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Clarifying duties, requirements of police chaplains

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Posted: Sunday, May 14, 2006 10:00 pm

You are startled as the telephone rings in the middle of the night. As you fumble around to answer the telephone you assume it's the police department calling because something serious is happening.

You could be a member of one of the department's specialized units that responds to critical incidents (i.e., SWAT, Critical Incident Negotiations Team, and Bomb Unit). You could be a detective or evidence technician whose services are needed to investigate a homicide or other serious crime that has just occurred. But in this case, none of these specialized units or personnel is needed. What is needed tonight is a person to provide comfort, counsel and encouragement: a police chaplain.

What are the requirements to be a chaplain for the Lodi Police Department? Are all faiths welcome to participate? How much time does a chaplain dedicate to his or her service as in this role? These are common questions that come up when discussing the chaplaincy program, and I think some clarification would be helpful.

The Lodi Chaplaincy Association is a nonprofit organization pursuant to section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Service Code, and is governed by a board of directors and the Chief of Police. It is a very unique organizational structure, but all of our chaplains represent both the Lodi Chaplaincy Association and the Lodi Police Department. Thus, both the Board and the Chief are stakeholders in the program and need representation.

Each of our chaplains is a representative of his or her faith community. Some of the requirements of a chaplain include: professing a faith based belief system which acknowledges a Deity to which humankind is subordinate; being in good standing with his or her denomination; and having a good understanding of, familiarity with and experience in counseling techniques. There is no requirement that a chaplain be an ordained pastor, minister or priest. All chaplain candidates must undergo a background investigation to assess their suitability for the position. They also must submit a letter from their faith community's governing board approving their participation in the program.

We currently have chaplains representing the Seventh Day Adventist Church, the Assemblies of God, the Open Bible Standard, the Baptist Churches, the Church of Religious Science, and the Rabbinical Seminary. All faiths are welcome and are encouraged to participate.

The primary objective of a chaplain is to provide comfort and counsel to those in our community in need. They often respond to very traumatic situations, working side by side with our police and fire departments. Although our chaplains often come from very different religious backgrounds and beliefs, they work very well together to serve others. That's what it's all about.

Well, let's say you're interested in becoming a chaplain; what is the time investment? All chaplains are required to attain basic certification via the International Conference of Police Chaplains at http://www.icpc4cops.org within two years of appointment. Basic certification consists of twelve core courses and can usually be completed in one or two conferences. Chaplains are also expected to volunteer 48 hours annually. Ride-alongs, training, call-outs and special events all count toward meeting those hours. Our chaplains are available 24/7 and rotate through a call-out list in one-week intervals. Finally, chaplains are required to attend four of six annual training sessions held at the police department. The Lodi Chaplaincy Association covers all expenses related to the chaplaincy program.

If you are interested in becoming a chaplain or know someone who might be, please call me at (209) 333-5501 or send me an email at gbenincasa@pd.lodi.gov. We are always looking for qualified individuals who have a heart for serving their community in this way. Public safety is a demanding and extraordinary occupation, and our chaplains help us to be better at it.

Questions, comments, or observations for Behind the Badge can be e-mailed to Lt. Bill Barry at wbarry@pd.lodi.gov; mailed to the Lodi Police Department, 215 W. Elm St., Lodi, CA 95240; or phoned in to 333-6800, Box 2409.

First published: Monday, May 15, 2006

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