Exeter Police Department brings chaplain on board

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Volunteer chaplain a free service for crime victims, grieving families

When crimes or tragedies occur in Exeter, residents of the city now have the option of speaking with a police chaplain, whose goal is to provide comfort, care and resources to victims of crimes and families who may be grieving after a tragedy.

Morgan Struble, Exeter police chief, has appointed Tracy Tillman as the city's new police chaplain. Tillman will be on call with the city, but works strictly on a volunteer basis and provides services at no cost to the city.

"I'm on the Central Crossing Volunteer Fire Department with Tracy and he is also in the K9 Search and Rescue program," Struble said. "He brought up the idea of being a chaplain and he's one of those types of people who loves to serve, and he's in a unique situation where he can volunteer a lot."

Struble said when Tillman first pitched the chaplain plan, he did not give it much thought, but he later decided it would be beneficial for the city, especially if it is a free service.

"I've seen chaplains be effective in larger, metropolitan police departments," he said. "People want someone on their level and don't always want to talk to a police officer. They need someone to sit on the couch with them, listen to them, cry with them and pray with them.

"As a police officer, I have to worry about investigations and reports and may not always be able to or be trained to [act as a chaplain would]."

Tillman was appointed chaplain with the K9 Search and Rescue team, so he has experience in the field. Living at the Barry County and Stone County line near Shell Knob, Tillman is a member of First Christian Church in Shell Knob, and his faith plays a big role in his work.

"Exeter seems like a neat town and I hope some way I can go by God and be on board helping people there," he said. "Morgan has been a big inspiration to me in getting me to hang in there, and he encourages me to stay involved."

Tillman said some of his past experience as a chaplain includes serving those whose lives had been touched by a recent tornado in Branson, helping people as they needed it at a recovery center.

"I don't really talk much, but I listen a lot and I pray with them," he said. "And, if they don't want to pray together, I will pray for them. I always try to see how the Lord teaches me to serve, and I want to do it with all my heart."

Struble said even though Tillman has some chaplain experience, he is searching for additional training for Tillman to attend.

"I am looking at finding some training for him to attend on things like liability and ethics," Struble said. "It's not mandatory, and it will not cost the city anything."

Although Tillman is not a police officer, not carrying a weapon and not able to make arrests or help with investigations, Struble said Tillman may ride along in the police car a few times to meet people and get to know the community better.

"I'll have him on call and will set up dispatch with his contact info, so if a victim needs to talk to someone, I can radio dispatch and they can get in contact with him," Struble said. "He also may do a couple ride alongs with me to meet some people."

Tillman's volunteer role is set up for those who may need to talk to someone after an incident occurs, and the service is optional. City officials agreed because the service is being provided at no cost, there was no reason to turn it down.

Struble said anyone with questions or concerns may reach him or Tillman by calling city hall at 417-835-2823.

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