It was an honour to be appointed as a volunteer police chaplain to Victoria Police in 2018. The Chaplaincy department falls under the larger wellbeing department of Victoria Police and involves working with both police members of all faiths (and non-faith) and backgrounds… As police chaplains, we do not hold an official rank, so members can talk to us without worrying that the information they share will affect their promotion. In each of our designated stations, we provide pastoral care, a listening ear, or just simply say hello and see how the police members are doing.
My first placement was as a chaplain at the Moorabbin and Bayside Police Stations, and at the end of 2021, I transferred to the Oakleigh Police Station. On average, I visit the station once a fortnight and walk through the various sections, visiting the various departments within. I have many quick and short conversations and then there are those who require a longer discussion, during which I may spend an hour talking about an issue they wish to discuss.
People often ask me what inspired or motivated me to take on this role. I recall my time as rabbi at the North Eastern Jewish Centre in Doncaster, and it had a significant influence on my decision to take on this position. While I was rabbi of the NEJC, I had quite a lot of interaction with the local Doncaster Police, as well as many interactions with the local members in regards to the Shule’s security. As I became friends with a few of the local members, I gained a broader understanding of the incredible work that police members do. I saw how much effort they put in every day they wear the uniform, and it is a thankless job most of the time. I befriended one officer who happened to be Jewish and arranged for him to attend a Birthright trip to Israel, and a few years later I was honoured to officiate at his wedding. He has since become a great friend and I have been able to gain an inside perspective on what it’s like to be a police officer. It was therefore such a great pleasure and honour to have been offered the position of police chaplain after Rabbi Shmuel Karnowsky, who was already serving as a police chaplain, suggested my name to the Senior Chaplain for the role. I accepted the offer without hesitation and have been glad to do so ever since.
I have noticed that most people are unaware of what police officers go through, what they see or are exposed to every day. As a rabbi, I witnessed a horrific incident some years ago and I remember how the police responded. They were professional, empathic, and diligent. I personally found the incident very traumatic and it illustrated the variety of incidents they see and the challenges they face as they try to process all they come across.
I completed my Masters Degree in Counselling and Psychotherapy in 2015. My thesis project for the Master’s program examined the effects of rabbis’ ministry on their mental health. I discovered that many of the professions at the forefront of combating mental illness and caring for others – such as nurses, police officers and psychologists – are susceptible to mental illness themselves. With clergy from other faith groups the impact of their work on their mental wellbeing has been well researched. It reveals burnout, compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma and many other problems. It has shown the need for ongoing supervision, exercise, holidays, caseload management and other strategies to prevent these risks. Mental wellbeing is now regarded as a standard practice in many of these professions.
Police members would be highly susceptible to these risks but as a Victoria Police chaplain, I am continually pleased and impressed by how much emphasis is placed on the mental health and wellbeing of Victoria’s finest. Many senior police officers have told me that this was not the case when they were younger officers. There is a whole department dedicated to wellbeing. There was a great deal of taboo surrounding these topics and they were pleased that there had been a shift in thinking. Although there are still many who are uncomfortable with discussing these matters, the fact that this is now in place is encouraging.
As someone who has been in this role for four years, I can say that the most rewarding part of the job is knowing that you may have helped even in a small way the great women and men of Victoria Police. I feel a sense of accomplishment each time I visit my station because I know that I am helping those who do so much for our Victorian community. I remember one officer asking if I did marriage counselling. Our conversation lasted a while as I offered him some guidance regarding his relationship. The exciting thing is that you never know what topic might be raised. Whether it is a member about to retire after 40 years on the job and wants to talk about how difficult retirement might be for them, or an issue with their children or they have recently suffered a bereavement.
There was a tragic accident on the Eastern Freeway that killed four police officers, and I still remember it vividly. During those first few days following the accident I was able to see how close and strong a family Victoria Police is. Seeing the community’s well wishes and love for all of the stations across Victoria was also very heartwarming.
I am very grateful to be able to serve in this role, and I hope to continue to do so for many years to come and contribute in some small way to those who do such big things for our community.
Rabbi Daniel Rabin is the Senior Rabbi of Caulfield Shule. He is the immediate past president of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria. Rabbi Rabin holds a Masters Degree in Counselling and Psychotherapy and is passionate about mental health and well-being and incorporates promoting a healthy well-being in all the work that he does in the community.