The Chaplain's Notebook

The Lost Sheep

In my first few ride-alongs with deputies in the West Hollywood Station, I’ve been asked, “What does a chaplain do?” The short answer is this: It’s about presence. It’s about chaplains being with you as you do your everyday work, listening and providing whatever support is needed, on or off duty. It’s simply about serving you, who serve others.

The Santa Ana winds were blowing on a Monday last October and the temperature approached 90 degrees when the call came in — an 87-year-old man with Alzheimer’s was missing. The deputy and I arrived at the man’s apartment, followed soon afterwards by the field sergeant, who spoke Russian with the man’s wife. We obtained a description along with a recent photo. He had been gone for about an hour. The man’s wife was very concerned and so were we.

I knew how quickly an older person could become dehydrated and disoriented, perhaps fall down and be ignored. Last year, a church member with cognitive impairment from a stroke had become lost. He called me, but was too disoriented to know where he was. I had him dial 9-1-1. The police pinged his phone, but could not locate him. It grew dark. Then his phone went dead. Nine days passed. My hope was almost gone when I received a text from a church member who had spotted a disheveled person that looked like him. I went to the location, and it was him! He was very weak, dirty and hungry. He now lives safely in a board-and-
care facility.

What could go wrong haunted both me and the deputy as we returned to the West Hollywood streets to help set up the field operation. What would happen to this man? How long would the search go on before it was called off? What I didn’t realize was that “lost sheep” are a top priority for LASD, and that it wouldn’t be one shepherd looking for him, but 99 deputies!

The neighborhood was divided into grids, and deputies drove off to start the search. Items were checked carefully off the missing persons checklist. A bloodhound arrived and sniffed the man’s shirt. His tail went up as the dog caught the scent. I rode with the supporting deputy, blocking traffic so the bloodhound could safely cross streets.

After traveling about half a mile, the scent faded. Retracing our steps, a call came in that a deputy had found the man! He had walked to Pavilions not far from his home. After returning the man’s shirt to his family, we rejoiced with them — their beloved family member had
been found.

You may already be aware of this resource, but if you know of anyone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, L.A. County has a program with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department called LA FOUND which can be reached at (833) 569-7651. Those who qualify can apply for a Project Lifesaver bracelet with a tracking device. Their website is

How can I contact a chaplain? Chaplains are available at their unit of assignment, or by calling the Psychological Services Bureau (PSB) at (213) 738-3500.