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Police chaplains' goal: To serve those who protect and serve

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Catherine W. Idzerda
March 9, 2014

JANESVILLE—The traditional motto of police agencies is “serve and protect.”

Here's what police officers actually do: break up domestic disputes, handle obnoxious drunks, inform parents of a child's death, cope with drug addicts and their well-armed dealers and look at the messy remains of suicides, accidents and crimes.

The motto is concise and easy to compartmentalize, but the job is messy, wide-ranging and impossible to leave behind at the end of a shift.

That's where police chaplains come in. A concise description of what police chaplains do would be “help officers manage stress.”

What police chaplains actually do: provide support at death notifications, help with debriefing and defusing after major incidents, provide support to officers and absorb some of the emotional trauma of victim families so police can focus on their work.

Next week, the Janesville Police Department's chaplaincy program is hosting a regional training seminar for the International Conference of Police Chaplains. The region includes seven states and part of Canada, said the Rev. Bruce Jones of First Presbyterian Church.

The three-day seminar, which will be held at the Holiday Inn Express, will feature basic, enrichment and advanced training in issues such as threat assessment and conflict resolution, death notification, suicide prevention, law enforcement family issues and emotional survival for law enforcement.

BEGINNINGS

In Janesville, police chaplaincy took shape after years of work by police officers and local ministers.

Officer Sean Jauch attended a week-long chaplaincy course in 2000. Jauch and local ministers met with former chiefs and solidified into an official organization in 2005.

Along with Jones, chaplains include the Rev. Bob Lebron, Trinity Episcopal Church; the Rev. Dan Grimes, Emmanuel Church; the Rev. Tim Hartley, Harvesters Church; the Rev. Jim Moses, Abundant Life Church; and Rev. Paul Speerbrecher, St. Mark Lutheran Church.

All are volunteers.

They are joined by three Janesville police officers who serve as liaisons: Jauch, Paul McBride and Craig Klementz.

Each chaplain takes a six-week, on-call shift. If one pastor is busy with ministerial work at his own church, the police department's shift supervisor has the contact information for the other chaplains.

BEING THERE

Jones describes being a police chaplain as a “ministry of presence.”  That means being there for officers or being there for families of victims so police can do their work.

Sometimes, they do both.

When a local police officer committed suicide, chaplains were called to the scene to be available for officers and firefighters. A chaplain also went to the home to help with the death notification.

Chaplains also help with stress debriefings after critical incidents.

Stress debriefings take place after serious accidents or crimes, disasters or high-tension incidents that go on for an extended period.

It used to be that officers were expected to “suck it up,” to stoically carry on as if what they had witnessed didn't matter.

“Everybody is concerned about the victims, but those incidents can have an effect on the response personnel,” Speerbrecker said.

Such sessions, which are voluntary, are designed to help officers talk about what they saw, heard and felt during an incident. The sessions are confidential and do not serve as operational critiques or investigations.

The goal is to reduce emotional wear and tear that's part of police work. A conversation, a new piece of information, someone else's perspective all can help an officer deal with stress, Jauch said.

Jauch said departments now are more focused on helping officers deal with the stress of the job.

“A lot of the older guys have said 'Why wasn't this available to me?'” Jauch said.

SPECIAL STRESS

Why does the work matter? Don't we all have stressful jobs?

Lebron served as a Navy chaplain for 20 years, explained it this way.

“Police officers deal with the same kind of hyper vigilance people in the military do,” Lebron said. “Even when they're not working, they could be recalled to duty at any time.”

In other words, even when they're off duty, they're on duty.

That's the nature of the job, Jauch said.

A routine traffic stop could turn into a drug arrest. A minor domestic could become a homicide.

You can't just switch off that kind of vigilance at the end of a shift, and it ends up impacting the people you love.

McBride remembers one of his kids saying to him, “Why do you treat me like one of your customers?”

Jauch said at work he's rewarded for being tough and aggressive—those are traits that don't work in domestic life.



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