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Black police conf. draws call to love officers

WASHINGTON (BP) — Following attorney general Loretta Lynch’s call at a gathering of black law enforcement executives for America to “foster trust between communities and law enforcement,” a black Philadelphia police sergeant told Baptist Press Christians should be known for extending the love of Christ to police officers in their communities.

Sgt. Kathy Thompson, a 28-year veteran of the Philadelphia Police Department and a member of Nazarene Baptist Church in Philadelphia, said “the simplest thing anyone can do for a police officer is to smile, speak and thank them for their service. I get that a lot and it means so much.”

She added that police and citizens alike must “love each other as Christ loves us. Treat everyone, regardless of race, the way you want to be treated and the way you would want your family members treated.”

Lynch offered her comments at a conference of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) in Washington the day after three police officers were murdered in Baton Rouge, La., and less than two weeks following the assassination of five officers in Dallas by a suspect who allegedly told police he wanted to kill white people. Days earlier, in separate incidents, police killed two black civilians under questionable circumstances — Alton Sterling of Baton Rouge and Philando Castile of the Minneapolis area.

The string of violence and ensuing racial tension led Lynch to condemn both racial prejudice and bias against police. She cited a Facebook post by slain Baton Rouge officer Montrell Jackson, an African American, in which he wrote, “In uniform I get nasty, hateful looks — and out of uniform, some consider me a threat.”

Lynch noted in her July 18 remarks, “The complex and challenging issues [that shootings of police] have brought to the fore can only be met if we can find ways to work together. As we approach this challenge, NOBLE’s voice is needed now more than ever to speak to the loss of humanity when any of us are judged at a glance — whether by the color of our skin or the color of our uniform.”

Thompson, a mounted patrol officer, urges citizens — and followers of Jesus in particular — that an effort to befriend police officers “helps to reduce fears, forms bonds and builds trust on both sides.”

“Participating in organizations and events that support your local police is a good way Christians and churches can help police officers,” Thompson said in written comments. “Organize a community or church event and invite your local police officers to attend.” In some communities, “ride-along programs” allow civilians who have been approved “to ride on patrol with an officer to experience firsthand what the officer goes through during the course of a shift.”

For clergy, police chaplaincy programs provide a valuable relationship-building opportunity, Thompson said.

“The chaplains act as a liaison between the community and the police,” she said. “They offer prayers and spiritual guidance, provide supportive measures for officers who might be suicidal and they sponsor officer appreciation ceremonies honoring police officers for the work that they do.”

One of the most effective ways to encourage law enforcement officers, Thompson said, is also among the simplest: “strike up a conversation.”

“Police offers are usually very approachable but might not make the first move when it comes to starting a conversation,” Thompson said. “Just by the nature of what we do, we would most likely never reject someone who walks up to talk to us.”

It was particularly meaningful to Thompson when a pastor invited her to worship at his church one Sunday morning as she sat in her patrol car in the church parking lot. Police duty precluded her attendance that day, but she plans to attend soon.

Yet Thompson knows the responsibility to build relationships does not rest exclusively with citizens. As a Christian, she looks to God for help in establishing personal connections with the people she serves and protects. As a black, female officer, she seeks to be “a very positive role model, especially for other black females who might want to enter the field of law enforcement.”

“I take the time to talk with teens who are interested in the work I do,” she said, “all the while encouraging them to follow their dreams. I also, without a doubt, let them know that none of what I do and none of what I have would be possible without Christ in my life.

“Being a Christian affords me more patience in dealing with people’s problems,” Thompson noted. “I am slower to anger; more understanding; more caring; more empathetic; happier; and yes, more thankful. I see being a Christian, in addition to being a black female police officer in today’s society, as a bonus. All these things wrapped up in me are blessings all day long, no matter how I look at it.”