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Police work has challenges and stresses that most other professions or work environments do not. In any given day a police officer can deal with deeply disturbing violent crimes, deaths or tragedies of some kind. It is not uncommon for police officers to bear witness to the worst in humanity as they shield the community from harm.

Thankfully, the seven chaplains of the Suffolk County PD work with officers, civilians, and families to help make sense of tragedies and struggles. They provide invaluable emotional and spiritual support, guidance and comfort in times of great need for the Suffolk County Police Department family.

“The Chaplains support to families and members is invaluable at times of extreme stress. Their dedication, empathy, and compassion at critical incidents, hospital bedsides, and funerals provides comfort at the most difficult of times. We are all grateful for their service,”

said Suffolk PBA President, Noel DiGerolamo.

Rev. Steve Unger, who is the First Response Crisis Chaplain for the Suffolk County Police Department, supports the adage that “the SCPD is a family, and they really walk the talk. They are committed to caring for their brothers and sisters and their extended families as well.” He also talked about the ethics and core values of the police department FullSizeRenderand how blessed he feels to serve such honorable men and women. Steve Unger reports directly to Chief of Police and has the highest regard for his leadership. “I started as a chaplain in 1996, the year of the TWA Flight 800.” Steve is a Lutheran Minister who studied clinical pastoral education in seminary and has a masters degree in ministry and counseling. He was the Director of Chaplaincy for Stony Brook University Hospital for 30 years before he joined the SCPD. “I work with the first responders and those are the people who have seen the most horrific situations. Police officers are people with big hearts, and even bigger shoulders. They have loved ones, families and children and they want to feel safe and loved in the midst of their stressful jobs. I visit with them in their homes or wherever I can be most helpful. I am a compassionate companion and it doesn’t matter to me if they have faith or not, if they are agnostic or atheist, I will find a way to be there for them in a way that can help and comfort.”

Rev. Steve is the only one of seven chaplains who reports directly to the Chief of Police. All other chaplains report to the Chief of Chaplains, Rabbi Steven Moss.

Rabbi Moss has presided over the B’nai Israel Reform Temple in Oakdale for 45 years. Longevity is a theme for Rabbi Moss, having served as a chaplain with the SCPD for 31 years as well.

When Moss was first approached in 1986 about becoming the Rabbi Chaplain in the SCPD, he was somewhat perplexed. He had no police officers in his family and no previous interaction with the police department. “After thinking about it for a short time, I considered that this might in fact be part of my calling,” and he now after 30 FullSizeRender (3)years he shares, “serving as a Chaplain for the SCPD has been the most significant and rewarding part of my professional life.  It is such an honor to wear the uniform and with a shield especially made with the Star of David.” Rabbi Moss also serves on the SC Human Rights Commission and is the co-chair of the SC Anti-Bias Task Force. He completed the highly regarded Citizens Academy Program, which only increased his admiration and respect for every person who becomes a police officer.

“It is an honor for me to be called by the Police Chief to debrief with the officers about an accident or some other tragedy that they were just involved with,” says Moss. “We now have 7 chaplains in the department who represent most every religion.”

In 2001, following the devastation of 9.11, Nayyar Imam, a lay person who is also a religious leader at his Mosque in Selden knew nothing about politics or the police department. Nayyar read a statement by the Honorable John Gallagher, who was the Suffolk County Police Commissioner at the time and was quoted in Newsday, “we need to be very careful about bias and false judgements against Muslim people during this time of sorrow and fear…”

Nayyar recalled reaching out to the former Commissioner with the hope of working together to combat hostility and prejudice in Suffolk County. Nayyar continued, “I came here in 1982 and became the President of the Islamic Association.  After 9.11 we were so afraid of the backlash, everybody was worried that people who do not know about the Muslim community would become violent and we feared that we would be judged wrongly because the terrorist attack. Soon after getting involved with the SCPD I created a curriculum that provides educational sensitivity training at the academy. We deal with all topics including terrorism and try to help everyone understand the culture, such as why women cover their heads. We are trying to eradicate fear and false judgements.”

In 2005 Commissioner Dormer invited Nayyar Imam to become the first-ever Muslim Chaplain for the SCPD.  Nayyar accepted with great humility and honor. He was sworn in at a community ceremony at a Mosque in Bay Shore where the commanding officers presented him with a shield that was especially designed for a Muslim Chaplain.  “It is the honor of a life time,” said Nayyar.

There is so much work to be done to address hate and to promote good will, tolerance and harmony.  “A Mosque was just burned down in Texas,” said Nayyar. “There is a new hate group in Happaugue, and the vandalism of the Jewish cemeteries, is just terrible.”  And yet Nayyar feels that the people who really care about peace and the common good will overcome evil.

Nayyar Imam has good reason to be hopeful as he also experienced firsthand, our government embracing diversity. “For the first time in history,” Newsday reported, “Nayyar Imam, a Muslim Mount Sinai resident from Long Island, will deliver a speech at the Congressional hearing.” Nayyar also gave the prayer of invocation the day before and could not have been happier. ”I’m so proud, it’s an honor and I am blessed. We will continue to make progress in the name of peace” he concluded.

Other SCPD Chaplains include:  Father Hugh Cannon from St. Mary’s Church in Islip; Father Bruce Powers from St Kilian Church in Farmingdale; Reverend Acevedo, a Protestant minister in Brentwood; Dr. Gloria Elena Adams, a professor at Stony Brook and a Protestant minister; and the new Deputy Chief of Chaplains, Catholic Deacon John Trodden.

Each Chaplain plays an important role in the overall health and well-being of the police officers, their families and the civil workers as well. They are available and present at all ceremonies, graduations, police funerals, awards and available for counseling. They provide workshops on stress reduction and meditation. Chaplains address each new class of recruits, in small groups, prior to graduation. They reflect upon the sacredness of their professions. Rabbi Moss emphasizes to them, “this is not just a salary or a pension, you know better than anyone that this is a profession of a higher calling.” He continues to say, “when they leave their homes every day, they don’t know if they will be coming home. It is important that these officers know that we pray for them each and every day.”

Earlier this year Deacon John Trodden was promoted from Chaplain Inspector to Deputy Chief Chaplain by the Chief of Police, Stuart Cameron. John is a Roman Catholic Deacon, ordained 25 years ago. John has been a Chaplain for 12 years and serves as a Deacon at St. Josephs in Kings Park.  “Our role and the mission of the SCPD Chaplains is to assemble the men and women of our department and let them know that we care for them, we are thinking and praying for them daily. Everyone has a story to tell and cops have very special stories to tell. I am here to listen – and to show them they have a friend, confidante and prayer partner. There is a lot going on in today’s world and it’s not all good – with every job and organization there are bad apples. The great majority of officers in the SCPD are amazing men and women who put their lives on the line every single day. Working with the SCPD officers and their families is a privilege and my way of paying back. I have two sons in law enforcement, Peter and James. I am so proud of them, and feel equally proud of every person in SCPD.”

The last thing that Deputy Chief Trodden shared with me was about purposeful loitering. “You loiter and move around from group to group, purposely and in prayer. Some people don’t reach out for the help they need so we have to be sensitive and present.” He continued, “Chaplain Steve Unger has taught me so much. He is so full of God and is the most inspiring role model we could have in this department. It is comforting to know that he is on the front lines with first responders.”

Chaplain Steve Unger concluded by saying that it was important to know that he feels spiritually aligned with the Suffolk County PBA. He suggested that their missions are the same, that the common goals are to take care of their members and to give them everything they need to lead a fulfilled and happy life. “The police officers and civilian workers do so much for all of us, it is the least we can do for them.” May God bless us all.