Partnering Police and Pastors

Memphis Police Department’s Clergy Police Academy

by Stacy Smith

Situated in the Bible belt, Memphis, Tennessee, is a city of churches. However, the city has had difficulty recruiting police officers. City officials sought new and better ways to encourage community policing, a practice in which police officers partner with community leaders to improve public safety.

Michael Rallings, director of Memphis Police Department, says, “Community outreach toward committed faith-based leaders can help create a special partnership required for the concept of community policing to be successful.” This led the city to establish the Clergy Police Academy. According to Officer Tadario Holmes, director of the academy and senior pastor at True Prophetic Ministries Holiness Church, over 300 pastors and church leaders have graduated the academy since 2011.

Five evening sessions include presentations on community issues like child abuse, sex crimes and gang awareness, as well as resources available to support clergy and their congregations.

Clergy are also invited to participate in a ride-along with an officer. On my ride, when we stopped at an apartment complex to chat with the manager, it was clear my officer knew her and relied on her perspective on the neighborhood. When I questioned him about a biker bar close to my house, he knew the group well and assured me they were responsible neighbors.

The academy provides opportunities for police and clergy leaders to find common ground. Just before our class began, Pastor Reggie Tucker at Orange Mound Outreach Ministries publicly criticized the police department for their policing in his neighborhood. Director Rallings took offense and went to confront the pastor. Yet when he learned that Pastor Tucker spent many afternoons cooking barbeque with young men in the neighborhood, trying to keep them occupied during the difficult hours of 3:00–6:00 p.m., he softened and the two engaged in an extended dialogue. When Pastor Tucker received his certificate from Director Rallings during the graduation ceremony, they embraced while the rest of our class laughed and applauded.

After graduation, academy “Ambassadors” provide support at precincts; simply stopping by for a hello and a prayer can be helpful to the officers on duty. Ambassadors are called into strategic planning conversations with the director to better improve community policing and represent pockets of the city that can be overlooked by larger operations.

The Clergy Police Academy represents a new way to improve the health and safety of our communities and connects pastors and police to work for the common good.

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