Chaplain program helps Pennington Co. deputiesRAPID CITY (AP) — Like many law enforcement officers, Pennington County Sheriff’s deputies regularly deal with people who are in the middle of some of the worst moments of their lives.
By: Holly Meyer , The Rapid City Journal
RAPID CITY (AP) — Like many law enforcement officers, Pennington County Sheriff’s deputies regularly deal with people who are in the middle of some of the worst moments of their lives.
Sheriff Kevin Thom knows that the often daily exposure to trauma and criminal activity can weigh heavily on his staff, which is why he is giving them some extra support through the first official Pennington County Sheriff’s Office Chaplain Program.
“They’re a resource the staff can use,” said Thom, who added that it is not uncommon for law enforcement officers to be distressed or even suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder because of what they see on the job. “It’s giving them another avenue for relief.”
Under way since mid-August, the program’s three volunteer chaplains — Gerard Strong, Corey Harouff and Jim Castleberry — are available to any sheriff’s office employee who want the services — spiritual, emotional and relational — that they provide, Thom said.
“The goal is for chaplains to build relationships with the staff,” said Thom, who added that chaplains have worked with his staff in years past, but only in an unofficial capacity.
Harouff, who also serves as a chaplain for the Rapid City Police Department, said his chaplain work is about forging friendships.
“We don’t always have to talk about deep stuff,” said Harouff, who is the area director for the Rapid City & Hill City Young Life. “The more present we can be, the more we can cultivate that relationship with them and hopefully the more that they’ll open up with us.”
But it’s not just the deputies the chaplains work with. They are also available to all staff under the sheriff’s office banner, including workers at the Pennington County Jail, Western South Dakota Juvenile Services Center and the City/County Alcohol & Drug Programs, Thom said.
The lead pastor at Bethel Assembly of God, Strong said the staff needs someone just to listen and maybe help them answer some of life’s big questions.
“You think about what these men and women see. They’re going up on fatal car accidents, they just came within an inch of losing their life. These are extreme emotionally, taxing situations,” said Strong, who is the pastor at Thom’s church. “I think they deserve people to be there for them to be a sounding board.”
The chaplains will also serve the public by accompanying deputies making death notifications to family members and providing support during mass casualty events, Thom said.
Overseen by Lt. Gordon Decker, the chaplains have been spending the last 2-1/2 months getting to know the employees, assisting at training and learning the office’s procedures, policies and confidentiality requirements.
As in any other ministry work, Strong knows that forging relationships with the deputies is what is going to make the program a success.
“That relationship and trust takes time. It takes interaction,” said Strong, who is also in the process of joining the Reserve Deputy Sheriff Program. “I have no hidden agenda. I just want to get to know you — tell me your story.”