We Have an Officer Shot…

The nightstand phone rings and the police chaplain knows it is probably not good news. Incoming calls are restricted on this line—it is either one of his fellow chaplains or the Chicago Police Operations Command. It’s 1:30 AM as he lifts the receiver.

“Good morning Father, sorry to wake you but we have a police officer shot on the north side. He’s en route to the hospital now—no word on his condition, but he’s headed for a Level I trauma center. It should be on your Blackberry now.”

The chaplain rubs his eyes, swings his feet to the floor and picks up his dormant Blackberry. With press of a button it comes to life. The screen fills with notifications from the past several hours; a water main break, an extra alarm fire, a power failure and, at the very top, a police officer, age 26, shot while serving a warrant.

“Okay, I’ve got it—I’m on my way.”

The unmarked Ford sedan speeds north on the Kennedy Expressway. There is no traffic. At the Kennedy/Edens junction the chaplain heads the car north on the Edens but suddenly his brain begins to clear. Where am I going? he asks himself. I’m heading north… to a Level I Trauma Center… Saint Francis Hospital maybe… Evanston Hospital?

He pulls his car to the shoulder, calls up the notification on his Blackberry and smiles—it’s Saint Francis—his cerebral autopilot was correct.

The Emergency Room is a beehive of police activity with supervisors and command members of the department. In the examining room it is only slightly less hectic—two detectives at the officer’s head, a portable x-ray machine just departing and a cluster of medical people. The officer is clad only in a tee shirt and boxer shorts. His right foot rests in a stainless steel basin of betadyne solution and as a nurse gently lifts his foot to a fresh basin, the chaplain sees a badly mangled foot with a middle toe mostly detached. The officer is arguing with a police supervisor.

“I’m t-t-tellin’ ya, I g-g-gotta call my wife! If you send a car out she’ll f-f-freak. I g-g-gotta tell her I’m okay. Its gotta to c-c-come from me!” The officer’s teeth are chattering and the supervisor is shaking his head.

“He’s in shock, he’s in no condition to talk to her,” says the impatient sergeant as he turns to the chaplain.

“What happened?” asks the chaplain as he moves to the head of the gurney, between the officer and his sergeant, with an eye to at least momentarily diffusing the argument.

“I sh-sh-shot myself in the f-f-fuckin’ foot Father, with a sh-sh-shotgun! Goin’ through a door…”

“He was on a team serving a warrant,” added the sergeant. “The arrestee was behind the door as they went in and he tried to slam it on them. The door hit the shotgun”

“Are you cold?” asked the chaplain.

“N-n-no… I just sh-sh-shake like this whenever I g-g-get shot.”

The officer had lightened the moment.

“Nurse! Can we get this man some blankets?” called the chaplain.

Moments later the officer was covered in heated blankets and within 15 minutes he was talking calmly with his wife and explaining why a squad would be coming by to pick her up.

As police shootings go, this probably was an unexpectedly good outcome but the chaplain knew that all too often the call might have well morphed into a full honors funeral where the challenge would be to prevent the pomp and circumstance from overshadowing a meaningful service for the family. Line of duty deaths, suicides and catastrophic injuries inflicting permanent disabilities—those are the worst of times.

A retired officer recalls an ancient Egyptian blessing:

“God be between you and harm in all the empty places where you must walk.”

“That’s what the chaplains mean to me,” he said. “So many times, they stand between us and the dark side of our work.”

There are good times to be sure. Officers frequently ask department chaplains to officiate at weddings, baptisms and other family functions. Lasting bonds are formed and cherished family memories are created.

Another highlight for the chaplains is their regular interaction with the officers on the street. They will tell you without hesitation that this is where they get a sense of what their flock is about, especially when officers discover that the unmarked car entering the opposite end of the dark alley is occupied by members of the Chaplains Unit. Chaplains cruise the streets regularly and monitor the radio and yes… respond to calls where they sometimes become a most welcome assist. There are more than a few “chaplain assist” stories out there for sure.

The police department is a group of men and women of all faiths and the members of the Chaplain’s Unit are representative of that diversity. Within their unit they work closely together for the common good of their mission and the people they serve. Their service to individual officers in times of crisis generates a whole other collection of chaplain stories, most of which will be forever untold. But sit with a group of cops on most any occasion, prod them gently, and they will tell you poignant, heartfelt chaplain’s stories, at least the ones that can be told aloud without opening old wounds.

The chaplains sum up work in law enforcement by telling their officers that they are the ones who stand between the weak and the forces of evil. Police are truly in a noble profession, doing God’s work on a daily basis.

The chaplain was on the street when he monitored radio traffic indicating unusual police activity at the Emergency Room of a west side hospital. Moments later he was standing with two officers, surveying a scene of organized chaos. There were shooting victims, stabbing victims and at least one DOA. The scene was repugnant testimony of man’s inhumanity to his fellow-man. Doctors and nurses, sprinkled with women in religious habits worked with urgency and efficiency tending to those most seriously injured and offering comfort and assurance to those who would wait for their turn in the triage world of trauma care. Lives would be saved here tonight.

“How can you look at this and believe in God?” questioned the one cop.

“How can you look at this and not believe in God?” replied the second cop.

Touché thought the priest silently.

Do you have a police chaplain story? If you can, as a tribute to these
men and women,why not share it with us in the Comments Section?


18 Comments on “We Have an Officer Shot…”

  1. hal229 says:

    Hey Jim: I know you’ve heard my memorable moment way back in December 1964. Out drinking with a police buddy, spent the night at his place on the north side rather than take the long drive south. Two rookie Cops having a night out. So my friend gets out the blankets from the closet while I undress down to my shorts/T-shirt. I turn to my friend and ask if he carries his weapon while on furlo. A natural question for two rookies. He pulls out his snub-nose, cross-draw, and the gun goes off. I’m standing there looking at him through a blue haze of smoke. I turn my head and see plaster on the floor from where the bullet smashed into the wall. I turn back and say, “Jesus, that was close!” My friends eyes are as wide as saucers. Then I feel it, the bullet passed through my sternum, punctured my lung, and exited through my lower dorsal vertebrae. I’m dazed. Twenty-three years old and this is it. I realize in that split moment that I was going to die. My friend wakes up his wife asleep in the bedroom. She ran out – this story told to me later – dressed in a see-through baby doll pajamas. By this time, I’m on the floor. She drops down, places my head on her bare legs, taps my face several times pleading for me not to go to sleep. Then the Sgt. arrives accompanied by a wagon team. The Sgt. looks down at me dressed in my shorts – T-shirt, looks at the woman dressed in her baby doll p.j.’s and then at the fully dressed man standing and asks, who are you? The man says, I live here. Who’s the guy on the floor? He’s my friend. Who’s the woman? She’s my wife. Huh! End of story. The wagon men haul me over to Ravenswood. While laying on the gurney, Father Patrick McPolin arrives and give me last rites. All the while, I never gave up the fight to live. Three days later, I wake up in an oxygen tent – yes it was that long ago. When’s the last time you saw an oxygen tent, Jim? I motioned for the nurse to come over. She lifted the tent and I whispered, “Please don’t catheterize me.” She laughed and said, “Oh honey, you’ve been catheterized for two days. How are you feeling, Sunshine?” The surgeon stopped by. I thanked him and said, “Thank Goodness it missed my heart.” He said, “No, it went through the right atrium, you are a very lucky fellow.” To all you rookies out there, remember the 3-B’s and you might avoid this kind of mishap. Good story, Jim – as usual you nailed it.

    • jimpadar says:

      Well now, I have heard that story for nearly 25 years… don’t know if I originally believed it, but you keep telling it the same each time—no discrepancies, so it must be true (I used to be a detective you know). But I guarantee you this, the sergeant and the wagon men didn’t buy it then and probably don’t buy it now. 🙂

  2. Jim P.
    You sure can put your words together, I am consistently impressed. I told Jim C. that and he seemed all proud to relate you two were partners.
    I should not compare myself to you but we write sort of in the same cadence as we speak.
    I know you have files of everything you write. You have the responsibility to write a book now.
    Congratulations, I admire you and your talent. Margie

    • jimpadar says:

      Thanks for your comment Margie. Back in the day, I had the privilege of working with what was perhaps the finest group of men ever assembled into one unit, Area Four Homicide. I was indeed proud to be working with each and everyone of them!

  3. Jim,
    I don’t know how you keep topping yourself with your writing but I assure you it is true.
    The chaplains are there for us when we most need them. “Remember officer Who you work for”. Nothing else sums it up quite as well. Keep writing. You have the gift.

    • jimpadar says:

      Greg, as always thanks for being a loyal and supportive reader.

      This story was born last Sunday, in the sacristy of my local parish as I was preparing the reading for Mass. A couple of priests and a deacon were telling me how much they enjoyed the blog. I lamented that I was running out of stories and I had nothing in my head for the coming week. Our Pastor suggested I write something about the Police Chaplains. Divine guidance? Perhaps.

  4. Phil Sangirardi says:

    Another good one Jim, keep it up.

  5. Scott says:

    We get to wall ourselves off, and while the damage is there it is managed. I often think of our Chaplains and Social Workers (police) that actually have to connect with, and take on the pain of victims and family…they don’t have the luxury of not letting themselves feel the pain of those they deal with. Takes a lot of balls to do their job as well, don’t think I could.

  6. jay says:

    A great read thanks. Very glad all ended well

  7. Jim– You hit the nail on the head. GREAT column! Being a police chaplain, I can say this: we have the best job in the world. It’s the most rewarding, meaningful ministry one can provide … to members of the most noble profession there is. Thank you for giving us the honor of writing about our work.

  8. Green says:

    The CPD has the finest Chaplin unit in the nation. I came on, I think, when Father Nagle was the main guy. Father Dan blessed us by taking over from Father Nagle. ALL our chaplins are a gift from the Almighty himself.
    Rabbi Wolf, like Fr. Dan never sleep. I am retired and when I need a lift I think of Fr. Dan and the Great Rabbi. May God always watch over all our chaplins also. For they live for the people on the front lines.
    Great of Jim writing about the these great people of God.

  9. Mary Rita Shull says:

    Jim, this was another great story. I have been blessed to have been helped by two of the police chaplains you mentioned. Both Fr. Nangle and Fr. Brandt have been there for me. Thank you!

  10. Bill Kushner (CPD rtired) Chief, DesPlaines PD says:

    Jim, your stories bring back vivid memories of my time with CPD. I had the honor and pleasure of having Fr Tom ride with me back in the 006th District Tact Unit from time to time. We in CPD have been blessed with some of the finest partners and chaplains to ever put on a Roman collar.

  11. Silvia says:

    I just ran into Father Brandt and Deacon Montelongo at a neighborhood restaurant and had to explain to the person I was with why we had chaplains. I wish I had read this blog earlier then just handed it over for her to read. You expressed it so well.

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