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Police chaplains attuned to officers’ challenges

GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)–Police officers “have stresses on them that civilians can’t fathom,” a police chaplain told 80 officers, spouses and guests from 15 states attending a Western Law Enforcement Summit at LifeWay Glorieta Conference Center near Santa Fe, N.M.

Tim Eldred, chaplain with the Rutherford County (Tenn.) Sheriff’s Office, noted, “Most cops have shift work, and these schedules make it difficult to spend consistent quality time with their families.

“It’s often hard for them to go to church,” Eldred continued, “especially if they work on Sunday or are just coming home on Sunday morning after working all Saturday night.

“Working different schedules is hard on your body clock too. It’s hard to get good, restorative rest.”

Eldred continued describing the lives and needs of police officers to a crowd that has experienced the challenges firsthand.

“Think about how you’d feel if you were never really off duty,” he said. “Anywhere you go, you could be a target; your wife, your husband, your kids could be targets. People — bad people — you’ve arrested know your face. They probably know where you live. You take your kids to school, and you’re looking over your shoulder. You go to a restaurant, you always sit facing the door.”

A law enforcement chaplain’s job is to provide a spiritual and emotional outlet for officers and to be a pillar of strength in times of turmoil.

As Jack Poe, chaplain with the Oklahoma City Police Department, put it during the April 3-6 gathering, “I couldn’t count the number of times I have arrived at a scene and one of the officers will tell me he feels better now that I’m there.

“I know these guys, know what they go through,” Poe said. “They know I will do whatever it takes to help.”

Greg Giltner, a master sergeant with the Oklahoma City Police Department, expressed appreciation to Poe, saying, “As a police officer, I often deal with people on the worst days of their lives. As a chaplain, you’re with me on the worst days of my life.”

When pastors talk with Eldred about becoming involved in chaplaincy, he is quick to tell them a law enforcement chaplain is not a chaplain to inmates. “Police chaplaincy is not a jail ministry. There is a place for jail ministry, of course, but a law enforcement chaplain is there for the officers and their families. Just them,” Eldred said.

According to the International Conference of Police Chaplains website, a law enforcement chaplain may be called upon to:

— Counsel law enforcement officers or other members of a department.

— Counsel the families of law enforcement department personnel.

— Visit sick or injured officers and departmental personnel in homes and hospitals.

— Make death notifications.

— Provide assistance to victims.

— Teach officers in areas such as stress management, ethics, family life and pre-retirement planning.

— Serve as part of a department’s crisis response team.

— Assist at suicide incidents.

— Serve as liaison with other clergy in the community.

— Provide for the spiritual needs of detainees.

— Respond to religious questions.

— Offer prayers at special occasions such as recruit graduations, awards ceremonies and dedications of buildings.

— Serve on review boards, award boards and other committees.

Eldred noted that the role of a chaplain requires the ability to minister to people of all faiths. “I tell the pastors the chaplaincy is not the place to try to grow their church. It’s a Kingdom ministry, not a denominational ministry,” he said. “I’m a Southern Baptist pastor myself, but as a chaplain, I deal with every denomination and faith group.”
The next Law Enforcement Summit will be Oct. 2-5 at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center near Asheville, N.C. For more information, go to www.LifeWay.com/LawEnforcement.

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  • Polly House