by Lorie Lewis Ham
We are all familiar with police officers—we see their cars driving around town, see them in uniform at crime scenes and local events—but how many of us are aware of the police chaplain who serves the community and the Police Department just as diligently, and as a volunteer?
The chaplain program was established in 1998 by police Sergeant Scott Silva and Chaplain (Pastor) Sam Estes, shared Reedley Police Chief Steve Wright. The initial inception and design of the program was to create more of a Christian Police group and provide spiritual guidance and counseling for police employees who often see the worst society has to offer. “The program has proved very beneficial in that area, providing a much needed source of support in some very critical incidents.”
From that early beginning, the program naturally expanded to provide this assistance to the public who have also experienced traumatic events and either need or want spiritual guidance to help them through the initial emotional trauma, continued Wright. “We currently have two police chaplains that are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Chaplain Sam Estes and Chaplain Frank Pinon provide a valuable service to the police department as well as the community. All of their work is volunteer, and is very much appreciated by us all.”Frank Pinon, who is also the executive director of the Reedley-Dinuba Love INC, was sworn in, in 2006. “I was asked by Pastor Sam whether I may be interested since I was already involved with the community in this capacity.”
According to Pinon, chaplain’s duties include anything from doing an invocation at a Police event, to counseling with officers, to being on scene at an accident assisting officers or family members, death notifications, accompanying family members to and from hospitals, finding resources, and more. He has even accompanied families to funerals and court dates, and finds this to be an important service and very rewarding. “I am an extension of the department to offer care, compassion, follow-up visits, encouraging words, and bring faith base communication to our department and community. It is amazing to see God at work in the little things we do.”
As to the time commitment, Pinon said it varies a great deal and can be anywhere from one to 20 hours a week. Incidents such as the one in Minkler last year, can take up a lot of time–he is still working with the fallout from that. He works on call and at times rides along with the officers. “No typical days, it can be quiet one minute, the next [you] can be on scene with fatalities and family members wanting to find out whether the victims/relatives are dead or alive.”
Pastor Joe Saubert has been Police Chaplain at Kingsburg PD since 2001; he is also the associate pastor at Kingsburg Community Church. When 9/11 happened Sauber found himself wanting to do something to help so he approached the Kingsburg PD, who at that time did not have a chaplain. Saubert does all of their death notifications, and helps out with suicides, domestic violence, or any situation where he might be able to be of help. Sometimes that help is as simple as occupying children while police deal with their parents or acting as a traffic cop at an accident—whatever the officers need help with at a scene to be able to do their job. “It can be that mundane at times but you still are helping them, keeping the public safe at the moment.”
As a pastor, he also feels it’s important to volunteer and wants to set an example by volunteering himself, and being a chaplain calls on him to rely on his faith and on God. “That He’s going to do something I can’t. That I’m a vehicle, and to see Him work through me is exciting.”
Saubert also has stress management training and helps the officers when they have critical incident debriefings. He finds it very rewarding to be able to know the right questions to ask to walk people through something. Saubert knows first hand how important it can be to have someone to be able to do that for you when things get to be too much, as he has someone who does that for him. “I have someone who has been in law enforcement for 30 some years and when I have something that’s too much to bear I go share it with him for my own health. Just knowing what that does for me I like to be there for other people. That’s one of the rewarding things.”
The stress management training was extra training Saubert chose to go through. Every chaplain has to go through a basic chaplaincy program of training, and then they can choose to go into specialties. Saubert is also trained to be a chaplain at schools, so if there was an incident he would be able go on the school campus.
Ron Richardson is the president of Chaplain Services International, who have provided law enforcement chaplain training since 1998. Students receive four days of training (approximately 32 hours), which qualifies them to apply as a volunteer chaplain with a law enforcement agency. Students receive a Certificate of Training to show they have completed the course. However, students are not certified as chaplains. “I am a member of the California POST (Peace Officers Standards and Training) Chaplain Curricula Advisory Committee, which is developing a standardized law enforcement chaplain training for the State of California,” continued Richardson. “We anticipate providing POST chaplain training locally within the next two years.”
Law Enforcement chaplains are specifically trained to work within the police culture. They are taught the protocols of working with law enforcement as well as the protocols of working with citizens in the aftermath of a tragic event. The training is outside the customary training that clergy receive in a Bible School or Seminary. “Chaplains are taught how to work with diverse cultures and religions and to remain culturally and religiously neutral,” said Richardson. “They are available to assist officers and their families with personal needs and are trained in crisis response protocols. Their unique training is an added value to the law enforcement agency and to the community they serve.”
To learn more about police chaplain training visit Chaplain Services International’s website.
Since he’s most often called upon in the middle of the night, Saubert keeps his Police vest, and anything else he feels he might need on a call, in the trunk of his car at all times. He also keeps with him a sense of humor. “[You] have to develop a sense of humor as a chaplain. Goes with the job.”
Both Pinon and Saubert plan on volunteering for as long as they are able, as they feel this is a very important to the police department and the community. “It’s not giving someone four spiritual laws. It’s putting your arm around them, giving them a hug, and that’s the biggest thing. Being available,” said Saubert.