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The San Diego Police Department gave Pastor Dale Lowrimore three pieces of equipment to be a chaplain for its officers: a radio, a bulletproof vest and a badge.
The radio helps Lowrimore respond to incidents 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The bulletproof vest reduces his chances of being hurt at a scene. And the badge, well, it’s more a symbol of his affiliation with the department.
Lowrimore is one of three full-time chaplains for the Police Department and the Sheriff’s Department. He’s paid by a nonprofit called Christians in Government, but his mission expands beyond Christian officers and deputies. He says he’s part of an emotional support network.
I sat down with Lowrimore to learn more about his job and some of his recent experiences. He rides with different officers and deputies every week, gaining a unique street-level perspective on the county’s two largest law enforcement agencies.
Lowrimore first became a part-time police chaplain in the 1990s for the Police Department and the county Marshal’s Office, which later merged with the Sheriff’s Department. In 2005, Lowrimore left his post at the Horizon Christian Fellowship and became a full-time chaplain for the two departments.
In our conversation, we talked about the challenges of being a police chaplain, his response to officer-involved shootings and the death of Sheriff’s Deputy Ken Collier, who died in a February car accident while pursuing a wrong-way driver. Lowrimore says Collier was a personal friend.
But first, we started with the basics.
What makes being a chaplain for law enforcement different than being a church’s pastor?
The biggest difference is, in a church setting, the folks are coming to you. You have something that they want, that they need. They want to come. In law enforcement, they don’t know you. They’re a little bit afraid of you. You’re going to them and that’s a difficult dynamic at first. Breaking in and being accepted takes a long, long time.
How do you advise people who don’t share your same religious beliefs?
I’m not there to preach to them. I’m not there to give them religion. I’m there to care about them. For the chaplains, we don’t talk about God or religion unless they want to, unless they open the door. If they don’t open the door, I’ll just hang out with them for the day and shag calls and have a good time. We’re not there to covert people. We’re there to love them.
What do you tell officers who kill people while performing their jobs? Are they committing a sin by violating “thou shall not kill”?
In the Ten Commandments, the sixth commandment is “thou shall not kill.” That’s how it was translated from Hebrew to English. The actual Hebrew word is better translated as “thou shall not murder.” That’s what the context is.
So when an officer is struggling with it — “I had to kill someone. Did I violate God’s law? Is God mad at me?” — the answer is no, because they didn’t murder them. They preserved life by taking life. So it wasn’t premeditatedly done in anger or whatever. It was fully within the scope of God’s provision.
Do officers always accept that?
Yeah, that helps a lot. It really does.
God gives them their mandate. It’s OK if they have to use lethal force in defense of another. So when I put it in that context, that God has ordained them to use absolute force if necessary, it just dispels a lot confusion and angst in their heart.
Do those types of events continue to resonate with officers after your counseling?
I’ve been at this for 15 years now. My experience is that there’s always a little residual stress, but it tends to even out over time. I can’t speak for anything other than the people who I’ve dealt with, but I haven’t had to do long-term counseling after a shooting. In my experience, when guys or gals are at peace or OK with God, it just levels out.
When do you think a chaplain is most needed?
Anything that is a critical incident. The most recent for me would be officer-involved shootings. We certainly want to roll on those and just make sure our guy’s OK.
A serious line-of-duty injury or line-of-duty death, absolutely. The most recent that I was called out for was Deputy Ken Collier. I knew Ken, he was a personal friend of mine. I was at the hospital when they life-flighted him in. At that point, I kind of take the role of intermediary between the hospital and friends and family and cops showing up. It’s a real hectic dynamic in a hospital when there’s a real serious injury or death.
What was that whole week like for you?
It’s difficult, especially when it’s a personal friend. I was with his body the whole time. After the incident, we had to deal with the incident and go back to the scene. We were lowered by rope by the firefighters down to where the car was, down a cliff. And then we ministered to some of the officers who were down there looking for his badge and looking for stuff that flew off his body from the car.
Why else did you go to the scene?
I needed to see it for myself. We needed to talk to the incident commander and the people who were on scene so we had the right information. Remember I said we act as kind of a buffer sometimes? We want to give people accurate information.
What do you think has surprised you most about this job?
The courage of these men and women to do it every single day. I recently rode with a female officer and she’s fairly petite and every call that she rolls on, virtually every call, the person that she’s going to be dealing with is bigger than her, stronger than her, could easily take her out. And yet, she still rolls to every call. She screws up the courage and goes and takes care of business. It’s phenomenal.
Does any call jump out in your memory as a highlight of your career?
The one thing that blesses me, that warms my heart more than anything else, is at the end of a shift, its midnight and we’re offloading the car, is an officer that shakes my hand and says, “You can ride with me anytime.” I would rather hear that than anything else. It’s a tough culture, it’s hard to be accepted, it’s hard to be trusted, and just for someone to say that to me means everything.
— Interview conducted and edited by KEEGAN KYLE