Sun | Nov 18, 2018

We care! - Pastors going all out for cops ... Stigma no longer attached to unit

Published:Friday | April 20, 2018 | 12:00 AMKeisha Hill/Senior Gleaner Writer
Pastor Dr Gary Buddhoo-Fletcher, chaplain of the Jamaica Constabulary Force Chaplaincy Branch.
Reverend Penelope Morgan-Owens, assistant chaplain for Area 5.
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Police personnel are usually held to high standards, however, often, we forget that they are humans, too. They are expected to maintain professionalism while interacting with the general public. However, many of us do not know what happens behind the scenes and how their high-stress jobs affect their daily lives.

Often, we think of them as machines that dispense justice without empathy and with complete apathy towards those they serve and protect. However, police personnel undergo extreme levels of stress, leading to a host of physical and mental problems, which most persons do not realise.

Pastor Dr Gary Buddoo-Fletcher, chaplain of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), says that members are often exposed to traumatic events, and as such, peer counsellors are strategically placed in various geographic divisions of the force and are supported by volunteers.

"We believe in the spiritual, psychological, physical, and emotional well-being of our officers. There are officers who need intervention who will come to us for assistance and others that are referred to us," Buddoo- Fletcher said.

Every officer, he said, who has been exposed to critical incidents has to be counselled before going back on duty. "In the case of these occurrences, there is a stress debriefing session. If any police officer discharges his or her firearm, whether personal or that of the JCF, even if it's an accidental discharge or a shooting, they are immediately taken off front-line duty," Buddhoo-Fletcher said.

The JCF, he said, assists its member to cope with the after effects of the events surrounding the discharge of their firearm, and a counselling session is organised. Based on the outcome of the sessions, the counsellor he said, would then determine if it is necessary for the officer to participate in follow-up counselling.

 

WELL-BEING OF MEMBERS A PRIORITY

 

The role of the Chaplaincy Branch, he said, is essentially responsible for the well-being and the optimum functioning of the members of the force. "In these critical incidents, even if it is a case that they were not directly involved, they are also required to participate in counselling," he said.

According to Assistant Superin-tendent of Police Dahlia Garrick, who is now the acting

head of the Corporate Communication Unit, policing is a high-stress job and constant support is given on a daily basis.

"There is an inspirational devotional thought that is sent to every member of the police force each morning. We also believe in a proactive approach and not just assisting the officers after the fact. Stress management is also important to us as an individual and as law enforcement officers," Garrick said.

There are seven assistant chaplains who operate at the area level to provide assistance to members of the JCF. They are assisted by pastors and other volunteers who act as resource persons in order to add value to the programmes offered by the Chaplaincy Branch. Individuals who are selected for police chaplaincy duties must be an ordained minister with at least five years' experience in ministry and are endorsed by their respective church communities.

Reverend Penelope Morgan-Owens, assistant chaplain for Area 5 of the JCF, which encompasses St Catherine North, St Catherine South, St Andrew North, and St Thomas, says that with the perception that police officers are not human beings, she wanted to make a difference in the lives of police personnel.

"We see the humanness in their lives. From their own individual lives to that of their children and family members, we offer support. It is a privilege to see the bonding that takes place between the officers and their families and even those that do not know each other. There is a high level of camaraderie," said Morgan-Owens, who is a former guidance counsellor with more than 23 years' experience in the field.

The Reverend Dr Mortimer Mullings, who has responsibility for Area 4, which includes the Corporate Area, except St Andrew North, said that they approach their job with the perspective that the body goes through physiological and physiological stress and that the mind is not immune to intrusive thoughts.

 

Mitigate issues

 

"We try to mitigate any issues as early as possible to minimise and eradicate any negative responses," Mullings said.

At present, the JCF Chaplaincy Services Branch comprises the chief chaplain, who is supported by the seven assistant chaplains. Then, there are the 500 volunteer chaplains and 33 peer counsellors.

When persons are selected to join the JCF, recruits are exposed to the chaplain, who also sits on the selection panel. Successful recruits have contact with the chaplain and his team throughout as he interacts and offers support to the soon-to-be police officers.

Buddhoo-Fletcher says that they have purposefully integrated the chaplaincy services into the police force so that they can have a proactive approach.

"In former years, if you come to see the chaplain, it would be a stigma. But now, the chaplain gets involved in policing activities. You come to see the chaplain for an array of things, and in addition to that, the chaplain comes to see you," Buddhoo-Fletcher said.

keisha.hill@gleanerjm.com