Humanity behind the badge
Jon Edstrom, an associate pastor at Northwest Christian Community Church in Mundelein, is the new lead chaplain at the Mundelein Police Department. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 7, 2012 7:27PM
MUNDELEIN – Law enforcement involves more than chasing “bad guys.”
Mundelein Police Chief Ray Rose puts an emphasis on the humanity behind each suspect, victim and officer.
To do so, he instituted a chaplain program about 15 years ago to assist officers in diffusing sensitive situations, to console victims and to counsel the officers who are routinely in stressful settings.
“People invest a lot into their faith, and so a holy man is often the voice of reason,” Rose said. “Plus, a highly-visible relationship with these religious leaders helps bridge the gap between police and the community. We want people to feel safe and cared about.”
These volunteer chaplains sometimes ride with officers, serve office hours and even get paged late at night when needed at a scene.
Bill Van Loon was the lead chaplain from May 2007 until November, when he stepped down after moving to Barrington.
During his first year, police were responding to a domestic violence call in which an intoxicated husband was assaulting his wife in front of their children.
“The 11-year-old boy ran away and hid somewhere in the house,” Van Loon said. “When we found him, I spent 45 minutes calming him down and eventually we started watching television together. He was rightfully scared, but his parents were obviously unavailable.”
Death notifications are another common instance when chaplains are used.
Jon Edstrom, an associate pastor at Norwest Christian Community in Mundelein, is the new lead chaplain and one of his first calls involved a death.
“A family was hosting the wife’s mother and she passed away overnight,” Edstrom said. “There was no crime, the death was through natural causes, but those family members are important and I spent about 45 minutes talking to them and helping them make phone calls. Not all police officers have that training or the free time.”
Chief Rose said each resident of Mundelein is important and simply delivering bad news is not good service.
“These people are already victims because something unfortunate happened to a loved one,” Rose said. “We don’t want to further victimize them by leaving them in a bad state.”
The lead chaplains traditionally have been Christian but leaders in other faiths are often called and will help if a situation arises.
During down time, the chaplains get to know police officers individually and will help with any personal challenges.
“Even in a suburban community like Mundelein, being a police officer is tough,” Van Loon said. “A cop is usually only around when something bad happens. Walking into those atmospheres everyday takes a toll.”
Chaplains even help officers with personal problems to help them be more comfortable at work.
Commander Mike Richards oversees the chaplain program and chose that duty after positive experiences. His wife experienced a rare pregnancy complication about nine years ago.
“Rick Smith was the chaplain at the time and he would call and check in with me, and he even came to the hospital and sat with us for a while,” Richards said. “I was real impressed by how much he cared.”