04/06/06 — Sheriff's chaplains share their stories and stresses

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Sheriff's chaplains share their stories and stresses

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on April 6, 2006 1:48 PM

Law enforcement officers often have a difficult time unburdening themselves about the dangerous and sometimes depressing work they face every day, said officials with the North Carolina Sheriff's Chaplains Association.

The organization was holding a biannual meeting in Goldsboro this week.

Deputies who have spent hours at a bloody crime scene can find it hard to talk about, said Richard "Peanut" Whitman, a retired Duplin County deputy who now serves as one of two chaplains who counsel deputies there.

Pete Williams is one of two chaplains who counsel deputies in Wayne County.

"The biggest issue is confidentiality. They can tell 'Pastor Pete' anything they want to, and it won't get out. They trust me," Williams said.

Officers sometimes will not seek out help, even if some aspect of their job is troubling them, Williams said. That is when a chaplain needs to be able to recognize a problem and offer his or her help.

"You're standing there, and if you don't reach out to them, you're just taking up space," he said.

Wayne County has two sheriff's chaplains, Williams and Dr. Henry Parker.

Williams has been providing counseling for officers since 2001. He is pastor of Harvest Baptist Church.

Williams and Parker often ride along with the deputies on patrol, and on many occasions they get called in to talk to family members whenever there is a homicide, a suicide or an accidental death.

The chaplains also help the deputies work through personal family and professional issues.

"We try to encourage our deputies to use the chaplains," said Wayne County Sheriff Carey Winders. "Often they might not want me to know if they have a family problem."

Williams said the deputies hold a special place in his heart. The job they perform is vital and often times unappreciated by the public, he said, adding that he finds it rewarding to be able to work with the men and women who serve in law enforcement roles.

"They protect me and my family, and I want to be there for them," he said. "It's a pleasure for me to do it since, for what they do for me everyday."

Most of the chaplains are volunteers, Winders said. Very few sheriff's offices have a full-time chaplain.

He said the chaplains tell him the biannual meetings help them learn how to do their job better. Meeting with chaplains from other counties helps give them a broader perspective and more insight into how to handle traumatic situations.

"It's enlightening to them about how to help law enforcement and the public," Winders said.

"This is a good organization. It really helps, and the seminars are good," Williams said.

About 40 chaplains from across the state attended the three-day event held at the Holiday Inn Express.

The next training session is set for October in Asheville.