By Jacob Mathias
A small force with a big job for the Wisconsin Rapids Police Department was recently honored for their service.
The WRPD Chaplains received recognition at a meeting of the city’s Common Council on November 17 for their service to the city and its residents. Police Chief Kurt Heuer presented the three chaplains, Pastor Dan Deroche of Woodlands Church, Pastor Trey Turner and Pastor Tim Ritter of Immanuel Lutheran Church. The chaplains were given framed copies of WRPD’s Oath of Honor.
“They have become an incredibly vital part of our agency and our daily operation,” said Heuer.
A standing ovation was given to the chaplains by city leaders, staff and the public audience alike.
The WRPD has always had a chaplaincy program but Deroche said where the chaplains were once reactive, they are now being more proactive in their efforts to provide support towards the well-being of the officers. The chaplains are often present at the police station during shift changeovers and go on ride-alongs with the officers in order to help develop relationships.
The chaplains are available 24/7 to address any needs where they can play a role including delivering death notifications to next of kin, providing support to concerned citizens and counseling families of accident victims at the emergency room.
“People think that our sole purpose is to help the general public…and we do that,” said Deroche. “However, our primary purpose for being there is for the well being of the officers and their families.”
The chaplains are trained by the International Conference of Police Chaplains in areas of critical incident stress management (CISM), death notifications, stress management with burnout, post-shoot trauma, officer death and injury and other areas of law enforcement stresses and needs.
Deroche also offers his services as chaplain to the Wisconsin Rapids Fire Department.
Offering a listening ear and trained support during these difficult police calls can provide the talk therapy needed for the officers to decompress and understand the situation with which they’ve just been presented.
“There’s not a lot of places officers can go where they can just honestly know that it’s not going to go any further than here,” said Deroche. “It helps defuse a lot of the pressures they have there.”
Deroche said the area of CISM is becoming increasingly prevalent in both officer and chaplain training. Both groups are becoming educated in the effects of the mental hyper-vigilance mode that officers enter when they are at work and what those effects mean for the officer and their family’s mental, physical and spiritual state.
A statistic Deroche used to illustrate the need for CISM is that in 2010, 45 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty but over 100 commit suicide.
“What are we doing to help protect them from the effects of this job,” he said. “That’s where chaplaincy comes in. To help fill that void and to help ramp that up because sometime the effects of the job can be just as catastrophic.”
Heuer also called out WRPD Officer Scott Dewitt who acts as a liaison between the department and the chaplains. Dewitt gets no extra pay or benefits for coordinating the chaplain’s efforts.
“Chaplain programs are becoming more popular within departments,” said Dewitt. “A lot of local agencies are seeing the need for a chaplaincy program…it’s just a necessity nowadays.”
While Deroche is the lead pastor at the evangelical Woodlands Church in Wisconsin Rapids, he doesn’t bring religion into his efforts as a police chaplain unless asked.
“I will not bring up anything spiritual unless you do,” said Deroche. “I put on a different hat. My pastor hat and my chaplain hat are two different things.”
The three WRPD chaplains work on rotating weeks and are essentially “on call” for whatever duties they may need to perform during their scheduled week.