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story.lead_photo.caption John Powell, pastor at Briarwood Baptist Church in Cabot, is the new chaplain for the Austin Police Department. He is pictured with his wife, Susie. - Photo by Mark Buffalo

AUSTIN — Austin Chief of Police Rick Anderson is a veteran of the Little Rock Police Department, as well as the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office. During his time there, he worked with police chaplains and believed that his new department could benefit from having one.

So John Powell, pastor at Briarwood Baptist Church in Cabot, volunteered his services to the Austin Police Department, and he was confirmed by the Austin City Council two weeks ago.

“They have always had chaplains,” Anderson said of his previous employers. “They’ve been a part of my whole career.”

During a recent City Council meeting, Anderson spoke about the need for having a chaplain, especially since he had delivered the news of a death while making a call as a 21-year-old rookie officer.

“I had that chaplain with me, and the shift commander made a comment that ‘Rick can go and deliver the death message because he has the chaplain with him,’” Anderson said. “I go to church, and it made it 100 percent better. In this day and time, divorce rates are terrible. Police officers also have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). We can go to counseling if we need to.”

Anderson said having an official chaplain for the department can be beneficial for the officers because it gives them someone to talk to as well, in addition to the chaplain helping with calls the officers go on.

“It can be very helpful for the officers if something happens like a critical incident — a house fire or something,” Anderson said. “Even though it’s a small community, having a chaplain on board is a good thing. If we have to deliver a death message, it’s a close network. Everybody knows everybody around here.

“And if an officer is having issues or family issues, or whatever, and would like to talk to the chaplain, that would be great.”

Powell, who moved to the area two years ago from Texas, got familiar with Austin through Mayor Bernie Chamberlain, who attends Powell’s church.

“Over the past few years when a need came up, they hollered at me,” Powell said. “The chief before Chief Anderson really didn’t want a chaplain.”

Powell added that he would get occasional calls from city officials to do work for them.

“I was always willing to go,” he said. “Chief Anderson was wanting to make it more of a deal where I could ride with the officers and be a help to them. Austin has grown quite a bit over the past few years.

“I live in Cabot, and my church is in Cabot. But the Cabot Police Department already had a really good chaplain. I just offered my services to Austin, and they took me up on it.”

Powell received a chaplain’s badge from the Austin Police Department.

“That was at the last City Council meeting,” he said. “I was honored to be asked to do this and be available to do this. It’s a small city, and there are a lot of business openings that I went to.”

In addition to being a pastor, Powell has driven a school bus for the Cabot School District and for Arrow Coach in Little Rock.

Powell and his wife, Susie, have two sons who live in the area. Micah is a family pastor at a church in Bryant, and Caleb is in the National Guard in Little Rock.

“That’s how we ended up here,” Powell said.

Anderson said he isn’t qualified to pick a chaplain, saying that he would never want to say one pastor is better than another.

“He volunteered,” Anderson said of Powell. “He was willing to help. I actually started going to church with them for the past five months, and I just loved this man to death. He’s very knowledgeable spiritually and educated, and he is a very caring individual.”

Anderson said having Powell as the chaplain is similar to another resource or tool that an officer has.

“I believe it’s a tool that we can use to better the citizens and to also help the police officers,” Anderson said.

Staff writer Mark Buffalo can be reached at (501) 399-3676 or mbuffalo@arkansasonline.com.

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