Learning to understand the Law Enforcement culture and the unique pressures that officers experience day-to-day is an important part of being an Interfaith Law Enforcement Chaplain. At first it may seem that the culture of Law Enforcement and that of Faith Communities have very little in common. However, members of the clergy may have more in common with Law Enforcement Officers than what is immediately obvious. These similarities provide the foundation upon which to build a relationship of understanding and trust.
“On” All The Time
Members of the clergy understand something of what it means to be on duty all the time. They could be out shopping in the produce section of a supermarket and find themselves unexpectedly drawn into a conversation with someone from their community about an important life issue. Members of the clergy can’t disengage with “I’m not on duty right now,” for doing so would likely go against their nature and possibly cause irreparable damage to their relationships in the community. Law enforcement officers have a similar “on” all the time experience of life and can’t easily step out of the problem solving role that members of the public may project on them. Family, friends and neighbors may also have difficulties in seeing an officer outside of his or her role. Being “on” all the time is a source of stress because it does not allow for the individual, outside of a professional role, to be experienced. When a chaplain understands this, it can help the chaplain be present for an officer without contributing to the demands already being placed on the officer. Being “On” all the time as a Law Enforcement Officer has an additional stress, that of sustained alertness for potential danger. Not being aware of this can cause a Chaplain to misinterpret the normal hyper alert behavior of an officer as being distant or unapproachable.
- Don’t assume too casual or overly friendly demeanor when communicating with Law Enforcement Officers. Let officers set the tone and thereby let you know what is appropriate for your interactions.
- Do be courteous, kind and professional.
Some clergy wear vestments that set them apart from the public and even those who do not wear any particular identifying clothing or symbol of their office can experience being set apart from society. This can be in the form of expectations that the public have of clergy: to have faultless personal lives and spotless behavior all the time, and to never deviate from an inhumane standard of perfection. Similarly, Law Enforcement Officers are seemingly under sustained scrutiny. Their badges, uniforms and weapons, make them stand out from a crowd that expects perfect politeness and faultless behavior. Sometimes the individual behind the uniform is lost in all the expectation. The pressure to show up perfectly can have the effect of dehumanizing a person and cause an ever-deepening rift between their on duty personality and who they really are. When a chaplain understands this about an officer, it can help the chaplain to be present for the person behind the uniform with patience, letting the officer lead with instructions, conversation and requests-and above all to have a strong capacity to listen to the officer with as little judgment as possible.
- Avoid expressing personal opinions about matters of social conduct.
- Do listen, frequently and carefully
Professional, Not Personal
Regardless of an officer’s opinion about local laws, private faith, political parties, or personal preferences regarding social trends, he or she has to apply the law with sustained professionalism toward everyone. Officers interact with people from every walk of life and way of thinking and believing and have to be able to function with fairness and equanimity in this diverse environment. An Interfaith Law Enforcement Chaplain will no doubt have strong personal faith conviction and a deep spiritual practice. Regardless of the chaplain’s private faith, he or she will be serving officers and members of the public from every-and no-faith tradition; at no time is it appropriate to proselytize. An Interfaith Law Enforcement Chaplain has to apply compassion and service with sustained professionalism toward everyone.
- Don’t bring anything to the conversation that was not requested. Testimonies of faith, no matter what the tradition, must not be brought into the conversation with officers unless specifically requested.
- Do be respectful of what officers want to talk about and follow their lead. Include in this the ability to respect an officer’s wish to talk about anything.