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Chaplains in training to aid local law enforcement agencies


IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - Law Enforcement Chaplaincy of Idaho (LECI) operates as a sounding board for law enforcement to contact in the event that workforce stress begins to take a toll on an officer’s mental health.

The community chaplain group will often come to the scene of traumatic events to assist in counseling the families affected by tragedies to include house fires and deaths.

In the event of house fires, the chaplaincy group coordinates resources to assist families in getting back on their feet.

“If we had a house fire and let’s say a family lost everything and they need clothes today, right now, we have access to a thrift store supported by Watersprings Church that they said, ‘Give us a call 24 hours a day’ and they’ll come out at 3 o’clock in the morning, open the door for us, and we’ll get clothes for the people and give it to them,” Tim Rupp, Law Enforcement Chaplain said.

Rupp says they are looking for good samaritan churches within our area to assist LECI in these endeavors.

LECI also assists deputies in making death notifications to provide support for family members so the officers can return to the field without leaving a family in distress. The chaplains will stay with the individual until their support system arrives or until LECI chaplains are asked to leave.

“Great group, they’re just getting their feet under them,” Captain Sam Hulse with the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office said. “We see them as a great resource.”

Tim Rupp is a retired law enforcement officer from San Antonio, Texas and is now a Law Enforcement Chaplain with LECI. Christa Trinchera, a fellow chaplain who was also interested in starting a law enforcement chaplaincy, moved from Sacramento, California to assist Rupp in starting a chaplaincy program for Bonneville County law enforcement agencies. 

The death of Deputy Maser in May 2020 sparked the recognition of the need for such a program in our area and the beginning of the chaplaincy project.

“That really woke us up, woke up the community, and really encouraged the Sheriff’s Office and the Police Department to say ‘yes, we need a chaplaincy here, not only to minister to the officers and to meet their needs, but also to meet the needs of those in the community’ and so that’s why we recently started this program,” Rupp said.

LECI operates with a two-prong program with one focus on law enforcement and another on community chaplaincy. Right now, Rupp says he and Trinchera are the only law enforcement chaplains and are specifically trained to work with and support law enforcement officers and their families in a time of need. Those needs may include injuries to an officer or mental health support. Rupp says law enforcement chaplains are not professional counselors but they can direct the officer to needed mental health services. 

Community chaplains respond with deputies when notifying next of kin after a death has taken place. Deputies make the call asking for assistance from LECI. Rupp says there are always two community chaplains responding to these calls together.

Captain Hulse says LECI is secular in their operations and offers religious mentorship only to those who seek it.

“A lot of people think, ‘Oh, a chaplain, they’re going to come preach to me and tell me to go to this church,’ we do not do that at all,” Rupp said. “We are there to respond to people who are in crisis to meet the immediate emotional and spiritual needs of those in crisis and we will only go spiritual if they ask us...We’re there to meet their immediate needs, if they need housing, if they just need support until their family gets there, until their clergy gets there, or they say, ‘Thanks but no thanks, we don’t need you,’ then we leave, give them a card and tell them to call us if you need us and we’re gone.”

LECI completed their first chaplain academy class in August 2020 with 12 graduating chaplains. On October 1, those chaplains began responding to calls and the second academy is now in session with 10 chaplains enrolled. 

“Our goal is to have chaplains available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year on call to respond with officers, deputies, and state police to help them out and assist them with their jobs as needed,” Rupp said. 

LECI aims to make that goal a reality by January 1, 2021 when the current academy graduates, bringing the total number of community chaplains to 22. Rupp says he estimates LECI will need 30 chaplains to service Bonneville County in its entirety. He hopes to start a third LECI academy in the spring of 2021 to meet the needs of our community.

Community chaplains must serve one year in that role before advancing to law enforcement chaplaincy training.

Law enforcement chaplains are trained to assist in critical incident debriefings and post traumatic stress disorder. Chaplains will spend time getting to know each officer who is interested in their services so they can notice any mental health warning signs and make recommendations for mental health support accordingly. 

Law enforcement conversations are confidential and chaplains will only share information with commanding officers if the chaplain feels the officer may be a danger to themselves or others.

“It’s really been very very positive and not only is the administration but most importantly, the officers and the deputies are excited and are looking forward to us being out there to give them some help and relief in their job,” Rupp said.

Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office and Idaho Falls Police Department are already on board and LECI is now waiting for the city’s approval to begin their mission.

“It’s kind of a neat process and their desire is to have a footprint across the state,” Captain Hulse said.

Chaplains typically are not law enforcement officers but are active members in various churches throughout our community who pass background checks and are recommended by a church leader as a qualified and capable candidate for LECI. Training in the chaplaincy program involves personnel from law enforcement agencies across Bonneville County meeting with those candidates to explain the duties, difficulties, and needs within that particular agency. These include expanded agencies such as Air Idaho, K9 units, and Search and Rescue. 

Rupp says if a first responder with the fire department or EMS calls LECI in need of assistance, a chaplain will respond to those calls as well. Trinchera says they also assist EIRMC staff when they experience a traumatic death or injury within the hospital setting.

Captain Hulse says LECI is a critical resource for our community.

“We encourage first responders to seek appropriate counseling when needed,” Captain Hulse said. “We recognize post traumatic stress disorder is real and that we have individuals that we work with that have suffered it.”

Rupp says the number one cause of death in law enforcement is suicide and an officer is more likely to die from suicide than in the line of duty.

Captain Hulse says law enforcement officers are exposed to traumatic events throughout the entirety of their careers that most people only see once or twice in their lifetimes. 

“That level of pressure and that repeated exposure to catastrophic life events for others takes a toll on first responders,” Captain Hulse says.

He says it’s not always one traumatic event that causes PTSD in first responder professions but continuous exposure to stress and pressure that comes in various forms which can lead up to a person developing PTSD over time.

“I think one of the things that has gotten better overtime is we recognize that now there are ways to treat it that didn’t exist before,” Captain Hulse said.

Captain Hulse mentioned there are specific cognitive therapies that a person experiencing PTSD symptoms can work through.

“I think in a lot of ways, we're healthier than we were because of that and longevity is better when people recognize what those pressures are and how it’s manifesting in their life and how they can work on and deal with those,” Captain Hulse said. “The professions are probably as difficult as they’ve ever been. But our abilities to navigate and deal with some of that stress and pressure, I think, is also better.”

He says the most important aspect for first responders to maintain their mental health is to never ignore signs of PTSD. He says empowering first responders to recognize symptoms and seek professional treatment without viewing it as a sign of weakness is a healthy progression for law enforcement agencies everywhere.

“Before, it was kind of shunned if you were seeking counseling. It was a sign of weakness or a sign that you couldn’t handle the job,” Captain Hulse said. “I think that’s the biggest change. It’s not 100% better but culturally, I think it is changing and people are recognizing that that;s how we’re resilient, is by moving through those processes in a healthy way.”

Captain Hulse says the stigma surrounding law enforcement seeking professional help is very strong and there are good reasons for that. He says the public expects a law enforcement officer who shows up to the scene will be capable of managing that scene, no matter how disturbing it may be.

“So we, as humans, when we show up on the scene as a law enforcement professional representing law enforcement, we have to function and deal with that scene and we have to operate, basically, in an almost nonhuman way,” Captain Hulse said. “We have to be able to function through that and accomplish our tasks that quite often can be very critical to the overall successful outcome of whatever event it is that we’re dealing with. So we do want strength in our people, we do want resiliency in our people. They have to be able to stand up to whatever that stress and pressure is. But it takes a toll.”

Captain Hulse says seeking mental health support helps build the strength and resiliency that is required of law enforcement personnel.

“That’s the walk, right? And I think traditionally we’ve just said, ‘We can handle it, don’t need that kind of stuff, don’t want to talk about it,’” Captain Hulse said. “Well, generally speaking, that’s not a successful process for long term survival in a profession like ours. And we’re beginning to recognize that talking about those events and going through the cognitive therapy actually helps us be stronger. It doesn’t make us weaker. And that’s what’s important, is getting that message out to law enforcement in general.”

Rupp says LECI is looking for businesses and interested community members to make financial donations to assist in their support efforts. He says right now, LECI is running off donations of time and effort from interested individuals.

You can visit the Law Enforcement Chaplaincy of Idaho website here.

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Chelsea Briar

Chelsea is a reporter and producer for Local News 8 and KIDK Eyewitness News 3.


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