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Establishing a Chaplaincy Program

Written by Jim Weiss

Police officers and sheriff’s deputies are supposed to have all of the answers. They are trained to handle every situation and tragedy with objectivity and efficiency. Society says they should be the ones in control without experiencing the emotions and feelings that affect the general public. Yet police officers are not robots. Events take their toll. Officers spend their lives helping others, but where do police and deputies turn when they need help?

To fill this need, many police departments are adding the position of police chaplain, paid or volunteer, to their ranks. If an officer or his family has a problem, the sooner it is resolved before it escalates into something major, the better off the department is. And with personnel as one of the biggest expenses of a law enforcement agency, it makes sense to preserve that human resource and keep it healthy.

When officers need counseling, help in overcoming a trauma, or just someone to talk to, they don’t want to share their feelings with just anyone. Law enforcement is a closed community; so where can officers go and be sure their confidentiality will be respected without experiencing repercussions on the job or at home?

When there is an incident involving death, officers often must proceed to other duties. Who can help comfort the citizens involved, or accompany the officers when they notify the next of kin? At hostage negotiations, who will be able to answer religious questions or give emotional support to family members at the scene?

Police departments and sheriff’s offices might think that their personnel would benefit from training relating to personal stress and family crisis intervention, but where can they get instructors? How do they find someone to serve ceremonial functions such as memorial services, funerals, award ceremonies? Who can make hospital visits? Where do they find a consultant on religious fraud issues? The solution lies in establishing a well-rounded chaplaincy program within the department.

The difference between a chaplain and a pastor, minister or priest is that a chaplain is nondenominational. He performs his duties without regard to the religion of the person or officer he is helping, and he does not represent any particular religion. He is the keeper of the chapel, and his chapel can be the break room, crime scene, or corridors of the police station.

The Clearwater, FL Police have had a chaplaincy program for many years. Chaplain Danny West was a former minister with 20 years of experience who joined the police force as an officer and worked the DUI unit while performing his chaplaincy duties. After he retired in 2003, a new program was developed using a non-law enforcement, volunteer chaplain, Kenneth Link.

According to Clearwater’s Chief Sid Klein, the main considerations when selecting a chaplain included finding someone who is ordained by a recognized religious body; can operate in a nondenominational manner; can establish rapport with the officers; will uphold confidentiality in accordance with the law; has a specialized interest in law enforcement chaplaincy; will remain up to date with what is happening in the department; can pass a stringent background check; and believes in the people he is called to serve. When looking at an individual’s personal characteristics, other background information should also be taken into consideration. For example, someone seasoned by experience in the military might do better than someone without that knowledge.

Once the chaplaincy program is developed, it helps to have a policy regarding the position of the chaplain, his qualifications, duties and responsibilities, confidentiality agreement, and the professional conduct expected. This policy can be distributed to all personnel to familiarize them with the program. It also defines the lines of responsibility between the police chaplain and a police fraternal or labor issues association chaplain as well as between the chaplain and the victim advocate.

The chaplain should submit a report on a regular basis that details his hours spent in the department and on what tasks, such as counseling, hospital visits, crisis events, speaking engagements. This establishes his role in the department, something that is especially important when dealing with budgetary issues. Chaplains may get a stipend, but even if the chaplain is a volunteer, he should receive financial compensation for his vehicle use, mileage, etc. With a written reporting system, the department can show city hall exactly what he is doing.

It is also important that the program be set up to be nondenominational. The chaplain cannot have the hidden agenda of getting people to go to his church. Rather, he will serve their needs until he can put them in touch with representatives of their own faith.

The role of the chaplain will evolve over time, depending on the needs of the agency. Many law enforcement chaplains attend the International Conference of Police Chaplains. This conference is held annually in different parts of the country and offers week-long training. Typical courses for basic certification are Responding to a Crisis Situation: What to Do and Not to Do When at a Crime Scene; Death Notification: How to Make a Death Notification and the Dynamics Surrounding It; Suicide: Warning Signs and Causes; and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome: Understanding PTSD and How it Differs from Normal Stress. Twenty-four other enrichment courses were taught, as well as advanced workshops for experienced chaplains. Chaplains completing the basic courses receive certification.

As part of his on-the-job training, the chaplain needs to be kept up to date with what is happening in the department. He should also be on the distribution list for all departmental material. Chaplains should also go out in the field with the officers and deputies in their agency, attending training sessions, accompany the SWAT team, and go to the firing range. By experiencing the same pressures and stresses as the officers they are counseling, they will better understand what those officers are going through. This also breaks down the self-preservation wall of suspicion many police officers have.

The success of the chaplaincy program is directly related to the assimilation of the chaplain into the culture of the police department. If he lives and breathes the experiences of police officers, he will break down the “tough cop” barriers and increase his effectiveness.

Clearwater’s police chief wanted to be sure the department’s new chaplain and his program were well received by the officers and employees in the agency. To accomplish this, he took a number of steps. He went to speak to Link’s congregation to be sure they would support the time he would give to the department. He explained what the duties of the chaplain would be and answered any questions and concerns they had. They gave their overwhelming support.

He introduced the chaplain to the CPD’s staff and explained what his duties would be. The chaplain was then introduced to the officers at roll calls. His responsibilities and the benefits he would provide were explained. It was stressed that anything said to the chaplain would remain strictly confidential in accordance with the law (meaning that confidentiality stopped when an officer was determined to be a danger to himself or another individual). It was made clear that it was built into the program that the chaplain would not report private consultations to the chief. The new chaplain also gave out his cell and home phone numbers so officers could reach him when they or their families needed to.

In addition, the chaplain and his role in the department was explained to the community through the monthly newsletter distributed to the citizens as well as through the one-hour monthly informational television show produced by the department.

When an incident such as suicide by cop takes place, properly trained clergy can help prevent aftershocks. And something as simple as having a chaplain along to offer a prayer on a SWAT callout may give comfort to those officers as they do their job. Link wants officers in the department he serves to realize that the sun will come up tomorrow despite what they are dealing with in their jobs, so he doesn’t say, “Have a good day,” when he see them in the halls. He says, “Be encouraged.” That might also be the main reason for having a chaplaincy program in an agency. Be encouraged.

Jim Weiss is a retired lieutenant from the Brook Park, OH Police Department and a frequent contributor to LAW and ORDER. Mickey Davis is a Florida-based writer and author. They can be reached at jweiss2109@aol.com and mdavisfla@aol.com.

Published in Law and Order, Apr 2008

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Comments

Comment on This Article

Establishing a Chaplaincy Program

By Sid B.

Stright to the point and great information. Our Police need all of the help they can get from the people they protect.

Submitted May 8 at 6:47 AM

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