The murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer led to mass protests against racial injustice and police brutality, and even some calls to defund the police.
In this climate, how can law enforcement officers make inroads in their communities? CBN News discovered the Church may be one answer.
George Floyd's murder led to a push across the country to overhaul police departments. Cincinnati, Ohio, has not been immune to the protests.
"Have there been outcries and frustrations; there have been calls to defund the police; there have been calls to reimagine the police here in Cincinnati, just like there have been in other areas," Capt. Steve Saunders of the Cincinnati Police Department told CBN News.
The city is also on track for an especially violent year, with one report showing nearly 200 shootings, 29 deadly, in the first six months of 2021. Still, Saunders is pushing forward.
"It's troubling to see those higher crime rates; we're seeing that on a national level, not just in Cincinnati, certainly in larger cities, but we're not giving up because crime goes up," he said. "We find a way to work together, to partner, to build collaborations and partnership to address those problems."
One partnership involves Seven Hills Church, a large congregation in the greater Cincinnati area. Pastor Marcus Mecum says as a part of an area pastoral group, Seven Hills was assigned to reach out to police.
"The police department in Cincinnati and Hamilton County, specifically, and then some other ones local here, have made it really easy to help connect us to real needs in the community, and sometimes also, within their departments," he shared with CBN News.
"And so, these are human beings; they have souls; they have families; they have futures; they have dreams, and we just do our best as a church to be there," he continued.
Times of Generosity
Its support during the pandemic led the Cincinnati Police Department to name the church its 2020 "Community Partner of the Year."
"During COVID, you had a lot of the different race riots, and we were down there as a church supporting the police by just feeding them, giving them water, some of them were on call for sometimes up to 20 hours," Mecum said.
Saunders recalls other times of generosity.
"And they said they just wanted to share their support and love and encouragement for us," he explained. "So that's, that's great. So it started off with a simple thing; they brought small gift bags for all of our officers and all of our civilians."
"We have about 1,200 employees," he added.
A specific memorable moment came when members prayed over Police Chief Eliot Isaac.
"And to have people in the community praying for you and lifting you up and lifting your family up, it's created a hedge of protection over Chief Isaac," Saunders shared.
"And I know he's felt that inspiration and the power of the prayer and is extremely grateful, extremely grateful for them and what they've done for us," he continued.
The church also helps promote connections with communities. For example, the church and the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office brought in retired Harlem Globetrotters to suburban Lincoln Heights as part of a basketball clinic for kids there.
Organizers describe the event as more than an entertaining game of basketball. They say it's an important tool to help develop a healthy relationship between law enforcement and the community.
"We have a basketball court, and it's filled with kids, and it's filled with adults, and some of those adults wear uniforms," Hamilton County Sheriff Charmaine McGuffey told CBN News. "And some of those adults work in a church, and some of the adults are there to help people with whatever they need."
"And when the kids see that, when parents see that, they're so much more likely to say positive things at the dinner table, positive things to their community about what the black and gold means to this community and all through Hamilton County," she continued.
"But God worked it out where it's here, and for our young people here," Pastor Mike Pearl, the director of St. Monica's Recreation Center, shared with CBN News, as he was overcome with emotion. "I'm just blessed, man, to be able to share it with our community 'cause sometimes our kids feel neglected, overlooked."
"Like I said, they have their challenges, but they're kids who love life, who need stuff like this, that positivity, especially from adults," he continued.
Seven Hills Church isn't the only organization working to help law enforcement in the Greater Cincinnati area build better community relations. A non-profit known as the Cincinnati Blue Line Foundation has also stepped up to help strengthen the bond between police and those they serve.
"That trust relationship – if you can build the trust in the community, your authority as a police officer is not only understood, it's just, you're valued," Saunders said. "You're not there to take people out of the community; you're there to provide value to the community, to provide safety, to provide resources."
Seven Hills Church has donated to the Cincinnati Blue Line Foundation, and Saunders hopes that will encourage other churches to do the same thing.
"When you hear that the work that you're doing is making a difference in your community, of course, that's so encouraging," Kyle Waid, an associate pastor of Seven Hills Church, told CBN News.
"But would we do it without the recognition?" he asked. "We would because this is ultimately what we feel like Jesus would do. He didn't come to be served but to serve."