Having a religion program doesn't fix a morally bankrupt police force
THE REV. MICHAEL DOLAN, vocational director for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford, has joined the new state police chaplaincy program. He knows intimately what state troopers face because his brother is state police Master Sgt. James Dolan. (MICHAEL MCANDREWS / May 1, 2008)
Public Safety Commissioner Leads Effort To Revive Chaplaincy Program
By TRACY GORDON FOX | Courant Staff Writer
May 12, 2008
It wasn't religion or faith that brought Public Safety Commissioner John A. Danaher III to the conclusion that the state police chaplaincy program should be revived.
It was bad behavior.
After learning about some of the misconduct state troopers were being accused of — drunken driving, domestic violence, alcoholism — Danaher said he thought that perhaps the department was not adequately supporting its own, not helping troopers haunted by what they'd seen: horrific crashes, violent deaths and sexual assaults against children.
So Danaher invited a rabbi who had written a book called "Spiritual Survival for Law Enforcement" to speak and help him revive the chaplaincy effort. In the audience on April 28 were state police supervisors along with about 15 priests and rabbis from across the state who had volunteered to be part of the expanded program.
Danaher said that during his first year as commissioner he focused on the primary needs of the department, such as infrastructure and staffing.
"But I also heard of a number of troopers who had made some unfortunate decisions, and I kept thinking about their problems and how they had reached the point that they had," Danaher said.
The personnel problems were outlined in a report on the department's internal affairs unit, which found misconduct among troopers and prompted one of the first controversies Danaher had to confront as commissioner.
Danaher said he started thinking that having clergy available to troopers "might help them find another direction to solve their problems, whether they were marital issues or alcoholism."
"It could make a difference if they could have someone to share that burden," he said.
That led him to read Rabbi Cary A. Friedman's book, and, Danaher said, "It rang so very true to me."
Troopers, he said, "are tougher, much tougher than most."
"Indeed many would question the need for a chaplaincy program," he said. "They would say to their fellow trooper, 'Look — just suck it up and deal with it.'" But over time, Danaher said, "This work can wear even on the best of them."
The Rev. Michael Dolan, who joined the new chaplaincy program, knows intimately what state troopers face: His brother is state police Master Sgt. James Dolan.
"I'm thankful for the training and honored to be able to join in something I know so well from personal experience," said Michael Dolan, vocational director for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford.
James Dolan said troopers may be more likely to confide in a clergy member than a peer or a supervisor when they are having a problem, be it a family issue or alcohol abuse.
Many people have a connection with clergy, James Dolan said, "with a familiarity and trust outside the agency."
Spirituality is not to be confused with organized religion, Friedman said. A police officer's spirituality consists of a more general faith in God, humanity and himself, he said.
But each exposure to wickedness, tragedy or catastrophe withdraws from that "spiritual bank account," he said, and can lead, eventually, to "spiritual bankruptcy."
Quoting American crime author Joseph Wambaugh, formerly with the Los Angeles Police Department, Friedman said: "Law enforcement involves a daily drop of corrosion on your soul."
And that's where the bad behavior often comes in, Friedman said.
"In spiritual bankruptcy, an officer loses faith, hope, confidence and optimism and engages in all kinds of destructive and self-destructive behaviors," he said. "Abuse of power, professional misconduct, domestic violence, marital difficulties."
Those were some of the same problems outlined in the internal affairs report conducted for the Connecticut State Police by the New York State Police and the Connecticut Attorney General's Office. The report, released in December 2006, outlined misconduct involving domestic violence, sexual assaults, drunken driving and larceny.
"That taints the whole profession, the few people who succumb [to misconduct], succumb in a horrible ugly way that brings us all down," Friedman said.
There are employee assistance programs and peer counseling to help state troopers deal with their problems, but the missing piece of the puzzle has always been spirituality, Friedman said.
"It's the chaplain's sacred privilege, honor and responsibility to minister to law enforcement officers," Friedman said. "Reintroduce the hard-core veteran to the type of person he or she once was," Friedman said. "To be able to connect with God."
"We always had a chaplain program. But ours has been more ceremonial in the past," said Lt. J. Paul Vance, a state police spokesman. "This is more hands-on, available to lend assistance."
Police chaplains understand that police officers require a different kind of ministering, Vance said, and they must penetrate the often closed police culture.
"It is a different kind of ministry," he said. "And, really, we are not looking for the chaplains to provide religious guidance as much as helping employees to discuss things, talk about them."
Chaplains are also a valuable tool for the community at large, providing spiritual support when residents are notified of the death of a loved one and during funerals.
Danaher said he hopes to get more clergy involved as chaplains than the 15 who have signed up. Those who have volunteered say they are happy to help police officers.
"I am very involved in the community and I feel this is another area of the community I can be involved in," said Rabbi Norman "Shalom" Siegfried of Waterbury.
James Dolan, the state police master sergeant, said he views the program as "another vehicle, another asset we can use to help troopers."
"It takes a little bit out of you when you go to [horrific accident] scenes," he said. "There needs to be some type of rejuvenation."
Contact Tracy Gordon Fox at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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My comment left on the Hartford Courant forum:
Morally bankrupt police officers feel bad when they break the law and abuse the public?
Well, if a police officer breaks the law, shouldn't they be arrested and prosecuted like everyone else?
No one should be above the law.
I think it is going to take more than a little religion to fix an ailing Connecticut State Police force. They need to be abolished for a Highway Patrol.
As it is now they police their own. That doesn't work.