Features

Behind Two Shields

In partnership with the Milwaukee Police Department, Salvation Army chaplains intervene in crisis situations to offer sanctuary and support.

Key to the formation of the Chaplaincy Program: Milwaukie Police Department Inspector Jackson, Pastor Twito, Mr. Thuecks, and Mrs. Colas.

When you think about Milwaukee, Wisconsin, you probably do not think about violent crime. However, Milwaukee has serious crime related issues. In 2016, there were 141 homicides, 482 rapes, 5,286 aggravated assaults and a multitude of other violent acts.

When Milwaukee Police Captain Jutiki Jackson became leader for District 7 about six years ago, he knew something more needed to be done for the communities served other than just arresting bad guys.

After his promotion, Jackson called together a faith-based initiative comprised of community partners to see what could be done. 

The accidental shooting and death of 5-year-old Laylah Petersen in 2014 spurred on the dialogue with the police department and faith leaders within the city. Upon arriving at the crime scene, Captain Jackson called Lutheran Pastor Alexis Twito, and simply said, “I need you here.” From there, an idea took shape for the police department to partner with local churches to formulate a chaplaincy program that would be “on call” if the police needed help with counseling victims and families of violent crimes. 

The need was clear, but the question remained, “Who would run it?” Faithe Colas, the Army’s assistant divisional director of development, had attended meetings of the faith-based initiative. Knowing this, Captain Jackson turned to The Salvation Army. “They have a track record, the resources and the organizational skills that we needed to get this program going.” 

The Chaplaincy Program is local to Milwaukee, but since it fits neatly into the Emergency Disaster Program, it is administered at the Wisconsin Upper Michigan Divisional Headquarters, under the supervision of Service Extension Director Tom Thuecks.

One of the issues at the beginning of the program was training. However, it was quickly decided that the Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) training, through its Spiritual and Psychological First Aid class, would be ideal. 

Each of the volunteer chaplains must go through an extensive background check, complete the Milwaukee Police Department Citizen Academy training and complete The Salvation Army’s CISM training before being placed into a ministry team. Like the biblical model, chaplains are deployed to scenes in teams of two.

At first, chaplains were only called out to scenes in District 7, but as the program grew and became recognized, more districts began to use their services. Today, chaplains respond to critical incidents in every district in the city limits.

“We are hoping to expand our coverage,” Alexis Twito stated. “There are suburbs (like Wauwatosa where DHQ is located) that border the higher crime districts. Milwaukee isn’t the only place where people are affected by trauma and crisis.”

The Salvation Army quickly realized that the success of the program depended on finding someone to oversee the program. Pastor Twito was the logical choice. Her dedication to serving the community, the passion with which she became involved in the faith-based initiative and the compassion she showed in responding to crises revealed her deep love of God and people, especially those caught in conflict or trauma. 

Not all of the volunteer chaplains are ordained ministers. Only about 1/3 of the roughly 65 volunteers are ministers. They come mostly from various faith traditions and represent 16 denominations. Leading them all, Alexis Twito carries around a dedicated cellphone, affectionately called, “the bat phone.”

“I get called at all times during the day or night. When I am out of town, I pass the phone to another chaplain. The truth is that we are on call every hour of the day.”

The chaplains take part in various community events. Usually they set up a table to distribute information and offer up “Free Prayers, No Limit,” as signs on the table proudly state. 

A week before a World Peace Celebration event, a Milwaukee police officer was killed in the line of duty. There had not been an officer killed in the line of duty in Milwaukee in over 22 years; however, two died this year. 

As many as 17 of the chaplains supported the police department attending the vigils and funerals held to honor these fallen comrades. 

“It was so good to see those chaplains on the scene,” Inspector Jackson said. “They bring me (and the victims) a lot of comfort. 

“This is what we are here for,” Twito stated. “not only do we need to support victims of crime, but the police officers and their families. The department only recently appointed their own internal chaplain and he was part of our early volunteer chaplain group.”

The program continues to change and grow beyond the original intention. 

 “Not only are we offering spiritual support, but we are now helping with social support as well,” Twito commented. “The community has been very supportive, and we have contacts with other service providers and agencies to work together to help those in need.”

What does the future look like for The Salvation Army’s Chaplaincy Program? The chaplains want to do more and to include more people. They have made contacts with other religious faiths and there has been some interest in having a Muslim cleric on call, as well as a person from the local Orthodox Jewish community. The Milwaukee Fire Department has also shown some serious interest in taking part in the program.

One of the challenges is program “buy in.”  “The hard part is convincing the new district captains that this program is necessary,’ Jackson stated. The chaplains do not see this as a major problem. They visit the district stations regularly, and often participate in roll calls at shift change, offering prayer and encouragement.

The Chaplaincy program in Milwaukee could definitely be a prototype for other metropolitan communities across the country. However, could this unique program be duplicated with the same effectiveness?

“I would love to see that!” Pastor Twito said. “However, you need to start with relationship. You need to know your community, but more importantly you need to have a relationship with your local police department.”

“In my experience, if anybody went to any police agency with a pre-packaged program, and said, ‘here it is,’ they would probably reject it,” Inspector Jackson commented. “You need to have the cooperation, the relationship and the desire to help your community.” 

The chaplains in Milwaukee agree. They are all actively involved with their various churches, but also within their community. One chaplain said about intervening for people in crisis: “this is my church, and these are my people.” 

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