PRINCETON—Tragic, emotional or shocking—whatever the circumstances, Princeton Police Department has a resource in a new police chaplain to help deal with situations most people can't imagine.
PPD Chief Derek McGraw says Pastor Andrew Johnson of New Life Church of the Nazarene has been tapped to serve on a spiritual level for the department as well as the city of Princeton.
“We see a lot of stuff—a lot of bad stuff—and people every day ask us all the time ‘how do you deal with that? or how do you sleep at night?’” McGraw said.
“(Johnson) is another tool in the tool belt, and you can’t go wrong if you have God in the picture,” he added.
McGraw says he can't recall a time when the department had the position.
“I don’t know that we have ever had one,” he said.
Johnson’s main role will be assisting officers and victims in emotional situations or events.
McGraw says there are other resources the department utilizes in times of crisis, including Deaconess Concern, a confidential counseling service. But he says the chaplain position brings an added religious aspect.
“He would be a great calming presence any time there is an event like the recent (Lindsey Fleck) murder — which was a very bad scene — or a wreck where there is a fatality, or child death,” he said.
“One of the hardest things we have to do is deliver death notifications," he said. "At that point, that person’s life has just been flipped upside down, whether it's the death of a child, spouse or parent. We are trained to deal with that type of stuff, but at that point it’s not just the cops, there is a minister available as well.”
McGraw says not everyone has someone they can call in times of need, and is confident Johnson is perfect for the job.
“When we were discussing the idea, he's the first person that came to my mind,” McGraw said. “He’s a great guy, he's young, he's energetic and the officers really like him.”
The chaplain is a volunteer position, approved by the Princeton Police Merit Board.
Johnson says he couldn't be more excited to help in any way he can, even if it means he is technically "on call" 24/7.
“If nothing else if I could just be a relaxing presence for our officers, or people involved in incidents— I’m happy to be there, even if all I can do at the moment is stand on the road and start praying," Johnson said.
"...We have lived here for four years and have really developed a heart and love for Princeton, so when (McGraw) asked me to do it, I absolutely wanted to.
"I think God wants peace to enter into destructive moments, He doesn't want to see anyone being abused or make a decision they will regret."
Johnson sees it as an opportunity to encourage and offer individual support to the officers, as well as serve members of the community.
He says whether an officer is getting married, if one of their family member passes away, or if they just need to chat, he is just a phone call or car ride away.
"I just want to help them as much as they need or as little as they want," he said. "Our officers may not want involvement from a chaplain and I’m not looking to overwhelm them or pressure them in any way. I just have such a respect for them and everything they do.
"Any opportunity I have to be a conduit for God's love and power to show up—that's what I’m called to do."