St. Louis County Police Department expands chaplaincy program -

St. Louis County Police Department expands chaplaincy program

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The St. Louis County Police Department welcomed 4 new chaplains in February (Credit: St. Louis County Police / Facebook) The St. Louis County Police Department welcomed 4 new chaplains in February (Credit: St. Louis County Police / Facebook)

The St. Louis County Police Department is expanding a program designed to support officers. While the department welcomes four new chaplains, it is also increasing the role these chaplains have in the community.

“I think in the last several years we’ve seen and realized how valuable the chaplaincy program is, not only for our officers but we are starting to realize they have a role in supporting the community in a lot of incidents we respond to,” said Sgt. Jeremy Romo, supervisor of Crisis Intervention Team.

Each chaplain is assigned to a precinct to provide spiritual counseling and assistance to members of the police department. Right now, more than 20 chaplains from various denominations are part of the program.

“To be present, that’s the biggest thing,” said Rev. Mike Boehm, a priest with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis. “We call it a ministry of presence where you’re available, present, around and that with the officers can help sometimes to let them know they have support outside of their own ranks and they’ve got someone they might need to lean on or talk to at some point.”

The chaplains do ride-alongs with officers and pop by precincts.

“In order to be effective, officers need to trust the chaplains,” said Sgt. Romo, who also oversees the chaplaincy program. “So when they see them on a regular basis, when they [officers] are involved in a critical situation and when the officer might need support, that’s not the first time they’ve seen them [chaplains].”

Rev. Boehm has volunteered with the department for 26 years and during that time he’s seen a lot change.

“It seems to me the pressure on them has mounted in the past several years. Things have changed in law enforcement so they feel a lot more of the weight of the world on them,” said Rev. Boehm.

At the same time, department leaders are more conscientious of finding the right balance.

“I think the relationship between law enforcement and the community is changing and we’re realizing that we have to do a better job in building relationships in the community and we are trying to utilize the chaplaincy program to help us do that,” said Sgt. Romo.

In recent years, chaplains have taken on a bigger role with citizens. They were there for the civil unrest in Ferguson and the protests after the Stockley verdict. Now, the department is seeing their increased value during critical situations, like a standoff in February.

“Our chaplains respond any time we have a barricaded subject when our tactical operations team is involved,” said Sgt. Romo. “There are often family members involved in those situations that are understandably concerned about the outcome of that incident and so our chaplains have done a great job of engaging those family members and providing them support while our officers are focused on resolving the incident itself.”

Department leaders say this has proved so effective they are looking for ways to involve chaplains in other calls, too.

“It gives me a good sense of satisfaction that we can actually do something to support the officers in some small way,” said Rev. Boehm.

The chaplains volunteer their time with the officers so there is no cost to the department or taxpayers.

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