MID-CITY — On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Clarence Crites sits at a table in a local deli and orders a slice of apple pie from the waiter. After completing his order, Crites picks up a glass of water and takes a sip and afterward twirls the cup and puts it down on the table with a grin on his face.
When asked how he was doing, Crites, who is wearing a dark blue suit and sporting graying hair and a mustache, looks up and flashes a half smile.
“If I get any better, there would be two of me,” he said. When asked what he meant, he said it was a play on words and he forced his way into a joke. There is a calmness within the recently-retired and soft-spoken chaplain of the Santa Monica Police Department.
And for 35 years, Crites has maintained that calmness when working with police officers and people in the Santa Monica community under the Chaplaincy Program he founded in the early 1980s.
Crites felt that it was a calling from a higher power prompting him to become a chaplain. In 1979, he moved to Santa Monica after working as a pastor at a church in downtown Los Angeles for four years. Previously, he worked as a school administrator in Florida after graduating from Olivet Nazarene College (now University), but felt compelled to work at a youth ministry in Bakersfield, Calif. He would move to L.A. after receiving a call from a pastor and eventually would be called to be senior pastor in Santa Monica by the district superintendent of the Church of the Nazarene.
Upon moving to Santa Monica, Crites saw the city changing. Crime was on the rise and he started a neighborhood watch program through his church and put the assistant pastor, Wally Johnston, in charge.
At the same time the neighborhood watch ministry was established, a local pastor informed Crites about police officers needing spiritual guidance. It was then that he helped found the Chaplaincy Program with permission from then-police chief James Kean. Assistant pastor Johnston was the police chaplain for two years until moving back to his hometown in Indiana.
After Johnston left, Crites devoted his time to the job full time.
“The idea of being a chaplain was to interact with the officers to help them cope with their issues,” said Crites.
As chaplain, Crites has helped officers come to peace with their issues. There were times when he would talk to officers who were injured in the line of duty or injured to the point where they thought they would never return to work. Crites, with his ever-calm demeanor, would do his very best to help them get back on their feet and heal. But one incident greatly affected the chaplain and it was one that didn’t involve a cop. It involved a little girl whose parents died in a murder-suicide.
The chaplain received a call from the watch commander that they brought in a little girl who was in the sixth grade. The girl had run to her neighbors after she witnessed her father shoot and kill her mother. The father reloaded his gun and tried to find the girl, but could not. The father ended up shooting himself.
“My job as chaplain was to tell her that her parents had died,” Crites said.
He had learned that the girl and her parents immigrated from Pakistan to the United States. As Crites told the victim the horrible news, she told him that she did not want to grow up an orphan.
“That, to me, was the most heart-wrenching moment I’ve had while working in the chaplain ministry,” he said.
In addition, along with the emotion and the hardship that Crites had seen through the people he helped, being the police chaplain was often a busy job. He was the sole chaplain counseling police workers and people of the community. It was then that he was responsible for expanding the chaplaincy to include ministries of other faiths and religions.
In an e-mail, Santa Monica Department Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks wrote that the “Chaplain Program is one of several options we have for addressing our community’s need and desire for guidance and comfort, particularly during difficult times.” The chief also commented that Crites has “unselfishly volunteered his time in service of this community and our police department” and that “his quiet professionalism, dedicated service, and humbleness are testaments to his faith.”