Friday, January 23, 2015

Churches help police build trusting relationship with community

Residents in Virginia Beach’s Lake Edward and Campus East neighborhoods are building trusting relationships with city police thanks to the work of Western Bayside Churches United (WBCU) – an alliance of Good Samaritan Episcopal Church, Enoch Baptist Church, and Heritage United Methodist Church.

The three churches came together in 2010 with a simple mission – to make their neighborhood a better place to live. The Western Bayside area of Virginia Beach is a community in which many residents are struggling day to day and that has had one of the higher crime rates in the city. But that’s quickly changing.

In August of 2014, WBCU teamed up with officers of Virginia Beach’s third precinct in the Stop the Violence project. “One of the resident’s sons was murdered. Nobody knew anything even though there was a crowd in the yard when it happened. They were afraid to talk to the police,” explains Pastor Michael Daniels of Enoch Baptist Church. “She asked the church what we could do to help.”

The first step was a community meeting with the police, hosted by WBCU. “We wanted to talk about what the community could do, how we can partner with the precinct,” said the Rev. Wendy Wilkinson, rector of Good Samaritan Episcopal Church. “We have to take responsibility for our community.”

Stop the Violence builds on WBCU’s existing semi-annual Community Days. These events provided residents with, among other things, an opportunity to get to know each other and city agencies and services. The church leaders realized that the twice yearly events didn’t provide enough opportunity for residents to build trusting relationships with police.

WBCU now hosts a monthly community meeting at Enoch Baptist Church for residents, police officers, and civic leaders. Residents have the opportunity to get to know each other and the police officers serving their neighborhood. The project also encourages residents to join and use, a social network for neighborhoods. The goal is to have at least 50% of residents using the site. The residents’ relationship with police has improved so much that WBCU is also helping residents obtain grant funds to install security cameras on their homes that will allow police to monitor activity in the neighborhood.

“People know the officers now. Police are getting calls now,” says Wilkinson.  “It’s made a huge impact on crime here. Daniels agrees. “The neighborhood sees the police in a different light now. The police are getting more tips. Crimes are being solved and there is some prevention also.”

The community is talking and making decisions together to take steps to reduce crime. “It came out at one of our monthly meetings that a local playground was a drug hangout,” says Wilkinson. “So the community decided to remove it.”

“One of the things we recognized is that the community had to change how they view officers and neighbors,” says Daniels. “We want to help neighbors feel more responsible for each other.”