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This article was published 19/3/2016 (401 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Local police officers will soon have a refuge from the daily traumas of their jobs as the Winnipeg Police Service, with a heightened awareness of mental-health concerns and the needs of a diverse workforce, becomes the latest police force in Canada to open a chapel.
A meeting room in the new downtown police headquarters building is being converted into a multi-faith chapel for officers’ use.
It’s expected to be a space for quiet reflection, said WPS chaplaincy program co-ordinator Sgt. George Labossiere, who anticipates the chapel will be widely used among the 1,300 staff who will work out of the new headquarters, set to open in June.
"It’s more based on ensuring that our members have a place to go, can connect with people, can make sure that we just don’t ignore the fact that many people have spiritual needs that need to be addressed, and this room is just a small way we can offer that to our membership," he said.
This is a way for the police service, which has been running its chaplaincy program since the mid-1990s, to promote the holistic health of its officers, regardless of their beliefs, Labossiere said.
"The fact that we’re dealing with crisis on a regular basis and the high stress that comes with the job, the periodic need to maybe have a quiet place to reflect, I think, is important," he said.
Police Chief Devon Clunis has been open about his own Christian faith and has reached out to faith-based organizations to partner with the police on community events, such as last spring’s Restore our Core North End cleanup, but he wasn’t the driving force behind the creation of a police chapel, Labossiere said. He said the WPS is following in the footsteps of many other police agencies in North America, including Hamilton, that already have chapels.
The police service has four chaplains who meet with officers upon request. They’ll often serve as a sounding board for marital, parenting or financial concerns — issues that often stem from the long hours and shift work policing entails, Labossiere said.
"If we don’t keep our membership healthy, I think we all lose out, because we have people who can’t perform their jobs," he said. "We’re a family, and family means supporting each other, during all times, good and bad."
With increasingly high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder among law enforcement, emergency responders and medical and military professionals, chaplains can be "a listening ear" to pick up on the nuances of what could be a mental-health concern, said Mark Young, a Salvation Army minister who has been a volunteer chaplain for the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service for nearly 20 years.
Over the years, he’s seen the cumulative toll the job can take on emergency responders, who are called upon to rush into potentially traumatic situations without much warning.
"If you’re an emergency personnel — police, fire, paramedics, military — how do you de-escalate that adrenaline rush that’s going through your body?" he said, adding he thinks the police service’s creation of a chapel is a good step forward.
"The quiet space is important. It’s an outlet from a busy job that you’re doing. Throughout the world today, there’s a big push — and surprisingly there’s a big push within the church realm as well — to get back to what we call ‘sacred space.’ Quiet space, where you can just settle and contemplate and just rest your mind and body at the same time. That’s what I see chapel space could be utilized for. Not only in the secular world, but in the spiritual world, everyone seems to be saying we need spaces like this."