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Joint Employee Assistance Programs.

In 1997, when a young woman in Union, South Carolina, reported her two sons abducted, she simultaneously helped provide the genesis of a statewide chaplaincy and, later, a full-fledged employee assistance program. The mother received a life sentence for drowning her children to advance an extramarital affair gone bad. Numerous law enforcement officers from many jurisdictions worked on this case, which drew national attention. Union County sheriff's deputies, State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) agents, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officers, highway patrol troopers, and other law enforcement personnel worked hard to investigate the crime, search for the children, and recover their bodies.

In the aftermath of this incident, a group of law enforcement leaders in Columbia, South Carolina, realized that such horrific trauma takes a serious toll on both veteran and rookie officers. A powerful statement supporting this conclusion came from one of the DNR divers, who, though accustomed to the recovery of bodies in boating accidents, stated, "you think you get over it, but you just don't." These leaders formed a study group, which recommended the establishment of a statewide law enforcement chaplaincy with a professional staff.

Establishing the Chaplaincy

Originally established as a volunteer program at SLED, the chaplaincy obtained victim assistance grant funding with a $355,985 initial award. [1] The grant enabled the chaplaincy to hire three employees--two ordanied clergy and one clinical social worker. When the program started, it primarily supported sworn staff members dealing with the effects of high stress critical incidents.

SLED, DNR, and the Departments of Public Safety (DPS) and Probation, Pardon and Parole (PPP) considered the work of the chaplaincy and decided to continue it as an expanded program to assist civilians, as well as sworn members of the four agencies. Each agency realized it did not have an employee assistance program (EAP) and interest evolved in that direction. Because March 31, 2000, marked the end of the grant, the agencies needed a new funding source. Managers of the four agencies decided their departments could support a program better collectively than on an individual basis.

Knowing that combined effort in a task force can maximize the resources of participating organizations, the agencies determined that sharing the operation of a joint employee assistance program would prove effective. Subsequently, SLED, DPS, DNR, and PPP committed to establishing and maintaining an employee assistance program to advance the welfare of their employees and to sharing the cost of providing this service.

Adding Employee Assistance

Five organizations signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on January 21, 2000, to create the South Carolina Law Enforcement Assistance Program (SCLEAP). Four state agencies and the law Enforcement Chaplaincy for South Carolina (LECSC) comprise the organization. The LECSC is registered with the IRS as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit entity, serves as a foundation, and performs related tasks for the SCLEAP. It has a governing board of leaders from local, state, and federal law enforcement, as well as private citizens who represent community leaders with diverse backgrounds. The chaplaincy board acts in an advisory capacity to SCLEAP and initiated the process leading to its creation.

The concept for the SCLEAP initiative is simple. Multiple agencies with a mutual need to provide employees with special support associated with stressful duty enter into a jointly funded program. In the South Carolina program, participating agencies pay an equal share to support the staff and provide operating funds.

Implementing Duties

The SCLEAP staff has facilitated critical incident debriefings, responded to critical incidents in support of officers and victims, provided a pastoral care to officers and family members, and referred officers to other professional resources. In an incident involving a workplace shooting, law enforcement chaplains provided critical incident care follow-up and referrals for approximately 300 witnesses. This police-sponsored intervention greatly facilitated relations between police and victims/witnesses.

Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina, held the first interagency postcritical incident seminar (PCIS) in conjunction with LECSC. The FBI designed the PCIS model to assist agents with handling the effects of critical incident stress. [2] The chaplaincy borrowed this concept and applied it on an interagency basis with both state and local officers meeting with trained law enforcement peer supporters, mental health professionals, and chaplains. Participants received information on trauma, patterns of resolution, and field-tested coping strategies to promote recovery and resilience.

SCLEAP regularly supports DNR law enforcement officers while they conduct search and rescue or search and recovery missions. In this capacity, DNR officers usually encounter family members of the victim who come to the scene and inadvertently hamper operations. Chaplains intercede to comfort and control the relatives, allowing officers to do their work.

Similarly, SCLEAP chaplains work with the SLED special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team to counsel hostages and to calm family members, as well as witnesses to serious incidents. Chaplains don armor vests and respond to SWAT calls that involve barricaded suspects, subjects who are mentally disturbed, or multiple victims. The chaplains help reassure neighbors or other individuals who show concern about or become suspicious of police tactical operations. Additionally, SCLEAP chaplains respond to incidents of trooper-involved shootings, certain vehicular pursuits, and related incidents. Due to the size of the highway patrol and its parent agency, DPS, response on behalf of DPS is becoming frequent. Likewise, support for the PPP will grow as that agency begins to use SCLEAP services.

Additionally, plans exist for chaplains to support officers sent to natural disasters. During hurricanes or other disaster where officers leave for extended duty they may have concerns or worries regarding the welfare and safety of family left at home. The chaplains will check on officers' families who experience difficulties and, where possible, facilitate support to these families and report to the officers in the disaster area.

Providing Services

All services begun under the chaplaincy have continued under the MOU with additional ones added. The SCLEAP provides a full-time professional staff, whose members have master's degrees or above, on a 24-hour, 7-day basis to assist all employees and their families. Also, the SCLEAP staff coordinates a trained critical incident stress debriefing and peer support team from partner agencies. The SCLEAP staff furnishes a confidential system of care and referral for employees and family members to therapeutic resources in areas of need, such as alcohol and other drug problems, mental health issues, and family and marital counseling. They visit sick or injured personnel and provide notification, in accordance with procedures of each agency, to families of personnel who have received serious injuries or who have died in the course of employment. Also, they act as a liaison between partner agencies and civic and religious leaders, while providing support and assistance for victim advocacy services and community relations.

While the MOU provides the framework for the program, partner agencies designate members to serve on a, governing committee. The partner agencies agreed that, to ensure efficient administration, one agency should serve as the host agency and govern the program as an official function of that agency. The SCLEAP staff must meet all applicable state, personnel rules and regulations. The designated representatives assemble at least annually to decide the course of operations and whether they should make any changes.

The location of SCLEAP's office space represents an important aspect of the program. Some employees are more likely to seek assistance without their peers' knowledge, therefore agencies intentionally found office space in an area away from the four agencies. Moreover, individuals involved with this program believe some employees more willingly will accept or seek assistance offered by members of the clergy, rather than mental health professionals. chaplains refer employees to other counseling as appropriate, and sometimes they convince a reluctant employee to get help that they would not seek otherwise.

Another vital part of the success of the program hinges on the ability of the staff to be perceived as "one of their own" by each participating agency although actually serving all partner agencies. The SCLEAP staff works carefully to understand and respect the common law enforcement experience and the individuality of each agency. While part of a universal brotherhood, a sense of uniqueness remains important to the partner agencies.


The South Carolina Law Enforcement Assistance Program and its chaplain staff provides support and assistance to member agency personnel, but does not proselytize or spread a religious message or personal agenda. The program provides alternative services for employees and facilitates the exercise for First Amendment rights under proper conditions. When member agencies call for support, it must be for secular reasons, and when an employee calls for assistance, it must be for whatever the employee needs and requests. The setting in which the activity takes place and the person on whose behalf the request for service is made represent key issues.

Multiagency operations make the most efficient use of existing resources. The approach proves as useful for employee assistance programs as it does for law enforcement operations. The success of the joint program depends on staff members who understand the culture of the law enforcement organizations and the personnel they serve.

Major Huguley serves with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Divison in Columbia.


(1.) This sum includes $100,000 that funded the production of a national teleconference on law enforcement trauma entitled "The Rusting Badge."

(2.) Vincent J. McNally and Roger M. Solomon, "The FBI's Critical Incident Stress Management Program," FBI Law Enforcement Bulletion, February 1999, 20-25.
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Article Details
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Author:Huguley, Mark
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Geographic Code:1U5SC
Date:Nov 1, 2000
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