There in a time of need: Local chaplain helps law enforcement, emergency personnel and the community in good times and bad
BEMIDJI — While sitting in a driver’s education class, watching a film reenactment of the aftermath of a car accident where a police officer and a pastor approach a house, a young Derek Claypool thought to himself: “That would be such an impossible job, how could anybody ever do anything like that?”
Today Claypool, 57, has filled the role of the pastor in that situation for the past 15 years in the Bemidji area. Claypool is the Chaplain for the Bemidji Police Department, the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Department and the Bemidji Fire Department.
Claypool originally became involved with the chaplain ministry when he was serving as a youth pastor in Anoka County. Claypool moved back to Bemidji in 1995 to serve as pastor for Faith Baptist Church and took on his role as chaplain in 1999.
It all started when Claypool received a phone call asking if he knew of anyone to speak to a group of friends and classmates of a young man who had recently drown; he informed the caller there was not such a ministerial association routinely handling those types of situations. He took that as a sign that a chaplain program was a necessity. At the time, Keith Winger was recently elected as Beltrami County Sheriff and soon thereafter, Chief Bruce Preece took over the Bemidji Police Department. Both were very supportive of a chaplaincy program within law enforcement, he said.
As he explains it, the mission of the chaplain is to work with citizens and victims in the community and help minister to and assist law enforcement in their work. Claypool also said the chaplaincy allows him and his church to have a greater outreach within the community.
The chaplain can be seen as “sort of the bridge between the department and the community,” Claypool said. When he is called for a tragic event, the first three things he offers to do is ask if he can contact the family’s pastor or priest, help make needed phone calls and also to stay by a person’s side until a friend or family member arrives. That time can be anywhere from a few minutes to several hours, or even entire days, he said.
Another aspect of the chaplain role includes being a positive outlet for law enforcement officers, both while on the job and after retirement. Claypool has offered a weekly bible study for officers to “help with the cynicism and bitterness that often come with law enforcement,” Claypool explained.
While Claypool also deals with much of the same feelings as chaplain, he said “the Lord has given me the ability to be able to do deal with these situations, then let go of them, and get ready for the next one.”
Claypool also travels on “ride alongs” with law enforcement employees; “that’s how you get to know the officers and that’s how they are reminded when something comes up — to have the chaplain come with.”
Claypool said he is very aware of his boundaries and does not make an appearance unless requested by dispatch or by an officer. “I’m very careful because I don’t pretend that I’m a police officer,” Claypool said.
He has recently been asked to serve as the chaplain for the Bemidji Fire Department, so while the firefighters are going inside, Claypool will do his best to calm the people on the outside.
Being a chaplain allows Claypool to use his talents outside of the office and to work “where people are really hurting,” he said.
Although all the work that Claypool does, including attending training for critical incidents and stress management, is volunteer, both the sheriff’s office and police department do provide him with one piece of equipment — an official coat.
“I often give (Beltrami County Sheriff Phil) Hodapp a hard time because the Bemidji Police Department gave me a nicer coat than the county did,” Claypool joked.
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