In advance of National Faith & Blue Weekend 2021, Executive Director Jared Feuer had the chance to sit down with Hiram Police Department Chief Michael Turner and Cliff McGrady, Chaplain, to discuss their agency’s outstanding plans for Faith & Blue. What follows is a transcript of their discussion.
Jared Feuer: So to start, Chief, clearly community engagement is a priority for your department. But I’m curious as to why that is.
Chief Turner: I think particularly right now, given the circumstances with COVID, we’re starting to see the wear and tear on the average person, the increased stress, the uncertainty, the mixed messages, the political infighting, which is reflected in our community. Even in our small community, suicides and suicide attempts are moving up as one of the priority calls. When I look at Faith and Blue, and any of our community outreach programs, what we’re starting to see is a desperate sense of hopelessness that needs to be addressed.
All people are being told is you shouldn’t like this person for whatever reason, yet all people want is hope. They want a genuine message, to look forward to something every day, and we look at community outreach is to provide that for people, to give them some sense of respite from all of the daily issues that they have to face. And I think for at least a weekend, we can try to provide some sense of normalcy.
Jared Feuer: Thank you for that. I’m wondering if you could share a little bit about what you’ve seen in terms of how policing has changed. Do you feel that community engagement has become a more critical part of the fundamental changes that have come to policing in the past few years?
Chief Turner: Having been in the business for 43 years, community engagement was originally an integral part of what we did. And then in the 80s, and 90s, we moved away from that to focus and target on dealing with crime and criminal issues. Now, what we see is that we have to be focused on the community because we’re one of the only care providers at the moment. What we are seeing through community engagement is the request from the community for us to do things that are not normally within our area that we do; for example, we’re doing more first aid calls and medical calls than we ever have before. We’re administering Narcan and helping overdose victims. We’re doing these types of things that years ago we would have never thought were a law enforcement responsibility. So we’re seeing this this metamorphosis to a more of a community service slash medical slash law enforcement service, with law enforcement starting to take a secondary role in what we do.
Jared Feuer: My next question, Chief, is that a big component of Faith and Blue is involving houses of worship in the work and the conversations around public safety. Is there a particular contribution that you feel religious leaders should be looking to make on this important topic?
Chief Turner: I’ve been here a very short period of time, I’ve only been here about four months, my predecessor was very good at engaging the faith community. It was the fact that the faith communities have standing within the community, and because of their outreach ability to reach more people on a more personal basis, it made sense to partner with them. We are asking the help of the faith based communities to reestablish this idea that a person has responsibilities of being a good person, along with the legal responsibilities to their community. If I can get the pastors and the ministers to say the same thing that I’m saying, but coach it in terms of their faith’s responsibility that they have to the community in which we all live. Add to that the legal responsibility to be a good person, it adds a layer of thought to people’s process as to how they engage with one another within a community. And, you know, Pastors can say things to congregants that we’re not able to – including to parents. We look at the faith based community to help guide our community to understand how we should interact with one another.
Jared Feuer: That’s exactly right. And I think that’s what we tried to do with Faith and Blue is that it’s not just that the faith community has the connections in their community, but that they speak matters of the heart, they speak to matters of ethics and responsibility. And so their message is critical. So this is your first year with Hiram, I’m wondering what you are hoping will result from these activities; what are you hoping will be some of the outcomes?
Chief Turner: Initially, we were looking mainly at starting to make connections with the community, between the police department and community, but they are fairly strong. I think now we’re looking to use the synergy that has been developed to drive this community forward, to move it away from this depressive state. What we would love to see come out of this is more movies in the park, more events that engage all of the community but still have a faith-based aspect to them. Using the churches and their built-in congregations to help us move the community forward and restore hope. And again, we’ve got to drive home this message that sometimes you just need to turn off the television for a while and be with your neighbors and realize life is not as bad as it’s been portrayed by everybody from the major news networks, and realize that you still have human connections. COVID has isolated us and we need to reestablish that socialization, and the fact that we are social animals, because COVID has almost made us an anti-social. And what we have to do is get back into living with, working with and being with people.
Jared Feuer: Thank you. I’m wondering if you could share something personal about your experience with community engagement, some part of your career where you learned why community engagement was so important.
Chief Turner: I think I have to go back to a former assignment as a chief in another city in Georgia, where, again, in the in the late 90s, it was this idea about the “broken windows” theory. Statistics drive all of your decision making. We were going into our weekly meetings with our commanders, looking at our statistics, and we forget, we deal with people. For the last 16 years I’ve been working with the US State Department in five different post conflict countries. I’ve been to Iraq, Kosovo, Philippines, Sudan and the Republic of Georgia. In Kosovo I sat and talked with a father who has lost 13 members of his family. Sitting in the kitchen talking to him, his sister, and the remaining children, and he’s sitting across telling you all he wants is peace in his life and a chance for his children to live in a peaceful environment. That’s when you realize what you actually do for a living. It’s not about the statistics. It’s about creating that safe and secure environment where people can feel free to exercise the rights, their religion, their beliefs, and provide a better life for their kids, because that’s all any of us want.
Jared Feuer: Wow, I didn’t know that about your experience in post conflict zones. And that makes sense why it would shape your approach. So my last question is if there’s anything else you would like to share.
Chief Turner: I think those departments that are not engaging the community, using such programs as Faith and Blue are making a mistake. Don’t let the word Faith scare you away from being engaged because this program looks well beyond the religious aspect. If you fail to undertake this program, then you’re not involved in a wonderful opportunity to draw your community together, particularly in this difficult time that we’re facing right now. Faith and Blue gave us a plan, a package, on how to do things. You don’t have to be smart; you just follow the outline and you can have successful community engagement. And again, this is an opportunity for agencies to team with their community, to help bring people out of these desperate times.
Jared Feuer: Thank you so much for taking the time. I will now do some follow up questions with Cliff.
Chief Turner: Well, thank you very much, and thank you for a great program. We’re looking forward to it.
Jared Feuer: For you, Cliff, I’m wondering if you could tell me a little bit about what it was about National Faith & Blue Weekend that first caught your eye? How did you hear about the program? What was your first response to it? What got you on board?
Cliff McGrady: Chief Turner told me about it. I think he found out through it through the Chiefs Association. The wheel was already there. I didn’t have to invent anything. You know, t shirts, banners, posters, everything was already there. The hardest part about something is getting the organization together; you’ve given me the skeleton that I could put my dreams on.
Jared Feuer: So how did you select your activities?
Cliff McGrady: I read through your list [in the toolkit] and I’m like yeah, these are nice, these are nice. But you know then I expanded it past the faith community and got the businesses involved. You call and you ask what is it you’re doing already, that you’re doing well, and what can we add to it?
Jared Feuer: I’m wondering from your personal perspective, you’re putting a lot of time and energy into planning, so what are you hoping will result from Hiram being a part of National Faith and Blue Weekend?
Cliff McGrady: I got this from my chief. Okay. He said I want Hiram to become a rock in the river. All the chaos is going to go around us we’re going to be sticking above the chaos and it’s just going to flow around us. As a black man and pastor working with law enforcement you know, I get that look and I’m asked the question, how do you do this, and I say I trust these officers. I know the other officers. And that’s what can change because of Faith & Blue for others. I want us to, like the Chief, be the rock in the river, a rock of hope that rises in our community with justice.
Jared Feuer: I like that. Two more questions: You are a member of the law enforcement community and you are a pastor. So you are literally faith and blue. I’m wondering what you have seen about how those two worlds can overlap.
Cliff McGrady: What is now needed is for someone to stand in that spot, someone in the middle of bringing them together to say, hey, we can work together. And it can benefit both sides. Because the purpose of this is that if there’s information that our pastors have about situations, they can bring it to law enforcement. Or if something happens in the community, rather than go to the news media, they can come to us for direct information. Based on trust we can have a good flow of information back and forth that keeps everybody on the same level. And as Chief said, not watching the news because the news is always jaded to one side or the other. But this connection of Faith and Blue keeps a line of trust going.
Jared Feuer: Makes sense. My last question is, is there anything else you’d like to share?
Cliff McGrady: I just want to thank you again for putting this together. Because this is something that that that is dear to my heart. And you I might have now have two or three pages of events this year, but next year I’m going to have 20 pages. This is just year one and I’m looking forward to continuing growth throughout the year and knocking it out of the park next year.