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‘I pray for this city’: IMPD chaplains help community through tragic events

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Posted at 5:00 AM, Jun 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-14 19:38:34-04

INDIANAPOLIS — When heartbreaking violent and tragic incidents spark an emotional reaction, a team of chaplains in Indianapolis answer the call to help.

Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Senior Staff Chaplain Patricia Holman has been answering calls for help for more than 30 years. But it wasn’t always with the chaplain’s office.

It wasn’t until she wanted to retire as a captain that she was asked to stay with IMPD and become a chaplain.

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Before Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Senior Staff Chaplain Patricia Holman joined the department's chaplain's office, she was a police officer and captain for more than 30 years.

“In fact one of the things that happened when I took the position, I prayed that if I took the position that God would give me peace with it,” Holman said.

Holman is just one of several chaplains responding to help family, friends, the community, and officers after everything from homicides, car crashes, deaths, suicides, police action shootings and more.

She said God has given her peace with her work, for the most part. But the deaths of five people and unborn child in the “largest mass casualty shooting in over a decade” in Indianapolis changed that.

“I was not on the scene on Adams Street but was affected as much as if I had been," Holman said. “And so what keeps me going during that is a circle of people who pray for me.”

WRTV spoke with Holman in February, after the mass homicide on Adams Street and before the mass homicides on Randolph Street and at a FedEx facility.

Through Holman’s time with IMPD, both as an officer, captain and now chaplain, she said unfortunately, the city is much more violent than it once was. And the increase in violence and victims also means an increase in calls for services from the chaplain’s office.

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IMPD chaplains attend a vigil on Saturday, April 17, 2021, after the mass shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis.

The COVID-19 pandemic also led to an increase in deaths, which also meant even more calls for services.

“Our calls for assistance were much greater than they had been in previous years,” Holman said. “The pandemic caused a lot of death simply from the virus. There was an increase in homicides, suicides. Whether that was a result of the pandemic or not, I wouldn’t know. But absolutely there was an increase. So as we respond not just to violent deaths but to all deaths, that was a much greater call for the chaplain’s office.”

The pandemic caused an increase of sickness in the community. The chaplain’s office wasn’t immune.

“Two of our volunteer chaplains ended up getting the virus, twice, I ended up having it as well. And so yes it absolutely was a strain on the office,” Holman said. “There are only two staff chaplains and one of them was down for a month.”

When a call for service comes into the chaplain’s office, they help people through the initial grief process and explain what’s going to happen next.

“We just try to bring peace to that to help them to get from the point of knowing that your loved one has died, to now let’s get to a point of being able to go through the motions that you’re going to have to go through to deal with this particular death,” Holman said. “There’s a grief process. Very seldom are we there during the entire process, but at least try to explain to them what’s going to happen in this process.”

Sometimes they’ll help make arrangements. Sometimes, like in homicide cases, for example, the chaplains will explain to people what’s happening and what’s going to happen.

“If it’s a homicide, we try to also be able to explain to them what’s going to happen after this,” Holman said. “There’s an extended process that comes with a homicide and so we try to explain to them then what that process is going to look like so that they’re not being devastated again just by dealing with the process.”

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An IMPD chaplain attends a vigil on Saturday, April 17, 2021, after the mass shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis.

The work of the chaplain’s office isn’t just limited to crime scenes and in times of tragedy. They also participate in community round tables.

During the community round tables, the chaplains partner with others, like homicide detectives, to explain to people what the process is like.

“I feel like the more people understand about what the system is going to look like, then the better it is if you ever have to interact with it,” Holman said. “The more you understand who does what and what that person is responsible for, then the easier it is to deal with it. I’ll have people who will ask me at a homicide scene about how the case is going to progress. I have no idea because that’s a detective. So, if you understand that the detective does this and crime lab does this and coroner’s office does this, then you’re better able to ask questions of the group you really want to get an answer from.”

While they might not have answers to every question at a crime scene, Holman said they are often able to help answer questions before they become a question.

The roles and duties of the chaplains aren’t just confined to their office on the first floor of the City-County Building, crime scene or community roundtables. And their work isn’t just confined to people outside of IMPD.

They work with IMPD officers as well.

“I help them through disciplinary actions, through marital problems, we go out to roll calls and pray in roll calls,” Holman said. “Just let them we’re here for them if we need them.”

Chaplains are automatically dispatched when an officer is involved in a shooting. They also help support them through trials.

“They have the same problems that everybody else has and so we try to help them through those,” she said. “Because regardless of what people say about a police action shooting, for an officer, it is a traumatic event. We try to assist them through the traumatic event.”

Hours before WRTV spoke with Holman in February, she went to IMPD Chief Randal Taylor’s office to pray. It’s something she tries to do once a week.

“I pray for our department. I pray for every officer, I pray for every civilian, I pray for this city,” Holman said.

And another chaplain works with several community groups, pastors and organizations to try to reach the community in a variety of ways.

“I’m standing because God wants me to stand,” she said. “And I will stand until he allows me to sit.”

While Holman said they have a diverse group of chaplains already a part of the office, they are always looking for people, especially people part of a religious denomination they don’t already represent.

They try to find people who will be a good fit for the team. After someone submits a resume, the office will review it and interview them. Once someone is brought on to the team, there is a seven-week training course they will need to complete.