Author’s Note: This article was written as a school project and ran in the Wichita Catholic Advance in January 2008. The Wichita Catholic Advance is the diocesan newspaper for the Catholic Diocese of Wichita Kansas.
Faith In Service
Lt. Guy Schroeder had not been a Wichita police officer long when he was stopped by an elderly lady while patrolling the Wichita streets. The woman, whom he had never seen before, took great care to wave him down.
As he stopped his patrol car, the woman handed him a St. Michael prayer card. There were no spoken words, but Schroeder said there was a silent understanding between them. Even though he is now a lieutenant, Schroeder keeps the card with him while on duty.
“I have no doubt,” he said, “that there is someone over our shoulders, looking out for us.”
For the average 9 to 5 worker, faith may not play a significant role during the workday. But for the Catholic members of the Wichita Police Department, faith has a definite impact on their careers.
Faith affects work
Detective Hans Asmussen converted to Catholicism in 1996 and currently works as a Crime Stoppers coordinator for the Wichita Police Department. Asmussen admits that he wasn’t always as involved in his faith as he is now.
“I was more nominal as a Catholic, at first,” he said. “It wasn’t until I became a detective that I became more active in my faith.”
Asmussen acknowledges that his Catholic faith has had a beneficial influence on his career as a police officer.
“I try to treat everyone as someone created in the image of God,” he said. “We are constantly confronted with people who need compassion, both victim and suspect, but are often overlooked. I must see Jesus in both and treat them with charity.”
“I am much more compassionate,” Lt. Schroeder said. “My faith gives me direction, and helps me understand the needs of people in all types of situations.”
Schroeder, who volunteers as a resource officer at Bishop Carroll Catholic High School, also says that his Catholic faith helps him make a better connection with the students and their families.
“It makes it that much easier,” he said. “You can talk about things that you can’t talk about at a regular high school.”
“My faith helps me to be a factfinder, not a judge – to assist in justice, not to deal out judgment,” Detective Asmussen said.
Work affects faith
Officer Daniel Oblinger once considered becoming a priest and attended the Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona, Minn.
However, Oblinger did not feel called to serve God in the priesthood, and has now been an officer on the WPD for five years.
As an officer, Oblinger has noticed how the things he sees on patrol affect his Catholic faith. Oblinger, who works on a Drug Recognition Expert Unit, has encountered several cases of drug and alcohol abuse, and realized it was a slavery to sin.
“My career helps in my spiritual life by showing me both the best and the worst in humanity,” he said. “I get to witness the capacity of men to harm their brothers and sisters.”
Several officers agree with Oblinger and admit that their careers in law enforcement have only strengthened their spiritual life, including Sgt. Clark Bolan and Detective Sarah Hamilton.
Sgt. Bolan, who has been on the force for 25 years, works as a Community Policing Sergeant for Patrol West. He, like Oblinger, has noticed how his career has impacted his Catholic faith.
“I see a lot of bad things on the job,” said Bolan, who converted to Catholicism in 1984. “I think it’s made my faith stronger.”
“I’m dealing with the people Jesus dealt with – the people that are suffering, like addicts and the homeless,” Detective Sarah Hamilton said. “This job is about helping people.”
Hamilton works as an investigator for the Gang/Felony Assault Unit and sometimes assists on homicide cases. While she just converted to Catholicism two years ago, Hamilton prays for the victims she encounters, both at home and on the job.
“If one had no faith,” she said, “they could become overwhelmed by all the bad things on this job.”
Detective Asmussen had a similar feeling about prayer’s role in his career.
“I get to see evil firsthand in the world,” he said, “and I understand my role in praying against it.”
Faith on the job
Since law enforcement can sometimes be a dangerous occupation, a number of Catholic officers find comfort and strength in using their Catholic faith while at work.
Several officers, like Detective Asmussen and Sgt. Bolan, wear a medal of St. Michael, the patron saint of police officers, while on patrol.
Officer Oblinger wears a vest underneath his uniform that says “Roman Catholic, send for priest.” This ensures that his spiritual needs will be met, in the event that he is wounded while on duty.
In addition, Asmussen, Oblinger, and Lt. Schroeder pray before they go to work. Bolan says that he offers a prayer every weekend at Mass, asking God to help him make good decisions and become a better officer.
“Without faith,” said Oblinger, “we can go pretty far astray.”
A strong connection
Although the Wichita Police Department doesn’t maintain records on religious affiliation, Deputy Chief Tom Stolz believes there is a definite religious diversity among the department.
“I believe there is general connection between people of faith and police work. The Wichita Police Department is made up of many good and decent officers who are Methodist, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Protestant, among others,” Stolz said. “I know people of faith who use their various spiritual principles to help guide them in their daily jobs as police officers – to help people and to serve others.”
Stolz, who was raised Catholic, has seen a relationship between the Catholic faith and serving as a police officer during his 26 years with the WPD.
“In my view, there are strong similarities between the Catholic faith and working in the police department,” he said. “They both care about social justice – about people that are less fortunate or who are enduring hard times. As police officers, our job is to help people, no matter what social strata they fall into.”
While there are many different law enforcement agencies throughout the country, all are vital to members of the Catholic community and ultimately, to the world.
“Law enforcement is a sociology,” Detective Asmussen said. “We help people, so that crime exists at its bare minimum.”
“Without the police department,” said Officer Oblinger, “there wouldn’t be an environment where people can go out and witness.”