GENESEO — Establishing a chaplain program for the Geneseo Police Department was a top priority for Casey Disterhoft when he was named police chief last year.
The program got started earlier this year when the Rev. Steve Palm, pastor at Geneseo Evangelical Church, and the Rev. Dave Murphy, pastor at Geneseo First Baptist Church, agreed to work in a volunteer capacity to provide counseling and emotional support for first responders.
“Having been with the Geneseo Police Department for over 20 years, I always saw a need for a program that allows for the mental and spiritual health of all personnel involved in traumatic incidents,” Disterhoft said.
In addition to counseling Geneseo police officers, Disterhoft said, the chaplains are available to help local firefighters, emergency medical technicians and any other people who might respond to an accident, as well as family members, victims and members of the public.
“The personnel in my department respond to a myriad of calls,” the chief said. “Some of those calls are inconceivable to the general public. Whether it be an officer responding to a scene, a telecommunicator receiving emergency phone calls, or hearing emergency radio traffic, it can be the worst day in someone’s life, and can definitely stick in an individual’s mind.”
“It is important to provide an outlet to help them cope with what they have seen and heard,” he said. “If we don’t give everyone an option to have some outlet, then we are failing them. ... The chaplain program gives personnel someone who is readily available and who is linked with the Geneseo Police Department.”
Disterhoft said even though the program is in its early stages, there have already been benefits, citing a recent accident in a church parking lot that led to the deah of a 3-year-old boy.
"With the recent call to the parking lot at First Lutheran Church, we were able to call on one of the pastors and have them attend a debriefing for all personnel who were involved. There is a calming effect when that happens — when we have someone invested in our well-being.”
The primary purpose of having a chaplain program is for support of department personnel. Disterhoft said, “The pastors can be called to debriefings, solo support, or if there is a major incident, they can be called to a secondary scene to provide support for everyone there.”
“The support also involves assisting in building stronger community relationships with the citizens and police department,” he said.
The police department policy manual states "a primary qualification for participation should be an interest in and ability to assist the department in serving the public,” Disterhoft said. He added that he believes having the chaplain program is another opportunity to serve the public.
Gene Karzine, Geneseo assistant police chief, oversees the chaplain program, and his responsibilities include eventually developing an on-call schedule for the two pastors, searching for and scheduling training opportunities, continued updating of the chaplain police, and making recommendations for potential chaplains for the program.
Currently, the pastors are notified of a need by either Disterhoft or Karzin.
Rev. Palm is a native of New York City and served churches in New York and Florida before being called to serve Geneseo Evangelical Free Church in 2014. He has been in ministry for 30 years and currently is president of the Geneseo Ministerial Association and vice president of the Quad Cities Association of Evangelicals. He and his wife, Cindy, have a son and a daughter.
In commenting about the police department’s chaplain program, Palm said, “The concept for a police chaplain program began with Chief Casey last year when I was called by city officials to contact Chief Casey about coming to the police station to pray with first responders after they had responded to a tragic accident on Interstate 80. After that meeting, I realized how much Geneseo could benefit from a fully developed chaplaincy program.”
Rev. Murphy was born in Indiana and spent 25 years serving a congregation in Long Beach, Calif., before accepting a call to serve as pastor at First Baptist Church in Geneseo in 2016.
He and his wife, Michelle, have two adult daughters.
Murphy said, “Centuries ago the military used chaplains as an aid to community relations, death notifications, crisis intervention, and to strengthen the officer’s well-being. It is my hope that I can be a help and an encouragement to our fine officers and a source of comfort in time of need to the great community of Geneseo.”