The Atlantic County Sheriff's Department has secured chaplains and doctors to assist in all types of emergencies for the first time.
The department launched a new program, called the New Jersey Police Surgeons, at the county freeholder meeting Tuesday.
Sheriff Frank Balles said the idea is to have 11 volunteer physicians who will conduct screenings and wellness workshops for sheriff's officers and local police departments. The physicians would also report to scenes of emergencies, such as accidents or hostage situations, to treat any victims, act as medical liaisons to families if an officer is injured, and staff shelters created for natural disasters.
Balles said he has worked on the program for the past year and a half and said it is the first of its kind in the state. Much of the program has been modeled after groups in other states, he said.
Barry Rizzo, a Northfield-based chiropractor and chief surgeon of the program, said physicians will be available to the department every day of the year. They will also work with all local police departments and the police academy.
"We want to grow and have physicians in all fields, from neurology to dentistry," he said.
Hammonton-based anesthesiologist Milind Patharkar said the program is still developing but he wanted to volunteer to help the Sheriff's Department.
"I'm not sure what I'm signing up for, but hopefully I can be there for people in need," he said.
Four chaplains were also sworn in Tuesday, which is also a first for the department. Balles said he wanted to start a chaplain program a few years ago when an officer committed suicide. The chaplains will also be able to counsel victims of traumatic incidents and their families.
One of the volunteers, the Rev. Claude L. Rozier, of the St. John AME Zion Church in Mizpah, has been serving as the chaplain at the Atlantic County jail for the past seven years and leads inmates in Bible study.
"One of the things you learn in ministry is when an individual does not have anyone to express their feelings, thoughts and emotions with, it can lead to them having a lot of stress and it takes its toll on them and their families," he said. "It helps quite a bit (to speak with a chaplain), especially when someone experiences loss and they have someone to give them spiritual support."
The department also added five sheriff officers Tuesday, bringing its total to 90 - about four shy of their target number, Balles said.
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