Chaplain will help deputies, public

Published 4:49 pm Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sheriff Kevin Davis, right, brought in the Rev. Steve Johnson of Union Springs Baptist Church as the department's new chaplain

Chilton County Sheriff Kevin Davis has seen the studies that show police officers have shorter life expectancies than the general public.

Officers are three times as likely to die by suicide as from being killed in the line of duty, Davis said, and can be expected to go through a divorce within two years after becoming an officer.

While Davis can’t do much about his officers’ responsibilities, he can do everything possible to help them cope with their jobs.

The beginning of a chaplain program in the department is intended to help officers lead healthy personal lives—and help those officers better serve the public.

“We all need somebody that we can talk to,” Davis said.

That person now is the Rev. Steve Johnson, pastor at Union Springs Baptist Church in Randolph and the sheriff’s department chaplain.

One of Johnson’s focuses in his new role will be the well-being of the county’s sheriff’s deputies. He will ride along with officers, getting to know them and building trust.

“I don’t get in the car and start preaching, but I’ll share what I know if they want,” Johnson said. “They’ll tell me stuff that they might not even tell their pastor—or their wives.”

As the trust is built, Johnson will try to help with problems the officers are having—problems Davis said are too common.

“It’s because of all the bad that you see,” Davis said. “You see the worst of the worst.”

Officers can also frequently have relationship issues.

“In our job, a lot of the time, we’re the ones that are in control. We’re making all the decisions,” Davis said. “Then that officer has got to go home and work in a partnership with his wife. We’re not used to that.”

Johnson will also be an asset to the public. He will help the department notify families of the deaths of loved ones, and maybe even be called on to communicate with subjects who are threatening suicide or holding hostages.

Johnson’s responsibilities make it clear that a chaplain is not just a pastor helping the sheriff’s department. He has received certification from the International Conference of Police Chaplains and from the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Chaplaincy.

Johnson has been in the ministry for about 15 years and was a chaplain with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department from 1998 until 2007, when he became pastor at Union Springs.

He will be assisted by Investigator Erric Price, who attended an ICPC course in Shelby County and brought back a conviction that Chilton County needed a chaplain program.

Price will serve as a sort of liaison between Davis and Johnson, and help the program grow. Davis said he would like to see the department have enough chaplains that a different one could be on call every day.

“I think it will continue to evolve as we go,” Johnson said.