By Dr Ted Hutchin
5620 Police Chaplain
Let me begin with two quotes from John Sutherland’s excellent book on policing entitled “Crossing the Line” just to set the scene, to give you an insight as what it means to be a police officer today.
“Blue - and - white cordon tape flicks idly in the breeze at the scene of the latest crime. It is makeshift and insubstantial, but it establishes something solid and impermeable: a line that separates police officers from the rest of us, their place from ours. We might pause for a moment to stare at the people in forensic suits fingertip - searching for clues and wonder what might have happened there, but we always move on in the end. We resume our lives, leaving them to theirs.”
And then this:
“The painful privilege of policing is to encounter all of life and all of death and everything in between – at the scenes not just of crimes, but of car crashes and cot deaths and every other kind of catastrophe. And in those places, the job of a police officer is to save lives, to find the lost, to bind up the broken-boned and the broken-hearted, to protect the vulnerable, to defend the weak, to confront the dangerous, sometimes to risk it all.”
I was appointed as a Police chaplain in 2015. I had been a Fire Service chaplain for some eight years by then so had some idea of what it meant to be a Blue Light chaplain.
But my experience of chaplaincy goes back to my time in the REME as a radar engineer and in particular serving in Malaya with the 28th Commonwealth Brigade, with Australian, New Zealand and British units. The padre to 8th Royal Australian Regiment became a great friend and we enjoyed many conversations together.
In 2015 I found a book on being a chaplain whilst serving with the Australian army in Vietnam and wondered if it included my old friend. As it happened it did not, but one story of a chaplain, in Vietnam and in the middle of a firefight with the Viet Cong, caught my imagination.
As the chaplain and one of the “grunts”, the term used for the infantry at the time, lay flat on the ground with bullets flying overhead, the grunt turned and said, “why are you here padre”? to which the reply came simply “because you are here”.
As I read that passage, I recognised a vocation that summed up for me what it means still to be a chaplain to the Police and a phrase I was to use many times when engaging with officers throughout the Leicestershire Police force. In the midst of all that happens in our police force today, the chaplain sits alongside, simply being present as a presence, someone who brings a sense of peace to an otherwise turbulent environment.
Since then, I have attended many difficult incidents, sat alongside the hurting, the lost, the broken, the frightened, men and women who, because of the oath they take, are prepared to put their lives on the line, and even die. The oath they take is a spiritual oath in that it places something other than themselves above themselves, in this case protecting the public they have chosen to serve.
The Hinckley road explosion, a pre-meditated act of brutality that took lives. Seeing the devastation, watching the search and rescue teams, with their dogs at work. The Dead Victim team at work, firefighters and police operating as one team for quite a period of time. This was a time of being that presence, in the middle of the incident, of peace.
The King Power crash was another, spending time with the Senior Police team working out the best way to deploy our chaplains in the various stations, both police and fire service, to support those who attended, who ran towards the flames to try to rescue those inside the inferno.
Spending time afterwards in support using a process that had been developed within the Royal Marines and is now commonplace for both HM Forces and Blue Light and has proved to be a powerful tool in the prevention of PTSD. It is called TRiM (Trauma Risk Management) and I, with other TRiM trained practitioners, sat with those who had been there.
Part of the process is to help those who attended to return to a sense of normality. In all these incidents and more I have built up a large set of images that I would prefer not to have, that give considerable detail to what was faced in these and other high-profile incidents by those I serve.
Being asked to attend one police station early one morning due to the death of an officer whilst walking out on duty. It turned out to be a heart condition that was unknown at the time. The deep sense of shock, of emptiness, of deep sadness faced me as I entered the room. Even the best of training does not prepare you for such times, but prayer always does.
One weekend, whilst in Norfolk with Audrey, I started to receive text messages about a serious incident unfolding back in Leicestershire from the lead officer for TRiM. During the night I received another message wondering if I might be available to attend, the following morning, at Force HQ.
At 4am I noticed that the invitation had moved up a level to one of “please come”. So, we got dressed, closed up the mobile home and headed home. Once home, I changed into uniform and left for Force HQ.
Upon arrival I was ushered into a room with about ten people in a state of shock. By then I had been able to read another text which gave me much more of the story than even those in the room knew. But then the suicide of a police officer is always heart-breaking, always traumatic for those who knew the officer, worked with him/her, worked for him/her.
As the lead chaplain I sit on three of the four wellbeing boards, these are for physical, financial and emotional wellbeing and also on the Lead Wellbeing board. I have been trained in Mental Health First Aid and, with other chaplains, am awaiting to attend the Response First Aid Course for those attending major or critical incidents.
We are a multi-faith chaplaincy serving a multi-faith police force which in turn serves a multi-faith community. We have been successful in recruiting chaplains from the other faiths represented in our community at large, but this is an on-going task and will always be central to our ability to respond.
I have been involved with the PREVENT team which focuses on understanding the drivers for radicalisation in our communities and other forms of extremism including extreme politicisation, faith issues where extreme views related to discrimination and exclusion. This year marks my last year as the lead chaplain as we are in the process of recruiting a part-time paid chaplain and I can return to being a station chaplain, based here in Melton.
In all this I have found that being a Police, and Fire Service, chaplain demands a deep sense of faith, a rootedness that supports, that guides, that protects me through some of the incidents and issues I have faced. Spiritual guidance for all chaplains, of all faiths, is key to this ability to respond and where my own journey as a Benedictine Oblate has proved to be fundamental to my own spiritual wellbeing.
In addition, I have found that the support of family and close friends of equal importance. It would be very hard to experience much of what is involved without, in my case, the support of Audrey, especially when we both recognise the urgency of returning home when duty calls!