they need," Menne said. "Our goal is to sit with them, hear their pain and walk with them."

Their work is appreciated. There have been several tragic events in the Mankato area during the past eight years. The chaplains have shown their value many times, said Matt Westermayer, deputy director for police.

"The chaplains have helped us out immensely since they've been implemented with our department," he said.

They help victims deal with a tragedy, which allows officers to focus on other jobs that need to be done at crime scenes, crashes and other incidents, he said. The chaplains are ordained ministers from a variety of faiths, but they are trained to work with people of all religious beliefs. They're also able to help those who aren't religious but need to talk.

"They also are a resource for our officers and firefighters who have been traumatized," Westermayer said.

Chaplains work closely with police officers and firefighters, building trust and providing confidential ways to work through personal matters. Those discussions can involve traumatic situations from work, problems at home, or issues they don't feel comfortable talking about with their bosses or spouses.

Mark Clements, who will serve as the next president of the International Conference of Police Chaplains, traveled from La Crosse, Wis., to participate in the training program. He said the chaplain program in the La Crosse area has grown to include other agencies since it was started in 2000.

Clements also described police chaplain work as a calling.

"I'm doing my best to help serve those who help us," he said. "I ask them, 'What can I do to assist you in the important and essential role you serve in our community?' If I can bring comfort to those who have been victims of a tragedy or (comfort to) one of our officers, then I have achieved my goal."

Clements said the chaplains in the La Crosse area are called once or twice a week. Menne described the calls in the Mankato area as "feast or famine." Sometimes there won't be any calls for a couple of months, then there will be a string of several calls in a few weeks.

Menne also makes regular visits to the Public Safety Center to visit with officers and firefighters. She wants to get to know them, build trust and let them know, especially after the worst types of incidents, that they are doing a valuable job.

"We're that sounding board," Menne said. "We're that safe sounding board. They do a tough job and sometimes they get a bad rap. We're their cheering team. We have to be their cheerleaders because sometimes the public isn't."