By PoliceOne Staff
Police officers face an extraordinary amount of stress on the job. Mental health services are a crucial component of officer wellness, and it’s vital for police agencies to maintain a robust offering of programs to keep LEOs mentally fit. One of these services is the use of police chaplains. Here are five things to know about them and role they have in law enforcement.
WHAT ARE POLICE CHAPLAINS?
A police chaplain serves as a support system for law enforcement in times of crisis. They can be volunteers or sworn officers. They come from all faiths and are fully ordained. Some hold degrees or certifications in mental health treatment.
It’s well-known that many officers are guarded by nature and can have trouble opening up about their trauma to a psychologist or other mental health professional in a formal environment. Similar to peer support programs, police chaplains can be effective in these cases because they offer a more informal source of support for the affected officer.
DOESN’T THIS BLUR THE LINE BETWEEN RELIGION AND GOVERNMENT?
The way chaplains are used in agencies passes the Lemon test, established by the Supreme Court in the 1971 Lemon v. Kurtzman case. This means chaplains must have a secular purpose, cannot advance nor inhibit religion, and cannot “excessively entangle” government with religion. Police chaplains aren’t there to push a religion on police officers; their role is primarily to listen and offer emotional and spiritual support to those in need.
Police Chaplain Alex Evans, who worked with officers in the wake of the Virginia Tech mass shooting, described the job as one of presence.
“It’s less about what you say, and more about where you are. You show up,” Evans said in an interview with A&E.
WHAT DO THEY DO?
Police chaplains have a range of responsibilities that vary from agency to agency. In addition to supporting officers struggling with issues such as burnout, stress or trauma, some chaplains also assist officers with some of their duties. These can include tasks like death notifications, crime victim support and homeless outreach.
In Chicago, chaplains respond after every officer-involved shooting. Officers are required to take a daylong class after a shooting incident, part of which is led by a chaplain.
In some agencies, chaplains are also taking an active role in community policing as LEOs look to bridge the post-Ferguson divide and ease tensions. Chaplains accompany officers on the beat and serve as a calming presence in everything from traffic stops to domestic disputes.
HOW DO YOU BECOME ONE?
First and foremost, handling the unique demands that come with working within the law enforcement profession requires specialized training. The nature of the job – from assisting in suicide calls to managing the aftermath of a line-of-duty death – presents significant challenges that go beyond the skill level of a traditional minister. While other requirements may vary, the International Conference of Police Chaplains – arguably the most prominent and influential chaplaincy program in the world – breaks down the qualifications like this:
No criminal convictions Ordained and in good standing with ministry At least five years of experience in ministry Screened by a police chaplaincy committee Available to serve 24/7 Familiar with local mental and physical health resources WHERE CAN I LEARN MORE?
To learn more, visit:
International Conference of Police Chaplains
The Police Chaplain Program
International Police & Fire Chaplains Association
International Fellowship of Chaplains