The sights, smells and emotions that come from seeing the worst of life’s tragedies often stay with police day and night, bottled up until an unpredictable incident releases them.
Police departments have always provided their officers with the essentials to fight crime: guns, badges and uniforms. Now, more East Valley agencies are providing officers with the tools to help cope emotionally with tragedy.
The Gilbert Police Department last week began its search for four ministers for a newly formed volunteer chaplain program. The chaplains will be available for officers, civilian employees and crime victims.
“You need to take care of your first responders, because this job will eat them up,” said Sgt. Andrew Duncan, Gilbert police spokesman.
Currently, the police department has a critical incident stress management team, made up of department employees who offer support to officers involved in stressful situations.
But chaplains would be better suited to listen and help than a co-worker, said Sherry Nielsen, a volunteer coordinator for the department and in charge of selecting the chaplains.
The Gilbert Police Department, like others, deals with one tragedy after another.
“They see the worst,” Nielsen said. “The children dying, the car accidents.”
In April 2006, Gilbert police officer Rob Targosz died after his police motorcycle was struck by a drunken driver.
And so far this year, Gilbert officers have been called to eight suicides, 132 suicide attempts, and 35 calls for bodies, according to police department data.
Chaplains are trained listeners who can provide emotional support and confidentiality, said Marcia Romano, an ordained nondenominational chaplain for the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office.
Tempe recently selected three ministers for its newly formed chaplain program, Tempe police officer Brandon Banks said. The department wants to have the ministers trained and providing help by October, officials said.
Gilbert police want to have four ministers trained by January.
Ordained ministers in any denomination are eligible to apply. The applicants, who will not be paid and must have ties to the town, need to have a minimum of three years of ministry, counseling, or a related social service.
For information, contact Sherry Nielsen at (480) 635-7711.