Chaplains help police ‘do their work’

The Rev. Tere Johnson is one of four volunteer chaplains

We’re all familiar with the work of


They are ministers or other designated religious people who are
assigned to provide spiritual support in secular institutions like
hospitals, prisons, schools or even the United States Congress.
We’re all familiar with the work of “chaplains.” They are ministers or other designated religious people who are assigned to provide spiritual support in secular institutions like hospitals, prisons, schools or even the United States Congress.

Like many other law enforcement agencies, the Morgan Hill Police Department has a volunteer chaplain corps. Presently, four clergymen rotate monthly to provide help to victims of crime or people in other crisis situations. Members of this group are Dave Whitaker and Tere Johnson (Morgan Hill Bible Church), Mike Burchfield (West Hills Community Church) and Larry McElvain (Morgan Hill Bible Church and Discovery Counseling Center).

There are many situations in which a trained chaplain’s assistance is helpful to both police officers and witnesses or victims:

– Suicides

– Accidental deaths

– Abductions

– Domestic violence incidents

– Death notifications

– Other volatile situations.

Volunteer chaplains are under the supervision of Cmdr. Joe Sampson. Each individual selected has had years of pastoral experience followed by six weeks of ride-alongs in a squad car with a field-training officer. There is also written material to study that explains crime scene procedures and other rules that must be followed. Chaplains are issued uniforms with identification signifying their role with the police department.

Morgan Hill resident Tere Johnson has been a police department chaplain for nearly a year and considers it “a great opportunity to give back to the community.” After a 25-year career with IBM, Johnson felt called to a role that would allow him to help others.

After receiving a degree from William Jessup University, Johnson became the executive pastor at Gilroy’s South Valley Community Church. He now serves as director of community groups at Morgan Hill Bible Church, facilitating and coordinating the many small group opportunities available to members of this congregation.

Recently there was a widely publicized child abduction in Morgan Hill. A mother picking up food at the Reach Out center behind St. Catherine’s Church left both her keys and her infant in the car. When she returned, the car had disappeared.

Johnson was summoned to the police station to help comfort the distraught parents, but by the time he arrived the car and child had been safely recovered. Still, he was able to share a group hug when the parents heard the happy news and also offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the safe resolution.

Johnson stands ready to support people of all faiths or no faith, saying that he doesn’t “lead in with Jesus,” but tries to “reflect the peace and comfort Jesus can bring to those who are suffering.” He is available to offer follow-up services like counseling sessions or conducting funerals when appropriate.

Johnson has been impressed with quality of the sworn officers in Morgan Hill, saying that they are not just there “to give tickets” but “to help the community and support the citizens. They have positive attitudes and show respect during their interactions with the residents.”

The Morgan Hill Police Department had a chaplain corps several years ago, but the program gradually disbanded. In 2006, Cmdr. Sampson decided to reinstitute it because he saw the effectiveness of such programs in other departments where he had served.

He points out that the chaplains also exist to meet the needs of the police staff, both with professional problems and personal crises. They can provide such services as grief counseling to officers as well as officiating at funerals of officers killed in the line of duty.

Any pastor or other religious worker who would like to know more about this chaplaincy program or become involved can call the MHPD at (408) 776-7315.

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