Supporting constabulary ‘a real privilege’ for Suffolk police chaplains
In times of crisis and emergency, we call on those sworn to protect - but where do police officers turn to when they themselves need moral, ethical or spiritual guidance?
Suffolk Constabulary is among most UK forces with at least one police chaplain to support personnel and cement links with the communities they serve.
Church Army officer, Captain Andrew Payne, was benefice missioner in Haverhill before recently becoming Mission Enabler in South West Ipswich.
Commissioned in 1998, the former full-time Seafarers Chaplain at the Port of Felixstowe became police chaplain while setting up Haverhill’s town pastors scheme in 2011 and now continues to provide a “listening ear” at Landmark House station.
Capt Payne said: “Officers deal with all sorts of people and situations. Having someone to sound off to is helpful for some.
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“Faith does come into it occasionally. There are officers of faith and I’ve also held funerals for family of officers.
“Fortunately, I’ve not had to deal with the loss of anyone on duty, and I hope I never will.”
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Apart from a new location, the biggest change seen by Capt Payne since 2011 is the level of pressure involved in modern policing.
“There are more demands on fewer officers,” he said.
“It’s often easy to criticise and complain, but police are doing a stressful job in very difficult circumstances and budgets.”
Capt Payne called it a “real privilege” to support people who may find themselves in dangerous or distressing situations.
“It’s often not something they can easily leave behind at work at the end of the day,” he said.
Reverend Brian Stenner, ordained in 1987 and now retired from Baptist pastoral ministry in Halstead, became chaplain in 2004 through a desire to serve to the wider community and after being put forward by his denomination.
He began visiting the Sudbury police team twice weekly to talk and lend a hand where needed.
“Originally, my visits were the subject of some suspicion, but the offer to wash their mugs made me much more acceptable,” said Mr Stenner, who has led two services of remembrance at HQ, conducted funerals for relatives, performed weddings for staff and acted as marriage counsellor for others.
“When I joined, I had opportunities to talk to staff on their coffee breaks,” he said.
“Now, with greatly decreased staff and increased pressure, there is rarely any opportunity to find anyone who is not busy. “I do now have a room, which I have entitled ‘oasis’, where people can spend time for quiet contemplation. It contains literature on Christianity, Islam and Judaism, and a white board on which I post messages – some uplifting and some humorous.”
Reverend Andrew Dotchin, Vicar of Felixstowe Town and Rural Dean of the Colneys, was ordained in 1984 in South Africa, where he became a volunteer prison chaplain during apartheid.
Becoming a Suffolk police chaplain in 2014, his desire to support those who stand in harm’s way derives from growing up in a military family.
For Mr Dotchin, being shoulder-to-shoulder forges firm bonds – made easy in his first post at Landmark House, where weekly visits, spending time in the coffee area or canteen, led to important conversations and invitations to ride along with groups like the nighttime economy team.
“With current cutbacks, and the reduction of police stations, this is not so easy,” he said.
“However, we are fortunate that Felixstowe has a combined police and fire station, which I can still ply with doughnuts and chat. However, the time is limited.
“My most obvious current role is promoting and supporting police work through using social media in a positive way and challenging stereotypes.
“It is now much more difficult to maintain ‘casual’ contact with staff as resources are stretched, and with the advent of tasking teams, policing can happen in a vacuum. Besides local intel being lost, it means that it is more difficult for officers to use ‘soft’ skills in their interaction.
“However, this has meant that I have been able to assist with some work, like encouraging reporting of incidents, as I can wear two hats in the community.”
Mr Dotchin described the most satisfying part of his job as being able to work in harmony with the police and other agencies.
“Recently, some good work by good-hearted force members has helped people out of suicidal situations,” he said.
“Building pastoral relationships that turn into friendships, and force members feeling able to ask to be married and have their children christened, is very special.”