CLAYTON, N.J. (CBS) — A new program in South Jersey is using chaplains to help police officers cope with the emotional toll of the job. It’s a pairing you might not expect to share a squad car: police officers and pastors.
But in Clayton, they’re a match made in heaven, thanks to a robust police chaplain program.
“Officers are guardians of society and they see a lot of things in their shift that most people won’t see in their entire lifetime and it takes a toll on the officers and it’s nice to know that they can reach out to a chaplain that’s there for them,” Clayton Police Chief Andrew Davis said.
For a small department, Clayton has a lot of pastors — nine, in fact. They act as counselors in times of crisis, or just spend time with officers riding around, talking about life, which, in their line of work, can be extremely stressful.
“Our hearts go out to them and we are the ears, and a safe place for them to tell us things,” Pastor Ron Markloff, of Clayton Baptist Church, said.
Year after year, statistics show suicide claims more police officers’ lives than line-of-duty deaths; last year, by a count of 159 to 145, nationwide.
To help deal with issues like post-traumatic stress, The Police Chaplain Program, which began with Pastor Gary Holden in Vineland, has expanded to all of Gloucester County through the prosecutor’s office.
Training is ongoing and faith leaders are being recruited in many communities to come alongside their local police department.
“There’s so many problems that we deal with as officers, and the way to address all those problems is to bring everybody together,” Clayton Police Officer Stanley Williams said.
Along with supporting officers, the chaplains double as bridges to the community, providing long-term care to individuals who have police encounters.
“The church is wonderful, but a really great part about church is going out into the community and being a part of it,” Rev. Noris Marchand-Juan, of the First Presbyterian Church of Clayton, said.