Chaplains Offer Guidance To Police, Residents

Lacey Police Chief Michael DiBella, left, joins township police chaplains Matt Hass and Walter Santos during a presentation about the chaplains’ program held at the Lacey Community Center. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

  LACEY – Among their duties, police chiefs handle the routine issues of police business like record work, equipment inventory, personnel matters and reports to their respective governing body, but Township Police Chief Michael DiBella makes it a point to communicate with the community.

  DiBella enjoys addressing groups like the Old Guard of Forked River and letting residents know about any concerns and allowing them to ask questions. During one of their meetings, DiBella served as guest speaker and brought along police chaplains Matt Hass and Walter Santos to talk about the department’s chaplains program.

  Santos is the pastor of the Lacey Christian Assembly, the former Bamber Chapel. Hass is the pastor of the Lutheran Church in Lanoka Harbor. A third chaplain who was unable to make it is Chaplain Paul Quevedo of the Forked River Presbyterian Church.

  “Police officer suicides are high across the country,” the chief said. He noted that the state’s former Attorney General initiated a resiliency program which became a requirement in all New Jersey police departments.

  “Police officers aren’t any different than anyone else. When we get stressed out, we need a person to go and speak to. The attitude of ‘I’m a cop, I’m on top, I can handle it,’ – those days are over,” Chief DiBella said.

  “It is someone my officers can speak to confidentially – except if they make claims if they are going to kill themselves or harm somebody else. I wanted to go one step above the resiliency program and that led to the police chaplains program. I started looking into it and looking into it and spoke with our governing body about it as I wanted to get their support,” he added. “For me it was very important that the police chaplain be ordained and that be representative of their faith. Right at the same time we were looking at this, Pastor Santos just randomly came into the police department and asked to speak to me and so I met with him and he explained he was taking over as the new pastor and had experience with this. We started the police chaplain program about a year ago.

Lacey Police Chief Michael DiBella speaks to members of the Old Guard of Forked River about community policing. He was a guest speaker at a prior meeting of the group and answered questions about law enforcement and the township police department’s chaplains’ program. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

  “The three chaplains are there for us, for myself all the way down to the most recent hired police officer as well as my dispatchers. If any of us feel we are having a stressful day or for whatever reason needs to speak to somebody we can call on our pastors to sit down with us,” the chief added.

  The police chief gave the example of one of the hardest things as police officers that they have to do – notify someone that their loved one has passed away. Whether it’s a car crash or some other cause, an officer has to visit a home and give someone the worst news of their life.

  “It is on us, the police department to make an in-person death notification and sometimes we’ll bring the chaplain in to help us make that death notice. The program has worked out very well,” Chief DiBella said.

  Pastor Hass said “it is such a blessing to be working with our local law enforcement. They are a wonderful crew. We are there for the officers and as the chief said, for our community. They call us at times when they need assistance in a situation that is going on. We are there to help.

  “We are there to support those police officers after those situations are over as well,” the pastor said. “I am glad to be a part of this community.”

  Pastor Santos remarked, “it is great to be in a community that has police chaplains. We are trained to do that, for critical incidents and trained to debrief and defuse after a bad incident because when you don’t talk about it, you keep it inside and unfortunately, police officers see the worst in humanity. They see things we weren’t meant to see.

  “They need a safe place to vent and that is what a police chaplain does. We had a recent (death) notification in town and the minute we rolled up on the scene we were met by a grieving person who was hurting and didn’t know what to do and then she just collapsed in my arms,” he said.

  “We were able to point her into a direction because when something like that happens to family you don’t know what to do, your head is in a fog. We presented this pamphlet that we had made up and it has everything of what you should do after a loss of a loved one. This pamphlet walks you through the steps to do after the death of a loved one,” Pastor Santos added.

  For information about the program, on how to reach a police chaplain or get a copy of the pamphlet Pastor Santos referenced, contact the Lacey Township Police Department at 609-693-6636. The police department is located at 808 Lacey Road and you can also visit their website at