Sgt. Jake Kissel did not think many officers of the Brookhaven Police Department would be willing to participate in the Adopt-A-Cop ministry started last year by Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church.

Those in law enforcement tend to be private individuals, he said, and he predicted not many would want to be “adopted” by a local family that would promise to pray for them every day, send them letters of encouragement, write them emails or invite them to their home.

Sarah Cash with Maj. Don Chase after recently taking him for a birthday lunch. (Special)

“Now to see the connection between the officers and the parishioners … it is really blowing my mind,” he said.

Kissel heads up the department’s community policing program with the mission of building relationships between residents and officers. The program also organizes such events as Coffee with a Cop and Shop with a Badge, an annual event where officers take underprivileged children Christmas shopping.

More than 50 officers at BPD have signed up to participate in the local Adopt-A-Cop program and the ministry has moved for many beyond just an occasional card and prayer to even create intimate friendships, he said.

“To see officers go out to be with families on their own time, taking their time off to be with their adopted families … just makes my job easier,” Kissel said.

The Adopt-A-Cop ministry is a national one started in 1998 by a police chaplain in Michigan. There are now 70 Adopt-A-Cop chapters across the U.S. and in other countries, according to the ministry’s website.

Kissel works directly with Anne Stephens, communications chair for OLA and the Adopt-A-Cop manager at her church.

Last year, she “adopted” a rookie officer, David Pawlowski, and now, she said, he is like a son to her.

“He sent me a Mother’s Day card that made me cry,” she said. He has no family nearby, so the two also often go out to lunch and dinner, she said.

Anne Stephens of Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church with Officer David Pawlowski after he graduated from the police academy. (Special)

But not all relationships are so friendly. Stephens said she’s adopted another officer who is fine just accepting prayers.

“Some only want prayers. Some don’t want a personal relationship and that’s fine,” she said. “We want the program to be what each individual officer wants.”

Sarah Cash and her husband, Audey, and children Aaron and Ainsley have adopted Maj. Don Chase. The major has attended several of their children’s functions at the OLA school and a close friendship has evolved over the past year.

“I’m the daughter of a former Marine and was taught it is always important to show appreciation and be grateful for those who serve our community,” Cash said. “We would always take a moment to say a prayer when we heard a siren, but now it is very personal.”

Chase said he was hesitant to participate in the ministry at first because he is not Catholic, but learned the ministry is not meant to push religion on the officers.

“It’s meant to have the community support you,” he said. “What I like is we can meet other people and also represent the Brookhaven Police Department and the city.”

Sgt. Kissel said programs like the Adopt-A-Cop also create a relationship between the police department and the community so when a crisis does occur, such as a fatal police shooting, the department knows the community will be fully behind them.

He said a climate of media scrutiny on fatal police shootings can bring unrest to communities and cities. If such an incident occurs in Brookhaven, he said, having a relationship that builds trust with the parishioners at OLA and throughout the community makes sure officers will be supported.

“One day we will have to call on our community to back us up and without a shadow of a doubt they will,” he said. “It’s a testament to programs like this.”

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.