Fort Worth Trains Ministers to Increase Public Safety
By Fort Worth Mayor Kenneth L. Barr
May 13, 2002
Ministers Against Crime
Building on the Fort Worth Police Department's highly successful Citizens Police Academy, the city developed a 12-week police academy specifically designed to suit the needs of ministerial volunteers from inner-city neighborhoods. In May, 1996, twelve graduates of the Ministers Police Academy formed a Ministers Against Crime (MAC) program. Goals of this program include assisting police officers in non-traditional roles, assisting in domestic situations where a minister is requested or needed, offering victim assistance, calming crowds before they escalate to violence, and restoring peace and tranquility to neighborhoods.
The communities served by MAC have several target neighborhoods that house an inordinate number of youth at risk of violence, gang membership and drug use. In addition to partnership between the police and MAC, ministerial volunteers work with grass roots organizations to provide specialized training for at-risk youth on a consultant basis.
As with the Citizens on Patrol program, MAC members are provided information, radios and distinctive clothing to identify their relationship with the department. Officers are similarly educated on the purpose of MAC activities and encouraged to welcome their presence.
Development of the Values-Based Center
The Ministers Against Crime Values-Based Center is a natural progression of the MAC program. Started in October, 2000, with the awarding of COPS grant funding to the MAC program, the Center establishes a church in the target community to serve as a training and resource center. A satellite center is then created in the community. A principal goal is to expand the MAC membership to 32 ministers, drawing from remaining under-served areas of the city.
The program also placed an administrative assistant at the principal site, Pilgrim Valley Baptist Church, in the city's East Division. The site is used as a meeting place for MAC and police department representatives to exchange information, a training center for individuals wishing to join Citizens on Patrol and a staging area for MAC and COPS activities.
MAC members patrol neighborhoods to spot potential trouble spots and assist officers in keeping the peace, participate with schools in bringing a high visibility of members of campus and preventing violence during crises, and provide a spiritual connection to members of the police department and the community. The Community Liaison Office of the police department serves as liaison to MAC and works with the MAC board and Neighborhood Police Officers (NPOs) in the communities being served.
As of October, 2001, the number of MAC members has expanded to twenty-two.
Major Lessons Helpful to Mayors
The MAC began in a specific area of the city where the population is largely African-American. Neighborhood ministers are active in the daily lives of this community, whether through church, school or other neighborhood activities. A core group of dedicated and determined ministers is responsible for maintaining the membership and the MAC presence. This is absolutely mandatory for success. Expansion into other areas of the city has not been as successful.
Specific Advice to Mayors
Strong leadership among the ministers is key to the success of the program. For liaison officers, understanding faith-based priorities is essential. Departmental commitment must be extended to officers as a requirement, and communication among the ministers and officers must be encouraged on a daily basis.
More on Ministers Against Crime
The Forth Worth Star-Telegram newspaper, in an article on the program, reported that local ministers have completed 12 weeks of specialized police training and patrol city streets, schools and neighborhoods. Equipped with uniforms, identification cards and police radios, the ministers report crimes, assist sworn officers, offer victims assistance and quell tensions in the community and in schools.
According to the newspaper, Fort Worth Police Chief Ralph Mendoza said that officers when sent out on call meet resistance often, and that, "When the ministers go, they get a different response....They are ministers first, but they want to be of assistance. That doesn't mean they are always going to take our side. They are here to do what is right. They live in these communities and minister in these communities. They have a vested interest and want to make sure it is a good place to live and raise your kids."
The ministers concentrate on areas with at-risk youths, particularly those who are susceptible to violence, gangs or drugs. They often patrol campuses of middle schools and high schools during times of potential violence or criminal activity, according to the Star-Telegram. Though prevention and intervention is the ministers' objective, they occasionally call on sworn officers to make arrests. The ministers do not have patrol cars and do not carry guns.
"The best weapon we can carry is the word of God," said the Rev. W.G. Daniels.
For more information on the MAC program or the Values-Based Center, please contact Officer Sharron Neal, Community Liaison Office, 350 West Belknap, Fort Worth, TX 76102, 817/877-8385 (office); 817/781-5130 (cell); 817/877-8270 (fax); email@example.com (e-mail).