Police Chaplain Program expected to help Palmyra police officers cope with stress

The chaplains will also be providing emotional support to members of the community

Pastor Wes Allen of Central Baptist Church in Palmyra has been a resident for 13 years. Allen is one of three newly inducted chaplains for the Palmyra Police Department.

The Palmyra Police Department recently announced the initiation of the Police Chaplain Program. Three local clergymen from various religious institutions in Palmyra were officially sworn in as members of the Palmyra Police Department.

The three clergymen are Pastor Wes Allen from Central Baptist Church, Pastor Charlie Soper from Epworth United Methodist Church and Pastor Tristan Shin from Bethany Lutheran Church.

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Allen is heavily involved with his congregation and community and has a passion for teaching and creative worship. Soper is dedicated to mentoring other clergy and strives to make a positive difference in the lives of others. Shin is new to Palmyra, but is eager to become a part of the community.

The pastors will be offering nondenominational emotional support to both the officers and members of the community during tragic events.

The chaplain program started in Vineland and is being implemented statewide. Sgt. Stephen Coveleski of the Palmyra Police Department says he expects the chaplains to be of great value to the department.

“It’s basically designed to be another outlet for police officers as an outreach program for stressors of the job. With all of the things that we deal with on a daily basis, sometimes it’s a little overwhelming and sometimes officers don’t know how to deal with the stress,” Coveleski said, adding officers often turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with their stress.

It’s no secret the job of a police officer can be stressful, but Coveleski says the most stressful part of the job is often what comes after work.

“We’re trained on how to handle certain events, but we’re not really trained a lot of times on how to debrief. There are certain parts of this job that the academy doesn’t prepare you for,” Coveleski said. “The human side of us kicks in and our brain tells us that the things that we’re seeing are not normal, but we’re trained to push through those stressors.”

These stressful events can have officers taking their strain out on their family and, sadly, evening turning to suicide when they’re unable to cope effectively.

Since there aren’t many programs available to help when officers need an ear or a shoulder to cry on, the chaplain program will provide just that.

“They’re willing to sit down in counseling with not only officers but family members of officers. It’s really just an avenue for officers to be able to outreach to somebody to help deal with the daily stressors that come with the job,” Coveleski said.

Allen says his only goal with the chaplain program is to provide support wherever it is needed.

“You can’t go into being a chaplain with an agenda. Right now, our goal is to be a support and be a presence,” Allen said.

The chaplains go through a two-day training course that totals 16 hours. Coveleski says some of the things shown in training were so graphic he had to leave the room. The course is meant to prepare the chaplains for the worst case scenarios so they’re not shocked or taken aback during catastrophes.

In addition to providing emotional support to officers, the chaplains will also be delivering death notices and helping community members cope when they suffer a loss. Coveleski hopes the chaplains will also help bridge the gap between the community and the police department.

“They’re not here to preach to us, they’re not here to try to get us to join their church. They’re really just an ear open and a shoulder to lean on,” Coveleski said.

Upon completing training and being sworn in, the chaplains are now officially part of the Palmyra Police Department.

Allen says he highly recommends other pastors in the area get involved with the chaplain program.

“It’s a way to be in relationship with the police. It’s a way to be there for people when they have a need,” Allen said. “It’s something that we really would like to see expand.”

The chaplain program is completely volunteer-based, and Coveleski said all three clergymen are eager to help. If any places of worship in the community are interested in joining the chaplain program, contact the Palmyra Police Department for more information at (856) 829–0198.

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