Most people that those involved in law enforcement have very unique demands placed upon them. Officers endure a physically strenuous job, not found in the everyday workplace. Mentally, the job is difficult in the vast amount of pain, hurt, immorality, and violence that officers deal with on a daily basis. Between divorce rates, officer deaths, and the longevity of officers, the statistics can paint a bleak picture of a profession whose main goal is to provide peace.
A law enforcement chaplain has the opportunity to provide a context in which officers can cope with the distinctive aspects of the job they feel that they are called to. Whether paid or voluntary, a well-trained chaplain can have a profound impact on the longevity of officers’ careers and the quality of their personal relationships.
Just as an officer is sworn to serve the community, a chaplain’s goal is to serve the officers, staff and community that they represent. Here are six specific ways a chaplain can benefit your department, by allowing those who protect and serve the community to be served as well.
Ministry of Presence
Having the presence of the chaplain around the department gives a context for trust to be developed. Chaplains regularly visit the department for personal contact with law enforcement personnel and staff. The chaplain can also be present by sitting in on role calls and taking part in training exercises. One of my first memories as a chaplain was watching a fellow chaplain play the “hostage” during some SWAT training exercises. This allowed him to not only serve the team practically, but also to build trusting relationships and establish credibility.
It seems when officers are at their best, they are seeing the worst in humanity. Unfortunately, the reality is that close personal relationships of officers can suffer because of the resulting stress.
As trust is built between chaplains and officers, opportunities will arise to provide counseling. These opportunities can happen very intentionally when an officer might come to a chaplain for personal counseling or help in a certain area of life.
But, it can also happen very naturally in a squad car, at the gym, or sitting in the patrol room between shifts. Having someone who is trained to listen well can be an invaluable tool in helping officers debrief, and process the things that they come across in their day-to-day work.
When emergencies arise, countless opportunities are available for the chaplain to serve. Whether it’s arriving at the scene of an accident and helping to re-direct traffic or providing pastoral care in intense situations, the chaplain can be an extra set of hands that can help support many different roles.
Helping officers when fatalities occur can also be a tremendous service to the department. When officers have to make notification to a family that a loved one has died, having a chaplain present affords the family an additional level of care that sometimes officers aren’t equipped for. The chaplain can stay and pray with the family and offer counsel as to how to proceed with the various steps needed in dealing with funeral homes, churches, etc.
These are services most officers simply do not have the time to offer and having a compassionate and knowledgeable chaplain can greatly help a grieving family through the initial steps of dealing with that trauma. Additionally, it can relieve the officer’s burden of “wishing he/she could do more.” This is one role that departments will find indispensable once they see the support it brings to their officers and the people of their community.
If a department is interested or open to having faith-related activities, then chaplains can help to provide a context for those to take place. Chaplains can conduct worship services and bible studies as needed. They can also offer invocations and benedictions at academy graduations, memorial services, award ceremonies, and also other civic or social events as they are requested.
If your department operates a jail, then a chaplain has an additional realm of influence. Often, inmates will request time with a chaplain for counseling. Also, a chaplain can be the liaison and coordinator for other faith organizations that want to perform services in the jail.
Wedding / Funerals
Occasionally, the chaplain is asked to perform weddings and funerals by the officers and their families. This is due, in large part, because often the chaplain is the only minister with whom law enforcement can relate. As opportunities arise, the chaplain responds to the needs of the department as an opportunity for ministry and witness.
Chaplains participate in basic law enforcement training. Whether it’s training for departmental procedures, weapons training, or patrol stops, chaplains can take in training alongside their officers. Chaplains can sometimes even become training resource for personnel in the department. A great example of this is a chaplain-led training specifically for spouses of incoming rookie officers. This training helps identify the unique aspects of the job their significant other is embarking on and offers tools and insight as to what to expect going into this profession.
Dan Luce is the Associate Pastor with the Open Door Fellowship in Kouts, Ind. and the Chaplain 2 with the Porter County, IN Sheriff’s Department. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.