Law enforcement officers often see the worst in their communities, and for this reason, it’s often hard for them to reach out for personal help in a crisis. And for those citizens who get caught in the midst of those crises, it’s difficult to know where to turn in the heat of the issues at hand. In Jacksonville, for police and citizens alike, there is now an outlet for support, counseling and encouragement. Alan Bradish, an ordained minister and former community outreach minister at The Salvation Army, recently stepped up to assume the newly-created role as chaplain in the Jacksonville Police Department (JPD). His voluntary position has been met with warm enthusiasm across the community as individuals recognize the incredible need for his presence, and the capacity he has to bring a powerful aspect of spiritual support to the police force.
With his years of service for The Salvation Army, Bradish shared, “I had a feel for outreach in the community and wanted to do more to give back.” While completing the Citizen’s Police Academy (CPA) last winter, Bradish developed an interest to become involved full-time with the police department. After the academy, he had some initial conversations with Adam Mefford, current Chief of Police, to discuss the possibility of implementing a chaplaincy program in Jacksonville – something that, “to my knowledge,” said Mefford, “has never before been done.” Through multiple conversations with the command staff about the program, they all concurred – a chaplain’s presence on the police force would be an incredible asset.
“So here we are,” smiled Mefford, glancing across his desk at Bradish, who was enjoying his second week on the job. Bradish assumed his chaplaincy position August 1, after an official resignation from his responsibilities at The Salvation Army on July 20.
Bringing in some background, Mefford shared, “The chaplaincy program had been discussed in the past before I had taken over as chief, and it had never caught any traction. One of the things that I thought would be beneficial is someone that could serve as a liaison to clergy in the community – someone that could organize outreach in those times of crisis.” Looking at Bradish, Mefford nodded as if to say, “he’s the man.” With Bradish’s background in ministry, community outreach and individual counseling, and even specific units of training in chaplain work, Mefford and his force are excited to be partnering with him. And they’re not the only ones – local fire departments, the sheriff’s department and the coroner’s office have all expressed interest in tapping into Bradish’s services.
Mefford continued, “With the stressful nature of law enforcement, it’s hard for officers to reach out to people [for help] that they aren’t familiar with. [Thus, a chaplain] may be an outlet for them in a spiritual sense. While we won’t push that on anyone, we are offering it as a mode for officers to reach out when needed.”
Bradish expounded on what he called the “three-pronged approach” to his job, explaining that, first, there’s an aspect of him being involved in an emergency response team – bringing help and spiritual support to crises as needed or when requested. Second, as Mefford mentioned, a chaplain can assume the role of liaison in community. By bridging relationships and work opportunities with entities use law enforcement in their everyday work, Mefford and Bradish feel that they would benefit from chaplaincy services as well. Third, Bradish is excited about the aspect of supporting department staff and their families as they cope with the stressful aspects of working in law enforcement each day.
Bradish shares, “God was preparing me for a time such as this. I’ve been wanting to do the CPA for four to five years. I had initially put my application in five years ago – but it never worked out with my personal schedule. In God’s timing, I was able to see what I needed to see through that experience and make the commitment that I’ve made.” And when it comes to commitment, Bradish has made an exceptional one, voluntarily offering his services to the taxpayers in the community. Mefford described this gesture as incredible, especially considering Bradish’s willingness to be on call full-time for the police department. Bradish shrugged it off, saying in a humble way, “I want to be an asset, not a liability.”
From a political standpoint, bringing a chaplain on to a police force could potentially spawn some conflict. Mefford addressed that, saying, “There’s a lot of discussion now regarding the church and the state. By bringing a chaplain on board, we are not trying to infiltrate the state with the church. We are trying to offer up a spiritual asset for those who need it.” Bradish added, “For example, a chaplain and a minister are a different entities. I don’t take the place of a church parishioner’s relationship with their church. I don’t pretend to be everything for everybody. I want to connect with other faith leaders, and bring them into the crisis situation. One thing a chaplain does is be universally purposeful to assist people at their level and their need.”
Bradish also shared that he is interested in not just “the crisis response, but also the follow-up” – which is crucial. Mefford explained that in the law enforcement world, “officers are trained in crisis and response, but a lot of times, situational things happen where they must move very fast.” After the scenario, through whatever transpired, the presence of a chaplain can come in slowly and provide assistance and spiritual support to the crisis – and as Bradish added, “be able to “follow up with the individual, responder, or department to keep their emotional health in good shape on a long-term basis.” Mefford nodded in agreement, saying, “It’s another tool that we can put in our arsenal to protect our citizens [and officers].”
In conclusion, Bradish stated, “We’re still in the formative stages of learning what this [chaplaincy] can bring to the community.” As such, he said, “I hope to give 10 years to this relationship and position.” With Mefford’s aforementioned commitment to his police chief position not being his “retirement job,” it’s incredible to think of the power and unity of the Jacksonville Police Department under the leadership and vision of men like Bradish and Mefford. Thus, Bradish wrapped up his thoughts on a positive note, saying, “This is an exciting place to be in my life journey. I’m wanting to give back to the community and the department. I’m excited to be where I’m at and from the people who have gotten general knowledge of this, we have gotten overwhelmingly positive feedback.”