Chicago Police Department Chaplain Bob Montelongo grew up with his two brothers in the tough south side of Chicago. The three brothers all became law enforcement officers.
As a boy, Bob remembers the police officers trying to tame that rough part of the city: “There was something about watching police officers in my neighborhood. They were regarded with a mixture of respect and a little fear. I always
He began to feel a calling for law enforcement, and a calling from the Lord to share God’s Word. As it worked out, his future was to include both callings.
He served as a deputy for the Cook County, Illinois, Sheriff’s Office beginning in 1992. He joined the Chicago Police Force in 1997 serving with the Targeted Response Unit and the Bicycle Patrol Unit.
The administrative secretary of his police unit submitted his name for a police chaplain. He was assigned to the Chaplain’s unit fulltime in 2002.
“I wanted to be a police chaplain, but I did not want to give up my badge and gun. I wanted to remain a police officer,” Bob said in a recent telephone interview. “I accepted the chaplain position with the agreement that I would continue to be a police officer with badge and gun.”
He calls it, “the best of both worlds.”
When he is called to a crime scene, if it is still an active crime scene, his role is as a police officer.
“If the action is over, I am a chaplain for the officers involved and the victims. That’s the time I really see the impact of the Shields of Strength dog tags from Point 27,” he said. “As a police chaplain, I concentrate fully on chaplain duties, unless an officer is in distress. In case of a shooting, I react as a police officer, especially if an officer has been hurt. If I was driving through the city and saw a crime, I still have police power to take action.”
Montelongo, a Catholic Deacon since 2012, is one of four sworn officers/chaplains of the department. He serves with a Methodist Deacon, a non-denominational pastor and a Muslim imam; and two unsworn chaplains.
“We are the only police department in the country that has sworn chaplains,” he said. “When an officer needs us and we sit with them, because we are sworn officers with them, they know we understand.”
“When [Point 27 Director US Army (Ret.) Col.] David Dodd first sent TBL dog tags to the Chicago Police Department, there really wasn’t a response from officers or the department. Then he reached out to the Chaplain’s Unit and that’s when I first talked to him by phone. We agreed to meet at the COPS (Concerns of Police Survivors) Conference. We did, and later I gave him a ride through the city.”
Common ground and a far-reaching common calling began to bond the two men.
As a Point 27 volunteer since 2019, this police chaplain has given more than 9,000 Thin Blue Line dog tags to Chicago Police Officers–with 3,000 tags still to give to reach all 12,000 CPD officers.
Montelongo always wears his Shield of Strength from Point 27 and always carries dog tags to give to others. Recently he greeted 60-70 much-needed new recruits to the department. He welcomed them, prayed with them and handed each a TBL dog tag.
“Daily duties vary from day-to-day. The baseline of everything we do is service,” he stated. “When I started as a police officer the baseline was service to city. As a police chaplain, the baseline is service to fellow officers and their families,” he said. “That means counseling officers and families following line-of-duty deaths and suicides within the department. I share joy and sorrow with them. I counsel them. I marry them. And sometimes I break bad news to them. Once I had to inform an officer and her husband that their teenager had died after jumping in front of a transit vehicle…. We have started a support group for suicide survivors called STAR which stands for Suicide, Trauma And Recovery.
“I always try to pass out the Shields of Strength when I go to a large group like a district roll call, and, of course, to individuals when the situation is more one-on-on,” he shared. “When I see an officer who I’m not sure I’ve given a dog tag to, I ask if they have one. If they do, they are wearing it and proudly smile and show me.”
Montelongo says with every Shield of Strength he gives out, he tells the officers that, “The dog tag is a reminder that you are not alone, that God is with you and that there is a whole army of people who’ve never met you, praying for you every day….I can’t express how much that means to them. It’s such a wonderful gift, and so wonderful for me to see the smiles on their faces.”
“One time a police officer from Berlin, Germany, came to the city and reached out to the chaplains. I gave him a Thin Blue Line dog tag and explained it. He was delighted. He said to me with a look of wonder, ‘We don’t have anything like this in Germany.’”