Pastor Claudio Consuegra wants to replicate himself, and quickly.
The Seventh-day Adventist minister is the lead chaplain for the Prince George’s County Police Department, and he wants to boost the ranks of chaplains from five to 17.
Mr. Consuegra has served for 35 years as a volunteer police chaplain, the past 10 with the Prince George’s force. With the exception of a few paid police chaplains in cities such as New York and Los Angeles, he said, “all chaplains that serve the police department are volunteers.” Those who join his squad would be volunteers as well.
He said Prince George’s County has the second-largest police department in Maryland. “I think it’s somewhere around the 25th largest in the country, somewhere around 1,400 police officers, eight districts, and yet we only have five chaplains for 1,400 officers.”
He said the department does provide some psychological services to officers, but “from the spiritual side, it is obviously vastly underserved.”
By the end of the year, Mr. Consuegra hopes to recruit two chaplains for each of the department’s eight districts that serve the county’s estimated 909,000 residents. After that, he wants to add chaplains for the specialized units, including the investigative unit, an aviation unit and a unit devoted to human trafficking cases.
“So we eventually could have anywhere from 30 to 40 to 50 chaplains, but at least the initial target is the eight districts. That’s what we’re working toward,” Mr. Consuegra said.
Chaplain candidates can come from any faith background, but they must have at least a bachelor’s degree in religion or theology, he said. They would have to live in the county or have a congregation in the county.
“Our work is to serve all the officers regardless of their religious conviction or no religious conviction. We are only to serve at the spiritual level. We don’t discriminate based on a religious or a nonreligious belief,” Mr. Consuegra said.
The pastor said law enforcement officers carry stresses other first responders may not.
“Firefighters are seen as the heroes,” Mr. Consuegra said. “They’re the ones that rescue the cats and put out the fires and help people. Police officers are seen as the bad people. They are the ones that arrest people. They’re the ones that have to take people to jail.”
Having to deal with “some of the worst there is in society,” as Mr. Consuegra put it, can take its toll on officers. Chaplains are not there to proselytize, he said, but to offer solidarity and spiritual support.
“As chaplains, we help them to process through some of their stress,” he said. “As we ride along with the cops, we offer them the opportunity to vent their feelings, their concerns, their fears, their frustrations, their anger in a safe environment because we’re in the car. Nobody knows what we’re talking about. And we don’t report to anyone. It’s all confidential.”
The Rev. Richard Hartman, executive secretary of the International Association of Police Chaplains, said the calling to serve law enforcement is important. The chaplain can help officers “be better citizens in our communities at large.”
Mr. Hartman, a police chaplain in Fort Wayne, Indiana, also pastors the Epiphany Lutheran Church there. He said the association has 2,700 members, the majority of whom are in the United States. He said his local department has expanded its chaplaincy corps since 2019.
“Only a year and a half ago, we had three chaplains to cover half a million people in the city of Fort Wayne and 500 officers in our community,” Mr. Hartman said. “We now have 14 chaplains covering that same [area] there. And it makes it much easier, and we can get into a much better relationship with our officers and community because we have those connections to local congregations.”
Mr. Consuegra, whose day job is leading family ministries for the Adventist church’s North American headquarters in Columbia, Maryland, with his wife, Pamela, said those interested in applying for the police chaplaincy program can email PGPD_chaplainprogram@co.pg.md.us.