Photo by Melinda Dudley
Dave McKnight, pastor at Concordia Lutheran Church, is the first chaplain for the Steamboat Springs Police Department.
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Steamboat Springs A few years ago in North Las Vegas, when a little girl was shot and killed on the swing set at a local playground, police chaplain Dave McKnight was tasked with notifying her family.
Although the role was one McKnight had volunteered for, he said those tough calls, especially ones involving children, are impossible to forget.
"You don't forget those pictures - they stay with you," McKnight said.
As the new chaplain for the Steamboat Springs Police Department, McKnight will work with crime victims and the local community, as well as police officers and support staff. McKnight, a volunteer employee of the department, is the pastor at Concordia Lutheran Church.
McKnight described his work with crime victims and their families as "emotional triage." Where sworn officers may have to rush off after a difficult call to another incident, or leave the scene to work their investigation, McKnight has the ability to stick around and provide support to people in traumatic situations, he said.
"I can help build a support network around the victims, since I'm not part of the investigation," McKnight said. "Sometimes people might speak to me in a different way than they might law enforcement."
McKnight, the first chaplain in the history of SSPD, came on board about a month ago, Police Capt. Joel Rae said. Frequent ride-a-longs while training acquainted him with the department's officers and the community, Rae said.
Although McKnight is a volunteer employee and not a sworn officer, he's always on call, Rae said.
"He's really going to be able to offer a level of service not only to our officers, but also to victims in the community," Rae said. "Whether it's death notifications or some of those other more trying and difficult circumstances that officers have to deal with, it's just going to be another concerned, very compassionate individual."
McKnight gained his certification from the International Conference of Police Chaplains in 1997, and has worked as a police chaplain in Nevada and the greater St. Louis area. He came to Steamboat in 2005.
McKnight stressed that despite his religious background, the chaplain's services are open to people of all faiths and persuasions.
"I only answer religious questions if I'm specifically asked them," he said. "I'm mostly there to be an emotional support."
In addition to working with the community, chaplains also help law enforcement officers process traumatic crimes and events, McKnight said.
"If you don't take pretty good care of yourself, you get close to burning out," he said.
Law enforcement officers are ordinary people doing an extraordinarily stressful job, which drives their life expectancy 10 years below that of the average population, even when you factor out other dangers the job can bring, McKnight said.
"It gives them a place where they can relieve some of that stress in a confidential manner," McKnight said. "And I'm not someone they have to explain 'police' to."