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St. Croix County Chaplains Corps is there to listen and support

The St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office Chaplain Corps includes from left, front, pastors Ron Weller of River Church of River Falls, Stephanie Anthony of First Presbyterian of Hudson and Kevin Morris of First Baptist Church of New Richmond, back, Larry Szyman of Faith Community Church of Hudson and Curt Thomassen, Cornerstone Assembly of God in New Richmond.

It was one of the most horrific crimes in St. Croix County –- the murder of three young girls by their father in July 2012. It was also one of Pastor Larry Szyman’s first experiences as a member of the St. Croix County Chaplains Corps.

Szyman, who is the pastor at Faith Community in Hudson, was part of a “stress debriefing” for the officers, emergency medical team and others who experienced the trauma of the Schauffhausen case in River Falls.

Since then, Szyman and the other corps members, pastors Ron Weller of River Church of River Falls, Stephanie Anthony of First Presbyterian of Hudson, Kevin Morris of First Baptist Church of New Richmond, and Curt Thomassen, Cornerstone Assembly of God in New Richmond, have responded to several other “critical incidents” including the deaths by suicide of a mother off the St. Croix River bridge and a local businessman, drug overdoses and vehicle accidents.

The chaplains are there to comfort the families, try and keep things calm and answer what questions they can so officers can do their jobs.

In addition to being available for the officers and others who respond to these incidents, the chaplains also do regular ride-alongs with law enforcement to be familiar with what they do and to be available if anyone wants to talk about anything and to be there to assist with victims and families when bad news is delivered.

Szyman says it is a question of trust. “These people see so much and they are slow to trust but I think as they have become more comfortable with us when we are deployed to a scene and seeing what we are there to do, I think the apprehension has gone down and our stock has gone up.”

The chaplains are sometimes called on to help officers make death notifications, something that is difficult for everyone involved. For retired HPD Officer Mark Crimmins it was one of the hardest parts of his job.

“But having the chaplains with us to talk with the family has been so helpful. I know that it’s important to the families but it also helped me out as well. It’s a great thing to have them with us,” said Crimmins.

Szyman and Anthony both say the regular ridealongs have taught them a lot about what life is like for a law enforcement officer. Their jobs as chaplains are simple. It isn’t about their denomination or their church affiliation. It’s about listening and offering whatever understanding and support they can.

“During a ride-along we are on the deputy’s turf where they are most confident and in control. It is also a confidential setting where they can say whatever is on their minds. Theirs is a very isolating profession and they can’t share what goes on with just anyone. Being there for them to talk with, it is just part of the toolbox we have available, a way for them to unload if they feel like it,” said Szyman.

Anthony has parishioners who are law enforcement officers and her work as a chaplain, especially on the ride-alongs, has given her insight into what they go through doing their jobs.

“It is amazing to sit in the car with them and watch them work. It is so different from what I do in some ways but not in others. In just one shift they have so many roles –- police officer, social worker, referee. But the bottom line is that they are there to help people and a lot of things get in the way of that and that causes stress,” said Anthony.

Szyman agrees and says he is humbled by what he has learned as a chaplain. “I am developing a sense of what they are up against and the soul scaring nature of this work. What they need to do on the job doesn’t always serve them well in the rest of their lives. The inherent stress of what they do can set them up poorly once their shift is over. And it can be tough on their families and we want them to know that there is intervention that can help.”

Both Anthony and Szyman say they would like to see the public have a greater appreciation of law enforcement and public safety personnel and difficult job they do.

St. Croix County Sheriff’s Special Services Lt. Cathy Borgschatz said the chaplains have been well received by law enforcement and public safety agencies throughout the county. She notes that stress on the job is cumulative and that officers experience a wide variety of situations on any given day from domestic abuse calls to accidents and suicides to thefts and burglaries.

“There’s a lot of things that happen in St.Croix County. Being arrested is only the tip of the iceberg.”

Hudson Police Chief Marty Jensen is also a big supporter of the chaplains. “They have been especially helpful when it comes to death notifications for us. When they are on the scene with the family, they have a very calming effect and provide the support the family needs from someone other than law enforcement.”

Szyman believes the people the Chaplain Corps serves have to maintain a unique balancing act when it comes to their work and the rest of their lives. “If we can help them do that, well that’s why we’re there.”

For more information about the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office Chaplain Corps call Borgschatz at (715)381-4322.

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

(715) 808-8604