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Chaplain Martin Johnson brings care and comfort to Peoria Police Department

Pastor Martin Johnson
City of Peoria
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Pastor Martin Johnson has been involved with the chaplain's office at the Peoria Police Department for around two years.

The Peoria Police Department’s lead chaplain Martin Johnson provides comfort and peace for both officers and families impacted by the trauma of violent crime.

Johnson’s position grew out of an effort to increase communication between the police department and Peoria’s African American community. He was a part of these discussions as a community pastor at the time, about two years ago.

“Then when chief Echeverria came on board, he saw the importance in it,” said Johnson. “We sort of revived the chaplain program and it’s been taking off ever since.”

The program includes seven community faith leaders who work on a volunteer basis.

“It’s a unique program in that the relationship that’s been developed here, it’s a partnership,” said Johnson. “We have that conversation of how can we make this effective and really not just be a placeholder, but serve in its true capacity.”

He said the chaplain’s office provides guidance for the department’s officers, but one of the places they are most effective is “cooling down” the scene in critical situations. Johnson shares the example of a recent triple shooting.

“We responded up to OSF and, as you can imagine, there’s three families. I mean, you’ll have trauma and a lot of grief with one family in a shooting or homicide,” he said. “So you can imagine, now that’s been multiplied with two other additional families. With a total of three families, no one really knows what’s going on, the police are there and doing the best they can.”

Johnson said upon showing up at OSF, the scene was “chaos” with grieving families screaming and hitting things. He knew one of the families personally.

“As I approached the scene, they saw me and immediately there was a connection of, you know, coming to me and being able to sort of minister to them,” he said. “Then through that relationship, they were able to bring some of the other family members down because I had a relationship with the parents.”

In these critical situations, Johnson said the chaplain’s group has a lot to offer, even to people who don’t consider themselves religious.

“One of the unique things of the chaplains, God gives us a grace, that religion, politics, none of that comes into place,” said Johnson. “When we go to serve, we see an individual that has a need and we try to be able to meet that need and, you know, just bring peace and bring comfort, and to help them through a tragic moment.”

Those needs might not just be ministry at the moment, but as an example, Johnson said they could help someone find funds for burials.

“We get that information, now we’re able to point them to different directions and help minister to them or serve them at that particular moment,” he said.

Currently, Johnson’s team includes multiple Christian denominations and a rabbi. He hopes to expand with other representatives from different faiths in the future and said they have been actively reaching out to local religious leaders.

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Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.