By Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw
Police work is stressful and dangerous. The hours are long and grueling, and there’s often very little time for officers to reflect and process what they endure on the streets. That’s why the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office has a team of chaplains in place.
These ordained members of the clergy assist my deputies and commanders in staying grounded to their moral principles and to their duties in serving the community. They provide comfort, support and spiritual guidance to overcome the challenges of working in law enforcement.
We often forget that deputies are human beings, too. Even the best officers aren’t fully immune from the stresses and pains of investigating gruesome crimes that are so common in our society today.
Our 27 volunteer chaplains often work alongside deputies on the scene of shootings, domestic violence attacks, fatal car crashes and other serious incidents. They are there to help deputies confidentially deal with the grief and trauma of doing their jobs. They make sure deputies don’t have to suffer alone.
For many deputies, our chaplains are part of the family. They marry and bury our deputies. They baptize their children and attend their family functions. They deliver last rites.
Our chaplains also work closely with families of deputies, as well as crime victims and occasionally the families of the accused or convicted offenders.
Traditionally, chaplains were ministers such as priests, pastors, rabbis or imams attached to hospitals, prisons, military units, police and fire departments, universities, and private chapels. Though originally the word “chaplain” referred to representatives of the Christian faith, it is now applied to men and women of other religions or philosophical traditions.
At the sheriff’s office, our chaplains represent the Abrahamic religions and reflect the religious, ethnic and gender diversity of the community we service. They speak English, Spanish, French and Creole. They include a clinical psychologist and a professional with a Ph.D. Each chaplain is assigned to a different region within the sheriff’s office jurisdiction so that he or she can personally get to know deputies and other staff members.
On any given day, chaplains ride along with deputies and attend training meetings. This helps build relationships with staff and enables chaplains to better understand the neighborhoods we patrol in.
My agency has had chaplains in place for decades. But the current chaplains program is unique for its depth and professionalism. Our program offers internships for students at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach and St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary near Boynton Beach. It’s also a model for other law enforcement agencies. We’ve talked to several departments who are interested in incorporating elements of our program.
Our chaplains are a vital part of the sheriff’s office. They are included in most of what we do as an agency. They truly are a part of the family. To learn more about the PBSO chaplains unit, contact Unit Manager Bill Gralnick at firstname.lastname@example.org or (561) 681-4523.