The Tampa Police Department is looking to expand its chaplain program to provide more robust spiritual counseling to officers who experience traumatic events, particularly in cases of child abuse.
Department chaplain Pastor Clarence Nathan said many officers are in need of spiritual comfort and prayers following calls about hurt children.
Most recently, Nathan said he comforted an officer who had responded to a call about a woman who had drowned her child in the river.
“They oftentimes reflect on their own children or grandchildren,” he said. “Where do you compartmentalize that? Where do you put that?”
Nathan, a former officer himself, has provided spiritual counsel to thousands of officers who have witnessed disturbing things on the job.
“You try to find out first of all what is going on in their hearts and in their heads,” he said. “Then try to give them a word of comfort and encouragement.”
The TPD is hoping to double the department’s chaplain program by adding leaders from any faith. The department currently has 15 counselors.
“I believe that a happy police officer is going to equal a happy community,” Chief Mary O’Connor said.
O’Connor said officers often struggle with PTSD, substance abuse, sleep deprivation and emotional problems.
The chief has struggled with these issues herself during her career, reflecting on the time she sat beside a fellow officer who had been shot.
“I remember losing sleep at night, and just reliving the incident over and over again, and reliving the incident 25 years later.”
Nathan said it is his mission to make sure officers can return to their job with a positive mindset.
“This is a calling. It is not a job for me,” he said. “I have been called by the Lord to do what I am doing.”
TPD added that they hope to eventually offer a 24-hour prayer hotline for officers.
Other departments across the country are also addressing police officer mental health by incorporating spiritual counseling.
The Abilene Police Department, for instance, has decided to double its chaplain department from two to four chaplains following a series of deadly traffic fatalities in recent weeks.
The APD said chaplains work with families of victims and help to ease the stress that officers experience on a daily basis.
Chaplain Robert Williams added that officers who undergo spiritual counseling often stay on the job longer and are more effective.
“I’ve seen people who were on the verge of just resigning, they couldn’t handle it anymore,” Williamson said. “They turn into people who became still a viable officer, and are doing what they trained to do. Seeing that big difference in their life is rewarding to me — to be able to see that.”