Steamboat Springs As the new chaplain for the Routt County Sheriff’s Office, pastor Jason Clark can be standing in front of a congregation Sunday morning and out on a crime scene in the afternoon, counseling family members after a tragedy.
Working full time as the pastor of First Baptist Church, Clark agreed in early November to be the volunteer, on-call chaplain for the Sheriff’s Office.
He started by responding to a suicide near Clark, where he helped the family members deal with the loss.
Since then, he has had one other call, and Sheriff Gary Wall said Clark will be offered as a resource for anybody who needs him. Clark took over for Dr. Kevin King, the former chaplain who moved to Virginia. Clark said he expects to go on maybe four or five calls a year to help the public.
Another, more active part of his job is to work with the deputies who respond to traumatic calls daily. To get to know the deputies better, Clark started riding along with them once or twice a month as they go on routine calls across the county.
“I try to do ride-alongs and let them get to know me in a casual setting well enough, hopefully, so that if a tragic situation arises, they know they have someone to talk to,” he said.
The counseling can be about events related to the job or things happening in the deputies’ personal lives.
Clark rode with Deputy Mark Mackey on Friday morning. Afterward, Mackey said talking to the chaplain was a good way to remove the stress of police work before going home.
“He’s somebody that you can talk to dealing with the family stresses of the job, the long hours,” Mackey said. “If you take some of this stuff home with you, it can cause family problems, so he’s there as somebody who will listen and you can talk to who is not necessarily personally involved, and he’d be able to keep things confidential.”
Clark said the deputies often have a close network of friends who also are law enforcement officers, so breaking into the social circle can sometimes prove a challenge.
Clark’s father was an Air Force pilot, so he was exposed to a military mindset from an early age.
He said the military set of ideas is similar to those of law enforcement and that the insight from his youth allows him to understand the deputies better.
“With both military and law enforcement … there is a (mindset) that we are entrusted with a responsibility to take care of the civilian population,” he said. “With that responsibility, there is a weight of life and death; you can put your life on the line.”
That also can lead to mistrust of outsiders, Clark said, because law enforcement or military people have the impression that civilians don’t understand them.
Although Clark has not served in the military, he said being exposed to it is enough to garner some respect.
“I don’t claim to be one of them,” he said. “There is a difference, (but) you don’t have be one of them to be respected or be able to help.”
Mackey agreed that Clark’s understanding of the job would lead to deputies talking to him and feeling more comfortable than they would going to a counselor who has not had that experience.
“He’s got military background, he knows the nature of the job, he knows the stresses of the job, and he’s got the background of what it’s like to work in public service and the stresses that come with it,” Mackey said.
Wall said Clark also has an ability to talk to anybody.
“Because of his personality and his caring about people and his willingness to counsel them, so he’s a good person, a good fit,” Wall said.