By Steve Sears
The Mount Olive Police Department has initiated a Police Chaplain Program to begin 2021.
Pastor Matt Jones of Mountaintop Church and Rabbi Daniel Zucker of Temple Hatikvah are the initial members.
“I thank God we’ve had a working relationship now for a number of years with them,” Jones says. “I’m grateful. I’m in my 19th year now, and we’ve worked together with the township and with the school system.”
Mount Olive Police Department Chief of Police Steve Beecher and Jones worked for a time on a Mental Health Commission together, so the relationship has been built over a good period. Beecher adds, “The Police Chaplain Program is established to provide support to both police officers and civilians. They are there to provide assistance, advice, comfort and counsel to those in need who request support.”
“Pastor Jones and I have talked about it extensively; we both agree with the whole idea,” Zucker says of the new program.
Jones and Zucker in October attended training classes for the chaplaincy. “What I’m very grateful for,” Jones says, “is we’re all friends. We’re very excited to do this. The goal of this is to provide emotional and spiritual support for our police, as well as for people who are going through tragedy and trial; to be there also for them. To listen, to comfort people. I think the biggest thing is that we become a very big ear.”
Zucker, who grew up in California, has been a Rabbi for 43 years. He has served congregations in his home state, Long Island, and Pennsylvania, and served as a chaplain for several years at the Lester Senior Living Community in Whippany. He has been in with Temple Hatikvah in Flanders for the last three and a half years. “It’s really kind of a two-pronged or two aspect concern on the part of Chief Beecher, which I know that certainly Matt and I agree with him on,” Zucker says. “One was the normal idea behind the whole program which has been in place for some time, and the idea is that police work is a very high stress job.” He adds that, with all the significant challenges of the job, officers need another outlet to express their concerns. “A friendly ear to listen,” he says, “to be available to consult for advice if they so desire.” Zucker also recognizes that the police department has the unpleasant job of contacting families when there’s been a fatality. “Part of the idea of the chaplaincy program is to try to help relieve the officers who otherwise would have to stay for some time, that there can be somebody else that meets with a family and spend time with them until they get other family members or arrangements. All those types of things that allow the officer to return to his normal activities.” The second prong is something Zucker feels Beecher and his lieutenants have been paying careful attention to: the mood in this country with what’s been going on the last few years, particularly in 2020. “Forgetting the question of COVID,” he says, “which only added to the pressure. There really needs to be a little bit more support, and a wider net of those indicating that the police are good people. Tapping into the clergy, hopefully we will have some influence on our congregations and the wider public.”
Prior to his training, Jones had witnessed up close a chaplain at work. His dad was a chaplain most of his pastoral career for the Suffern, New York Fire Department, and Jones many times went with him and saw firsthand what he did. “So many times, these – especially your frontline people – don’t really have anyone to talk to. They’ll go through a domestic dispute, or they’ll go through a horrible tragedy, they finish that, and they go right back on the job again. You know, there’s no debrief, and many times they just hold this stuff inside. So, hopefully, we can be those people to help them with these issues.”