Eastpointe police chaplain makes academy a countywide success

By: Sara Kandel | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published February 20, 2012

MACOMB COUNTY — When James Friedman started his career as a chaplain at the Eastpointe Police Department six years ago, there wasn’t much of a blueprint to follow.

He was there to offer spiritual/inspirational counseling and support to the officers. To succeed in that, though, he’d have to better understand just what the officers go through on a daily basis. He decided he should enlist in a training program, but there were none around. So he took it upon himself to get one going.

Through the department, Friedman went through reserve officer training and then inundated himself in every aspect of public safety.

“There was really nothing out there that targeted the needs of a chaplain in public safety, as far as how to handle themselves when out with the officers, familiarizing themselves with police tactics and things such as that,” he said.

“So I decided I would do a little bit of everything and learn it all. And when I’m there, I do it all; I have a full uniform and body armor. I go out with the guys on all three shifts. I’ve gone out with the guys on undercover work. I’ve had the chance to interact with the public. I do invocations and prayers and offer spiritual support.”

He even expanded his chaplaincy to include St. Clair Shores.

And all of his experience eventually gave him an idea: an academy for chaplains — a place chaplains or men and women interested in becoming chaplains could go to learn all the things that he had picked up over the years and that would certify them for their efforts in the profession.

In 2009, Friedman presented the idea to the principals at the Macomb Criminal Justice Training Center. They loved it.

“We put some things together not knowing how it would work out,” he said. “But it’s done well, real well.”

The Macomb Public Service Chaplain Academy opened in 2010, offering a nine-week certification course and graduating 29 students. It grew to 11 weeks and 38 students in 2011.

Now, in its third year running, the program has been stretched out even longer with an additional four weeks, but class sizes were scaled back to 30 students.

Among those students are fire, police, hospital, hospice and UAW chaplains, police officers, people interested in becoming chaplains in the future and others who just want to take in all that the academy has to offer.

“We decided to open it up to everybody because the techniques taught here can be used anywhere,” Friedman said.

Students at the academy are trained in self-defense, firearm familiarization, criminal law, stress management, first-aid, CPR, drug awareness, crime scene investigation, interpersonal communication and suicide prevention.

A new topic is taught each week, and by the end of the 15-week period, students graduate with a certification in police chaplaincy.

Friedman is constantly adding new courses and material to the academy, and for some students, the new material has just enough draw to get them coming back for another round after graduation.

Chaplain Dave Mansfield of the Birmingham Fire Department is one of those students. This is his third time going through the academy.

“I went through the first academy and really enjoyed it and ended up going through a second time the next year with my wife, who is also a chaplain, to keep her company and pick up on any material I might have missed,” Mansfield said. “This time, I’m going through to prepare to teach at the academy next year.”

With the help of people like Mansfield, enrollment in 2013 could widen to allow as many as 45 students in a further-expanded 16-week program.

So far, 13 students are already signed up for the 2013 program, and as the word gets out about the courses, training and networking opportunities the academy offers, it is sure to continue growing.

“We were going to just run it every other year, but demand has been so high that we even have students coming in from as far as Ingham County,” Friedman said. “It’s just been really good, and I think it will be really good, for the communities too because we are helping equipped chaplains with the ability to really go in and bring something positive to the department.”