BCM Chaplains Carry A Badge
BCM Chaplains Carry a Badge to Support New Orleans Police Officers
Police officers in New Orleans face a variety of challenges on a daily basis, large and small. But they do so with the support of chaplains from Baptist Community Ministries.
For well over a decade, BCM chaplains have stood with police officers at crime scenes, in times of personal loss and crisis, during times marked by extreme violence and stress, and on occasions of achievement and hope. Typically, only the larger police departments across the country benefit from the presence of full-time chaplains. Thanks to a unique program created by BCM, the New Orleans Police Department has four full-time, board-certified professional police chaplains at their disposal 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These chaplains strive to create and maintain a deep level of trust with their officers in order to provide them with the emotional and spiritual support they need and deserve.
“We’re on the front lines,” says BCM police chaplain Joe Cull, “and we are honored to be there with the officers.” These chaplains provide an additional resource for the officers ranging from a listening ear and non-judgmental presence to confidential conversations concerning personal as well as professional issues.
Cull adds that over the years officers have told him that part of the reason they feel more comfortable relying on an NOPD chaplain for support rather than other pastoral resources is because, “We are out there with them; we see what they see.”
June Wilder, VP of Chaplaincy Services for BCM and Director of Spiritual Care for NOPD, believes chaplains foster a sense of healing, peace and comfort in times of high stress and trauma. “Officers have told me that when they’re at a crime scene, especially one marked by violence and death, they see the chaplain, and knowing we are there, they are able to relax a bit and focus better on the job at hand.”
Several years ago an officer was killed while investigating a traffic accident. The BCM police chaplains were present on the scene, at the hospital, and with the officers. They reached out to the grief-stricken and the traumatized, comforting family members and friends. Cull explains, “We were primarily a ‘ministry of presence’ that day in many ways. We offered prayer, a listening ear, and a shoulder to cry on. There was a lot of frustration and anger, especially among the officers. We provided empathy and support which the higher rank within the department deeply appreciated.”
In 2016, New Orleans reported more shootings per capita than Chicago. NOPD officers responded to an average of 10 shootings a week with one-third of these incidents resulting in a murder. In 2017 non-fatal shootings were up 7% and gun murders rose 5% over reported statistics for 2015.
BCM chaplains are required to be board-certified for professional status through either the Association of Professional Chaplains or the National Association of Catholic Chaplains; the requirements for certification include extensive training and the accomplishment of established professional standards equal in scope to earning a doctoral degree.
With NOPD under a federal consent decree, the police chaplains are working with an inter-departmental employee support program, which was created to satisfy a requirement of the decree. The federal consent decree is a legal agreement between the city of New Orleans and the U.S. Department of Justice in which constitutional policy is guaranteed and the federal court provides oversight. BCM chaplains work with the two staff members in this program to offer even more resources to the members of the department.
Says Wilder, “In law enforcement trust is a necessary component which has to be earned. These officers trust us, I believe, literally with their lives. It’s imperative that we never break that trust, so confidentiality is of utmost importance. In fact, as professionals, BCM chaplains follow the same ethical standards of confidentiality as that of a priest, an attorney, or a licensed counselor.”
Last year, BCM chaplains made 102,164 ministry contacts in the following areas: