DALTON, Ga. — When an accident or crime happens, police work to secure the scene and gather evidence, emergency workers treat the injured and firefighters crack open cars or prevent a disaster from spreading. All have a role to play.
Police and medical chaplains have a role, too. They’re there for spiritual triage and a listening ear when those affected by tragedy need help.
“With their presence they bring such a calming effect for all those involved,” Whitfield County Sheriff Scott Chitwood said.
“We’re like first responders. We work with (victims) initially then refer them to their support groups,” said Dalton Police Department senior chaplain Don Treick.
Conasauga District Attorney Kermit McManus and his victim/witness office honored Whitfield and Murray County chaplains Wednesday as part of National Crime Victim’s Rights Week.
In addition to the chaplains interviewed for this story — Mr. Treick and Wayne Saylors of the Whitfield Sheriff’s Office, and Nancy Garrison at Hamilton Medical Center — the ceremony also recognized Dr. Billy Nimmons, Ray Camp and Ray McCranie.
Officer Saylors is one of the few officers who also are chaplains. With 22 years of police work, Officer Saylors heads the chaplain services and the DARE program for the sheriff’s office.
His police experience offers the chaplain a pass behind the “thin blue line” that often divides police and civilians, he said.
“If you’re not a law enforcement officer or affiliated with law enforcement, it’s very difficult to get beyond that initial level,” Officer Saylors said of working to build trust with police.
After the crime or accident scene is cleared, the next stop for many is the hospital. That’s where Ms. Garrison sees victims and their families.
Ms. Garrison said the other first responders perform their tasks and move on to the next case.
“The difference is, with chaplains, you stay in the midst of it,” she said.
“Sometimes people think all you do is pray,” she said. But just getting someone a cold drink or listening can help a frenzied situation.
“When they’re really angry, you’ve got to let them vent,” she said of crime victims and families. “Usually their anger will subside and then they’ll exhaust and then the tears come.”
Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...