http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/news/stories.nsf/metroeast/story/79FC0A3C78C11243862570CB0059E09F?OpenDocument In East St. Louis, police chaplains often taken on . . . The toughest job of all By Denise Hollinshed ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH 12/02/2005
EAST ST. LOUIS
The Rev. Zachary Lee Sr. was escorted by police into the hospital emergency room where a victim lay on a table, dead from a shotgun blast.
Lee, wearing a black suit and the gold crosses of a police chaplain on his collar, approached the family. The dead man's mother was standing.
"Come on. Let's have a seat," he remembered telling her.
She lowered herself into the chair but didn't completely sit down.
"Is he all right?" she asked. "Is he all right? Is he all right?"
Lee replied softly, "He's expired. He didn't make it. He's gone."
Lee is one of 30 volunteer East St. Louis police and fire department chaplains who appear on the scenes of fatal fires, homicides, suicides and accidents to offer spiritual support and prayer. Chaplains are frequently the ones - as in the above case - who break the news to families. The chaplains also offer counseling and support for police officers and firefighters.
Lee asked that the Post-Dispatch not disclose the name of the victim or his family. Being discreet goes with the job.
"We are sworn to secrecy. Our job is to help," said Lee, pastor of Mount Paran Missionary Baptist Church in East St. Louis. "When they need counseling, they come to us. We just take on the charge of what it means to be of service to the police department by way of chaplain."
The clergy have been doing this for 18 years - since now-retired East St. Louis Police Chief Marion Hubbard came up with the idea.
"We work along with the police," Lee said. "We are not sworn officers, but we do have badges. We don't carry guns, but we provide spiritual support and relief counseling for the fire and police departments."
The chaplains come from all denominations, including the Nation of Islam, Jehovah's Witnesses, Baptists, Catholics and Methodists.
"We have everything but a Jewish rabbi," Lee laughed. "We are looking for a rabbi if one is in the area. We are an equal opportunity user of chaplains."
Lee said the majority of chaplains have been pastors more than 20 years. Other police departments have similar programs: Washington Park, Belleville, Cahokia, O'Fallon, the St. Clair and Madison County sheriffs' departments and the Illinois State Police.
"As far as I know, we are the oldest and the biggest around," Lee said.
St. Clair County Sheriff Mearl Justus said his department has seven chaplains who have been with the department for many years.
"They spend most of their time in the jail talking to inmates," Justus said.
Lee is also coordinator of Cease Fire, a prevention program that offers programs aimed at stopping shootings and other crimes.
East St. Louis Police Chief James Mister said the chaplains have been extremely beneficial to his department, especially in the disappearances of 4-year-old Cermen Lamunt Toney Jr., and his babysitter, Anquiatte Parker, 19, who have been missing since Nov. 6.
"They helped calm the parents down," Mister said. "This last one they were here diligently the entire week from the time the parents got here until they left."
Mister said the chaplains also help in prayer.
"A lot of our guys do say a prayer before they go out on the street," he said. "When you've got somebody who is experienced with prayer, that helps."
Lee follows a ritual when he goes to the homes of victims.
He said he always asks them to have a seat, then says something like, "I have something I want to share with you. I know you loved him."
Sometimes he doesn't have to tell them. They know when they open up the door and see him with his police ID and chaplain's crosses. He said the people will generally ask, "Is he dead, or is she dead?"
"I'll say, 'Yes.'"