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Sonoma County's law enforcement chaplains help those in crisis

They need to be prepared for anything, those folks who don the black jackets of the Sonoma County Law Enforcement Chaplaincy and rush out into the day or night to help someone else in need.

They're often exposed to extremely traumatic scenes or pressed to comfort people confronting the most profound grief of their lives.

Sometimes all they can do to help is stand there and listen, or offer a hand. Or there might be phone calls to make, kids to pick up from school, dishes to wash, or instructions to take down for later reference.

But Deputy Senior Chaplain BreeAnn Crespan, who joined the chaplaincy at the tender age of 23, said the reward is knowing that people in crisis, who have no idea which way to turn, have someone by their side who does.

"I love it," said Crespan, now 30, "because I know the need is there."

Formed in 1999 as a resource for local law enforcement personnel, the chaplaincy is an interfaith group of trained volunteers who provide on-call assistance to officers dealing with some of life's most tragic situations.

They may be traffic fatalities, suicides, homicides, sudden infant deaths or other tragedies where help is needed.

Law enforcement officers on the scene are generally too tied up with investigative work to provide the emotional support loved ones need. That's where the chaplains come in.

"Every situation is different, and we don't know what we're going into," Executive Director Warren Hayes said. "But our goal it to be sensitive to the victim and get them what they ask for and what they need."

Though participants once wore clerical collars to distinguish themselves from civilians and law enforcement personnel, chaplaincy officials say the group is not about religion but about offering compassion and comfort during catastrophe -- without agenda, judgment or proselytizing.

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