Clergy take faith to streets to cut crime

First year of alliance with police celebrated

July 29, 1999|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

Taking their work from the church sanctuary to the streets, a group of ministers has forged an alliance with the Baltimore Police Department to reduce crime and violence in the inner city.

Last night, in a gathering that at times took on overtones of a Pentecostal revival, officers and clergy celebrated the first birthday of Community Liaison Ministers, a program that trains church leaders in police work and pastoral counseling and then sends them back to their communities.

"We are onto something," Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier said. "And the ability of the Police Department and the faith community to come together to make your city a better place to live and work and raise your families is a potential that has not been maximized."

Frazier told the gathering he would attend a meeting in Washington today of the nation's big-city police chiefs, who will bring along prominent clergy from their communities. Frazier will be accompanied to the meeting by the Rev. Theresa E. Smith Mercer, a Baptist minister who works as the Baltimore Police Department's chaplain coordinator. Monsignor Jeremiah F. Kenney, a Catholic priest with the Archdiocese of Baltimore, will also make the trip.

Together, the officers and preachers will discuss the possibilities of police-church collaboration. Frazier said he would promote Baltimore's program as something other cities could duplicate.

Mercer is the catalyst behind the local Community Liaison Ministers.

She said, "Being a part of the Police Department and an auxiliary police officer, I thought it would benefit the ministers in the community if they could have a better working knowledge of the Police Department."

In addition, Mercer recognized that many ministers and other church leaders lacked the professional divinity school training, including courses in pastoral counseling, that might enable them to better serve their communities.

With the help of Police Department personnel, Mercer developed a 10-week training program that included police ride-alongs for ministers, an explanation of the Police Department and court system, and background information on youth violence and drug trafficking. The program also offers training in pastoral counseling.

Community Liaison Ministers has graduated nearly 100 church leaders, who will become part of the Police Department's community ministerial leadership network. Another class begins in September.

The idea is to get church leaders outside of their buildings and into the community.

"It would be good if we could gain the trust of the community so [people] could come to us before they got into trouble," Mercer said. "Too often the faith community is internal. And this is a way for us to reach beyond the soup kitchen, reach beyond the clothes closet, reach into the lives of the community first hand."

Pub Date: 7/29/99

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