Through the efforts of a local rabbi, police officers in East Brunswick can now turn to five professionally trained chaplains in times of stress and crisis.
Rabbi Jay Weinstein of Young Israel of East Brunswick already held the title of police chaplain, but it was largely a ceremonial post. Last year, he and four Christian clergy from local churches took a three-day training course through the Police Chaplain Program of New Jersey. Weinstein said he heard about the training while attending the International Conference of Police Chaplains.
The PCP, according to its website, creates a partnership with a community’s faith leaders “to respond and assist police and other law enforcement agencies.” The goal is that “by working together during times of crisis or incidents, a more comprehensive response will be given to those in need.”
Police chaplains are charged with providing emotional, social, and spiritual comfort and support to officers. Among the situations in which chaplains are needed, said Weinstein, is when officers witness victims of accidents, fires, or violent crimes or participate in tense hostage stand-offs.
Additionally, chaplains can offer support to residents in crisis situations and are available to recite prayers during municipal ceremonies.
The rabbi said community leaders are also needed to act as partners helping law enforcement personnel in times of crisis. His own synagogue has developed a close relationship with the police force. Each year on Thanksgiving, for example, youngsters from YIEB prepare a turkey and trimmings and, accompanied by Weinstein and parents, they deliver the holiday meal to officers on duty.
On Dec. 14, at YIEB’s annual dinner, the police department was honored for its assistance to and relationship with the synagogue.
‘One of us’
“There are many things police officers do — like notifying families of a death — where they might want to have a chaplain available to help,” said Weinstein. He said he accompanied the police chief to a township council meeting last month to discuss with its members ways in which the chaplains can be of service.
Weinstein said he also participated in a police ride-along to gain an officer’s perspective of police duties.
Patrolman Craig Hoover, police liaison to the chaplain program, said the chaplains received training in dealing with the at times horrific scenarios police officers see, since it is after they deal with such incidents that chaplaincy services are most often needed.
A trained chaplain can also talk to families at the scene of a crime or accident, taking the burden off police officers, who do not always have the time to do so. Because the program is nondenominational, he said, the chaplains will offer general counseling, unless the person in need requests a chaplain of a specific religion.
Hoover said the chaplains may be called on to follow up with juvenile offenders, “to talk with them and help keep them on the straight and narrow.”
The services of the chaplains, said Weinstein, are also a boon to officers on a personal level, when, for example, a family tragedy occurs.
“Law enforcement is a very stressful profession,” said Hoover, citing high rates of suicide, alcoholism, and divorce. “The chaplains will be there to lend an ear. We hope to see these chaplains around so everyone gets used to having someone to confide in.”
“We encourage the chaplains to show their faces here,” said Hoover, “so the officers will think of them as one of us — because they are.”