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Written by MITCH MAERSCH   
Wednesday, 26 July 2017 19:58

Deputies in the Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Office get spiritual backup from a man of the cloth in uniform, Chaplain Steve Harris

Law enforcement officers often help victims in need, sometimes in the most dire and difficult circumstances.
But the impact on the officers themselves as a result of responding to traumatic events can sometimes be overlooked.
Not at the Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Office, which added a chaplain last year.
Pastor Steve Harris provides a nonjudgmental ear and morale support to the deputies and other department staff.
Much like his administrative pastoral job at Christian Life Church in Mequon and leading a new satellite church of the same name in Port Washington, serving the sheriff’s department is a calling.
“I just have a burden to help these men and women,” Harris said, “if with nothing more than prayer support and to let them know there’s somebody there in their corner that’s praying for them, that supports them and that has an ear to listen if they have a need.”
After the department lost 30-year-old Deputy Adam Hartwig to natural causes in March 2016, Sheriff Jim Johnson said he realized the department could use some help. A chaplain was a logical person to handle the task.
“It gives us an opportunity to have a support network right within our department,” Johnson said. “We’re not immune to being affected by trauma.”
Harris moved to Wisconsin three years ago from Texas where he did some on-call work with law enforcement through the International Conference of Police Chaplains. The director of ICPC in Wisconsin is one of Harris’ colleagues who got him connected to the Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Department.
“I just came along and thought it was divine intervention. The door opened,” Harris said.
Harris literally opens the door to the department as often as he can. He sits with dispatchers, visits the detective bureau and talks with officers serving at the jail. Being new and in a new program at the department, Harris knew building relationships quickly would be the key to his success.
“I am at the department every week. The reason I am very intentional about that is they are not going to open up to a chaplain they never see. I’ve got to get to know them,” Harris said.
“I’m just supporting them, letting them know someone is there if they need to talk. Mine is more a ministry of presence,” Harris said.
He is not there to preach a sermon, he said.
“A lot of times I’m not talking about things that are spiritual at all. ‘Hey, how’s it going? How’s your family?’” he said.
Harris may talk to deputies and staff members about topics they don’t want to discuss with others.
“If they want to open up, if they don’t want to go to administration to talk about it, they can confidentially open up to me,” he said.
That’s where getting to know the staff became vital.
“If they need me, they’ve already built a relationship to me,” Harris said.
Johnson agrees.
“You trust people you know,” he said.
Beyond walking through the department to make new friends, Harris does ride-alongs with deputies.
“Sometimes I go ride with deputies on third shift in the middle of the night, because I’m trying to get to know all of them,” Harris said.
Last Friday, Harris completed a ride-along with Deputy Joe Miclzarek.
“It’s nice to have somebody else to speak with,” Miclzarek said. “He’s a good ear and that’s a help to us.”
Johnson said the department has accepted Harris.
“That trust is there. He’s part of our team,” he said.
Harris’ services expanded quickly beyond employees. When the department responded to an infant death call in Belgium, the mother was asked if she wanted a chaplain.
“I came, and while the officers were doing what they needed to do, I was able to spend time with this mother in her home on her couch consoling her,” Harris said. “I even ended up doing the funeral service.”
Harris has provided support for victims and deputies on other death calls, and has even done funerals and weddings for relatives of department members.
He hasn’t yet had to notify families of a relative’s death, but he knows that could be part of his role.
“It’s very difficult for them to go to that home and notify that family that their family member was just killed in a tragedy. A chaplain may be called upon to serve that,” Harris said.
In dangerous situations, Harris said he stays in the car to avoid being injured and distracting deputies from their work. He has been on high-speed runs and where guns have been drawn, but nothing tragic has happened.
Harris said he occasionally receives praise from the department for his work.
“Really, my reward just comes from knowing that I am hopefully making a difference just by my very presence, just by being there for them,” he said.
Harris balances a busy schedule between leading the 10 a.m. church service in Mequon on Sundays, then a worship service in Port from 2:30 to 3:45 p.m., as well as a Bible study in Mequon Wednesdays and in Port Thursday nights.
“I’m all over the place. But I love it,” he said.
A native of Denton, Texas, a Dallas suburb, Harris earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Texas and a master’s degree in theology from Urshan Graduate School in Florissant, Mo., near St. Louis.
Harris is married with three daughters, 21, 14 and 10. He said his family loves the four seasons of Wisconsin.
Christian Life in Port has helped support the Sheriff’s Department as well. At the holidays, a collection was taken up for Harris to buy a round of drinks from Starbucks for those working in the jail. Other deputies received hand-made cards with $5 Starbucks gift cards.
“The church has seen this as a mission field,” Harris said.

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