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FULLERTON : Police Seek to Start Chaplain Program

Page-a-priest? That’s what Fullerton Police Chief Phil Goehring is hoping for.

Today he will meet with clergy from various churches in an effort to start a police chaplain program. Goehring hopes to have a clergyman on call 24 hours a day, equipped with a beeper, to help his officers deal with family violence, suicide and accidents involving serious injuries.

Goehring has issued an open invitation to the Fullerton clergy to participate in the program. He said they will be trained and will spend time riding with officers in police cars, getting to know the territory.

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An introductory meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in the council chambers of Fullerton City Hall, 303 W. Commonwealth Ave.

Goehring would like to enlist 30 members of the clergy. Each would be on duty one 24-hour period per month. They would serve as counselors to both police officers and victims of crimes.

“Clergy could solve certain problems before they become a problem for the police,” said Haim Asa, who has been the rabbi at Temple Beth Tikvah in Fullerton for 30 years. Asa said a chaplain program could have provided useful counseling to officers and their families when a Fullerton detective was killed last year.

The Rev. Jon West of Morningside Presbyterian Church believes that clergy involvement with the police could benefit the whole community. “The police are trained to deal in one way and the clergy in another,” West said. “Hopefully, they can complement each other.”

However, Goehring said, there could be some reluctance from officers to use clergy. “There might be officers who are thinking that this is the chief’s way of thrusting religion on top of everything else they have to deal with,” he said.

But Goehring said he thinks that officers will develop good working relationships with clergy members “once they realize how skilled a lot of our clergy are.”

As one example, he said, the clergy could provide longer-term assistance to victims of family violence. “The chaplain will probably follow up personally,” he said. “It could be a period of healing.”

Goehring said he has received applications from Lutheran, Seventh-day Adventist, Methodist and Presbyterian clergy, among others.

In most situations, Asa said, clergy members could offer assistance to police and crime victims, regardless of their denominations.

But “if it comes to last rites, I will have to bring a Catholic priest,” the rabbi said. Asa said he will also make referrals to other clergymen.


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