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Ombudsman report says Anchorage police chaplain disclosed private victim information

  • Author: Devin Kelly
  • Updated: August 30, 2016
  • Published August 29, 2016

An investigation by the city ombudsman found that the lead unpaid police chaplain with the Anchorage Police Department revealed private information about crime victims and a suicide, and police officials have agreed to sever ties with the chaplain.

The ombudsman, Darrel Hess, released a critical report this month of the chaplain's actions. Those included disclosing details of a suicide in a social setting and, in a video promoting her own ministry, using photos of herself in her chaplain's uniform and describing a fatal car crash, the report said.  

Hess' report separately raised serious questions about how the Anchorage Police Department screens volunteer chaplains who aren't police employees but have access to vehicles and police headquarters. According to the report, the police chaplain never received a background check and officials had not received her driving record before she was assigned a city vehicle.

Chaplains generally counsel the public and police officers after traumatic events and notify families of victim deaths.

A police spokeswoman said in an email that APD officials weren't immediately available for comment late Monday afternoon. Hess' report indicated that a new chaplain program is being developed with stricter rules relating to background checks, confidentiality and uniform use.

Hess said in a phone interview Monday that his understanding was that APD had cut ties with the chaplain.

The chaplain is identified in Hess' report by the initials C.K. and as the co-director of an Anchorage-based ministry, North of Hope. The ministry's website identifies its directors as Rod and Teresa Koop. Teresa Koop has been named in past reports as the Anchorage Police Department's lead chaplain and appears to be wearing her chaplain uniform in a photo posted on the website.

Neither Koop returned a call and an email seeking comment Monday afternoon.  

Hess investigated two complaints that his office received about the chaplain. He described them in a seven-page report issued Aug. 18.

In May, an unnamed complainant reported a video that the chaplain recorded with her husband. In the video, which promoted the North of Hope ministry, the chaplain was identified as the Anchorage Police Department's lead chaplain, and the video showed photos of her in her chaplain's uniform and standing next to her city-owned chaplain's vehicle, according to Hess' report.

Later in the video, the chaplain talked about a fatal crash that she responded to in August 2013 that killed two teenage girls. She said she suspected the driver "had been drinking" and the crash was related to "road rage." The video had nearly 600 views when it was taken down in April 2016 after Victims for Justice wrote a letter objecting to it.

Also in May, a second person reported the chaplain had disclosed in a social setting the details of a suicide she responded to with police. The incident also involved an emergency foster placement for a child and poor living conditions in the suicide victim's home, according to Hess' report.

According to the report, the chaplain began work with the Alaska Police and Fire Chaplains' Ministries, a nonprofit that serves law enforcement agencies and hospitals around the state, in February 2011. About two years later, the organization sent a letter to Mark Mew, then the Anchorage police chief, saying "C.K." — which apparently stands for Chaplain Koop — was being appointed as the lead chaplain for the Anchorage Police Department.

On March 5, 2015, the Alaska Police and Fire Chaplains' Ministries severed its ties with Koop and sent a letter to Mew about its decision. A second letter sent June 1 outlined the reasons and included a link to the North of Hope video recorded by "C.K." and her husband. Officials with the Alaska Police and Fire Chaplains' Ministries believed the video contained "identifying victim and family information" and also was being used for fundraising, according to Hess' report.

"APD is assuming all responsibility for (the chaplain) and any liability incurred," the disclaimer letter said.

Hess said he found considerable issues with liability, however. The chaplain was accredited by a national ministry, The Foursquare Church, and financially supported by her own ministry, Hess said. He said neither organization had written agreements with the Anchorage Police Department.

As the lead chaplain, "C.K." was assigned office space at the police department, a computer, a city email address, business cards and "unfettered access to the APD building," Hess wrote. But she never received a background check and her driving record was not requested before the police department gave her a vehicle and assumed liability for it.

Hess said he found no evidence of fundraising after watching a recorded section of the ministry video. But he said it wasn't appropriate for the chaplain to offer an opinion "on a criminal matter that had not been adjudicated by the courts."

Hess said the chaplain also disclosed information about victims and their families that would not have been available to the general public. He said that hurts public trust in the department.

"I think victims and their families and the public, when they're interacting with first responders, whether they're police or fire or volunteer chaplains, have to be 100 percent confident that their confidentiality will be respected," Hess said.

Because chaplains are volunteers, they are not bound by police policies or ethics codes. But the Alaska Police and Fire Chaplains' Ministries asks volunteers to sign confidentiality agreements, according to Hess' report.  

Diane Peterson, the executive director of the chaplain program, confirmed in a phone interview that "C.K." was no longer affiliated with Alaska Police and Fire Chaplains' Ministries.

"We are glad the investigation is over," Peterson said. "We've never stopped … and will continue our 35-plus years of ethics, integrity and high standards" serving local and state law enforcement agencies, she said.

While investigating the complaints, Hess turned up what he said were other troubling allegations, such as a 2012 blog post that included the age, gender and profession of a suicide victim. The post was removed from the internet in July 2014 after a complaint to the Alaska Police and Fire Chaplains' Ministries, according to Hess' report.   

In his report, Hess recommended the police department sever its relationship with the chaplain and also alert police employees about the action that had been taken. The department has accepted Hess' recommendations, the report said.  

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