Sheriff’s chaplaincy program growing

Published 7:30 pm Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Erric Price, left, and Steve Johnson are chaplains with the Chilton County Sheriff's Department.

Much progress has been made in the first year of the Chilton County Sheriff’s Office’s chaplaincy program, and much work remains.

Senior Chaplain Steve Johnson, who is also pastor of Union Springs Baptist Church in Randolph, said he has been on 10-15 calls in the program’s first year.

“It’s going very well,” said Erric Price, an employee of the sheriff’s department who helps Johnson with chaplaincy services.

Johnson is certified through the International Conference of Police Chaplains and volunteers his time. Local pastor Hoyt Chastain also helps.

About six of the calls where chaplains were requested over the last year have happened since Christmas, Johnson estimated, including a call on Christmas Day and one following the BCS National Championship Game on Monday.

During that incident, a man locked himself in his home with a gun. Johnson was able to talk to relatives, keeping them calm and away from the scene, as law enforcement officers were able to handle the situation.

Johnson also looks out for the welfare of deputies. Another recent incident ended with deaths in a family well known by many in the department. Johnson said his job in such a situation is “critical incident stress management.”

Without help, such traumatic experiences can lead to alcoholism, violence and even suicide for law enforcement officers.

“It manifests itself in bad ways many times,” Johnson said. “What I’m doing is just letting people talk it through.”

Johnson spends time with deputies even when it’s not obvious they are struggling. He said it has taken time to build relationships with the officers and get them to open up.

“I think this first year has been successful as far as gaining trust, gaining respect,” he said.

The program has made strides, but Johnson and Price estimate sheriff’s office chaplains could have helped with twice as many calls. Officers are still becoming familiar with the resource and don’t always think to notify dispatch to page the chaplains.

“Anything that’s needed, we’ll do,” Johnson said.