GREAT FALLS — Law enforcement officers and first responders often see people on their worst days and often in less than ideal conditions. These situations can take a toll on the mental, emotional and spiritual health of those responding. The Great Falls Police Department chaplains are there to take care of those who take care of everyone else.
Shane Klippenes is at the Montana Law Enforcement Academy, preparing for his new role in public service. He just retired from a two-decade-long career with Great Falls Fire Rescue.
Now that he is officially a sworn officer and member of the Great Falls Police Department, he’s moving on from his volunteer role with the police department as a chaplain.
“It’s taxing and rewarding,” Klippenes explained about the role of chaplain.
Klippenes held the position for four years. His recent career move means the department is looking for another chaplain.
“Dealing with the mental health of our officers because we respond to calls that take a significant toll on their mental health,” explained Great Falls Police Department Lt. Tony Munkres.
The mental health of first responders is why Klippenes wanted to be a chaplain.
“I reached a time about five years into my career where my filter was clogged and I really needed help. I was in crisis. I refer to it as my dark night of the soul, where I truly needed help and didn’t know how to do it,” Klippenes said.
He said at the time there weren’t many tools or resources available and his efforts to get help weren’t met.
“My takeaway from that was I can’t put myself out there, so the spiral continued,” Klippenes said.
Eventually he met with a pastor and got counseling. Klippenes said he can’t point to one specific thing, except that God brought him out of his spiral.
“At that time, even though I was young in my career, if I ever get in the position where I can help somebody else that’s in that same vulnerable point that I was in, then I really want to do that,” Klippenes said.
He’s had the opportunity to support not just first responders, but the community as well as a chaplain.
The role requires time, effort, and care.
"Spent a lot of time in the ER, morgue, interview rooms, working with family members, with suspects, with all variety of people from within the community and then on the backside, working with the officers that have had a front row seat who have been called to attend the tragedy and work to get the best possible outcome,” explained Klippenes.
He called the role of chaplain “a ministry of presence,” a willingness to come alongside others in difficult situations.
"All of us are deeply and inherently flawed and the way that those flaws come out are sometimes highlighted in times of crisis."
Klippenes said it's an opportunity for the right person to make a real and genuine impact on others.
“Working with people on their worst days, on some scenes that are really dark with some evil people has been difficult at times, but to me it has driven a stake in my faith and anchored it,” said Klippenes.
For more information, click here to visit the GFPD website.
Extended interview with Klippenes: