BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Bridgewater Township is moving closer to gaining a volunteer chaplain for the municipal police department.
The town council introduced an ordinance at its Oct. 19 meeting to establish the office of police chaplain. The public hearing on the ordinance is Nov. 5.
Township administrator Michael Pappas said Police Chief Paul Payne has been working on the chaplain program for the past two months, and has also met with a number of religious leaders.
“It’s very broad in scope,” said Pappas.
He said that two clergymen have been enrolled in two-day training for the chaplain program.
“We’re pleased it’s moving forward,” he said.
According to the online draft ordinance, the chaplain will not hold a rank or collect a salary, but will be "a duly credentialed or commissioned (licensed or ordained) minister, priest, rabbi or other recognized leader of a religious body."
The police chief will have the power to appoint one or more chaplains to the police department. Any chaplain appointees must be "a member of the clergy in good standing in the religious body in which he/she was ordained,” the ordinance said.
The chaplain will also be made a volunteer member of the Bridgewater Township Police Department, after successfully completing a background investigation that will be conducted by the police department.
The position of chaplain will be of service to the police chief, his officers, members of their families and Bridgewater Township residents. He or she will also be considered a staff assistant to the chief and may be consulted for any purpose by the chief or his supervisory staff.
The chaplain, who will be supplied with necessary insurance, uniforms and equipment by the police department, and who will wear an insignia while on duty, is also expected to hold all personal and professional communications with police personnel in the strictest confidence.
The duties of the chaplain will range from visiting sick or injured police personnel at home or in a medical center or hospital, to counseling officers who may have personal problems, to conducting memorial services.
Council president Howard Norgalis, who has served as a fire chaplain in the past through his church, called a chaplain’s role “a very rewarding experience.” He said he applauded Payne for championing the ordinance.
Councilman Michael Kirsh reiterated that the chaplain would be a part of the police agency, but would serve in a volunteer role.
Council vice president Filipe Pedroso called it "a great idea," gave kudos to Payne for his initiative and said the chaplain would provide a much-needed service.
Payne said he has been working with captains Sean O'Neill and John Mitzak on the program as a way to better connect with the community, while also building a better bond between law enforcement and the people they serve.
"The chaplain program is nothing new in law enforcement, and has been and continues to be part of the law enforcement community," he said. "There is no better way to reach the people you serve than through faith-based organizations in the community. We want to provide support to the law enforcement officers, their families and the agency through spiritual support and encouragement."
Payne said the chaplain supports the community in times of need, including disasters, death scenes and domestic violence situations.
"The benefit from having a chaplain program are unbelievable, and the men and women we have met since we started this new journey with our faith-based meetings in September have been greatly received by our religious leaders, mayor, township officials and officers," he said. "The chaplain programs result in significant dividends as a major component in promoting a police officer’s resiliency, which the New Jersey Attorney General has directed agencies to promote, and they provide a perspective on the community’s viewpoint when dealing with law enforcement, therefore almost making them a police ambassador to our citizens."