Atlantic City police will soon have some spiritual help.
City Council is set to pass an ordinance tonight that would establish a Police Chaplain Program. The program — started in Vineland about five years ago — has faith-based leaders work in partnership with police.
“The Police Department has been missing this piece for years,” said schools Security Chief Dewane Parker, who helped bring the program to Atlantic City. “This is a huge undertaking coming to fruition.”
“We’re very excited because in Vineland it’s been so successful,” said the Rev. Eric McCoy, who is one of five leaders already trained to work in Atlantic City.
Religious leaders of all faiths can be trained for the program, which takes two days for certification and includes courses in stress management, post-shooting, ethics, responding to a crisis situation, and sensitivity and diversity, explained the Rev. Gary Holden, senior chaplain in Vineland.
He and Vineland police Chief Timothy Codispoti started the program, which has been picked up throughout the state, including recently in Newark, Trenton and Asbury Park.
Chaplains go on calls with police officers, helping with domestic situations, dealing with witnesses following shootings and death notifications.
“We do the actual notification,” Holden said. “We encourage our chaplains to take the lead. Then, police can leave and the chaplain can stay with the family and just help that family and be with them.”
Holden said the longest he has stayed with a grieving family after notification was about five hours. That would have been the job of police, but now frees them up to go back on the street.
“We’re able to stay when the police have to go,” McCoy said. “We can listen to what they have to say about the violence that’s going on and make headway with it.”
They can also be there for officers who may need spiritual or emotional help dealing with the stresses of the job, the pastors said.
The ordinance is sponsored by Councilmen George Tibbitt and Steven Moore, and indicates the volunteer chaplains commit at least six hours a month to the program.
“The policy of the Atlantic City Police Department will be to work in partnership with qualified religious leaders, regardless of denomination, who are available to respond during a crisis or time of need to provide a more personalized and comprehensive quality of service to the community,” the ordinance states. “The clergy will perform tasks of a more emotional or social nature, while the officer handles those tasks that are of a law-enforcement nature.”
“When people are upset, they get upset with law enforcement,” Holden said. “We come in, not as police officers, but as chaplains. Many times, that has a calming effect. We help defuse the situation.”
There are plans to train at least 15 more Atlantic City chaplains by the end of next month, McCoy said.
“Not just Christians, but Muslims, Hindus, Jews,” said McCoy, who heads the South Jersey Fellowship of Churches. “We’re opening up the training for everyone.”
And to serve beyond Atlantic City, he said, indicating plans to move into Pleasantville, Mays Landing and Egg Harbor City.
Holden said it can take as long as two years for everything to run smoothly, but that there are many successes along the way.
Vineland’s successes include heading the Stationhouse Adjustment Program, required by a state attorney general mandate in dealing with first-time juvenile offenders accused of minor delinquent crimes.
When juveniles are arrested, the police chaplain is called and meets with the family and the youth, Holden explained. They are assigned community service, such as working at a soup kitchen or with the Boys and Girls Club.
“The principle is to get them to do something to help somebody else,” he said.
In five years, just one minor that went through the program was re-arrested, Holden said.
While that program does not deal with violent offenders, the city can have its own programs that deal with youth violence, Holden said. And the chaplains can be part of that.
“I just really feel this can be very beneficial for Atlantic City,” he said.
Police Chief Ernest Jubilee said he wanted to wait until the ordinance is passed before commenting too much on it, but believes it will be a good program.
“I’m really looking forward to working with the faith-based community,” he said.
Contact Lynda Cohen:
Follow Lynda Cohen on Twitter @LyndaCohen