Once upon a time, police chaplains were only called to deal with harrowing situations like notifying people of a loved one's death.
But Elgin's volunteer police chaplains do a lot more than that, under a new "active chaplaincy" model that Senior Chaplain Tim Perry wants to expand elsewhere in the suburbs.
Their duties include counseling the department's more than 180 officers plus civilian staff on everything from the stressors of the job to family problems and depression. Family counseling can be part of it, too.
"Every life takes a great deal of time. You find out things as you go into somebody's life," Perry said. "Above all these things is the oath of confidentiality."
Officer Allan Holder, a 26-year veteran of the department, said Perry helped him deal with his post-traumatic stress disorder after he served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Before Perry, there were chaplains who were either largely absent, or who worked in other capacities for the department, so many officers didn't feel comfortable opening up, Holder said.
"We didn't have anywhere to go for anybody to talk to about anything, especially confidentially," he said.
"I was able to open up to Tim, and he was able to mentor me and counsel and got me through some rough times."
Perry also has been a great spiritual help to Holder's parents after his mother was diagnosed with lung cancer, Holder said.
"It brings comfort to me, and it's the same thing for a lot of other officers. It frees up my mind to continue doing a better job," Holder said.
Perry, 52, who's been volunteering in Elgin for six years, spearheaded the expansion of the chaplaincy program by adding several members since last summer. He's a seminary school graduate who works as human resources manager in Schaumburg.
The police department provides uniforms and training opportunities, like the International Conference of Police Chaplains earlier this week in Janesville, Wis., Perry said.
Counseling 911 operators is a particularly challenging job, said Chaplain Judy Warner, 62, a graduate of Elgin's senior citizens police academy.
"Knowing all the things they hear and they might not see, and think about," she said. "The chaplaincy is something I think and pray about very regularly ... daily."
Warner said she visits the police department once or twice week, but sometimes up to six times weekly.
"I think (the chaplaincy) is paramount to mental health but also spiritual health, and police officers take that better health coming off their job back into their everyday life," she said.
Elgin Chaplain Carl Ball has a unique perspective after a 47-year career in law enforcement that ended as police chief for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, based in Chicago.
Elgin's model of active chaplaincy is a relatively new thing, Ball said.
"We actually spend a great deal of time with officers, mentoring officers and their families, counseling (them) rather than just responding to funerals and death calls," he said. "It's challenging and gratifying."
Being a police chaplain is a true calling, Perry said.
"You can't just decide, 'It looks interesting. It would be neat to work with the police department,' " he said.
Applicants, who must be in good standing with their churches, go through a background check and several interviews, Perry said. A six-month training program includes simulated scenarios with actors from local colleges playing victims.
"Going into somebody's living room is very, very difficult to announce bad news," Perry said. "Chaplains have to get used to a screaming, weeping voice."
One never knows how a death notification will play out, he said.
"We'll sit and hold their hands, get tissue, get a glass of water. Mop the floor, make dinner, take care of the kids -- we do whatever the family needs."
Perry has taken the helm of the Northwest Corridor Chaplaincy Service, which trains chaplains and was founded by Pastor Allen Eaton, who is now retiring.
Perry said he wants to expand its scope by working on placing chaplains at suburban police and fire departments who don't have any, or need more.
He's already in talks with the Schaumburg department, he said. More chaplains are also being recruited for the Elgin Fire Department, where Chaplain Roger Pollock has served for about 20 years, he added.
"We want to take Elgin's model and take it everywhere," Perry said.
That's a great idea, Holder said.
"Especially now, in these times where police are being scrutinized even more, the stresses of the job are much more demanding with cameras and second-guessing," Holder said.
"These officers need someone that they can turn to and just unload, get things off their chest. ... Someone to talk to."