Blue Line

CLOSE TO HOME – Devil’s Night

March 28, 2016  By Richard Vander Vaart

806 words – MR

Devil’s night

by Richard Vander Vaart

The arrangement for chaplain ride-alongs was simple: show up at BOLO and be assigned to an officer. You can ride for an hour or two or as much of the 12-hour shift as you’re able to complete.


It seemed like a fun idea to go out on “Devil’s Night” (October 30) and see what shenanigans our officers might face. The staff sergeant does the assigning. He noticed one officer intently staring at the tile pattern on the floor; naturally, he was chosen.

A couple of expletives later and a caution from the staff to “watch the F-bombs” and we were ready to face the evening. He radioed in, noted he had a chaplain on board, and the night began. It was fine by me, funny actually, and awkward for him.

“WTF do you actually do? You a f–king cop wanna be?” I had heard it before. There was no chance to answer. We were called to a park for a couple of kids smoking up. Fifteen minutes later, this officer had them. It was cool to see the professionalism with which he worked.

After the loads of paper work – one thing that stands out for me as a chaplain is how much paper work officers have to complete – we were on the road again. Now on foot, chasing some youths who were throwing eggs at passing cars. I didn’t keep track of the F-bombs muttered at the thought of chasing these kids down and perhaps getting pelted ourselves. The chase was on. Two other officers caught them. “At least there’s no #$*% paperwork on this one!” he taunted, waiting for me to react.

For a few hours I got out at each stop, at all the calls. Back in the car he’d swear again. I knew what was happening. Then a call went out to look for a stolen vehicle. We were in the part of town that had a few access points to the river. A perfect place to dump a stolen pickup truck. Near the water we saw one – wrong colour, wrong model, and unfortunately for the two youths in the pickup – wrong time. It was rocking.

The officer knocked on the window and I stayed in the police car, chuckling to myself. He told the shame-faced young man to zip up and get out of the area as they were trespassing on private property. Gravel flew in all directions as the lad drove out of there as quickly as possible.

Now I was facing an angry officer. He wove together an impressive tapestry of swear words as he asked me why I didn’t come out with him this time. I had been out on the foot-chase, I’d been out for the all the other stops, why did I stay in the car this time?

“Look at me,” I said. “I’m wearing a clerical collar. The poor kids were embarrassed enough to see you. Imagine if then they saw me, clerical collar and all. And what would I say to them? Something like, ‘I see you have consummated this relationship, would you like me to officiate it now?'”

The officer laughed hard, and didn’t stop for a couple of minutes. “Chappy, you are all-right.”

Over the course of the next hour or so, I realized why he was so hesitant with me in the car. Was I evaluating his work? Would I report his actions to his superior? Why did we need chaplains anyway? All great questions.

Here are some answers: No, I was not evaluating his work. No, I do not report to his superiors. We need chaplains because it seems everyone is happy to see the fire truck arrive, but very few people are happy to see the police officer arrive. As a chaplain, I represent the many, many ordinary citizens you’ll never come into contact with. Not criminals or drug-dealers but the citizens who wave, pray for you and are thankful for your work.

You need a chaplain because there are times you see the worst of the human condition. There are times when you are at a suicide or a traffic accident and wonder, “Is my kid safe right now?” In those moments, you don’t want to appear weak in front of your peers but you can admit your fears to me and know they’re safe.

You are a cop, but you are human first. Often being a cop means you don’t admit your fear. Being human is admitting your fear and struggles in a safe place and then going on from that moment continuing to do the good you do.


Richard Vander Vaart, married to Carolyn, has been a parish minister for 22 years and a volunteer police chaplain for the last ten years. He enjoys running and swimming.

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