Amid the endless television footage and boldheadlines, senior officers with the Rome Police Department met with community pastors at Cornerstone Church over lunch on Monday, Senior Pastor Jody Hagerty says the pastors’ goal was to “help support the people of our community” amid all that’s happening. With the pastors being “responsible for a large part of our community,” they asked the officers “how can we help?” and “what are you facing?”
The answers came from senior RPD officers including Police Chief Denise Downer-McKinney, Assistant Police Chief Debbie Burnett, Maj. Rodney Bailey and captains Mark Tison and Gary Pace.
Burnett says the group “engaged in a very productive lunch roundtable. We worked together to discuss what we can all do to keep communication open between members of the community and police. We discussed how the faith-based organizations can help us do that and what role they would play.
“We had open and honest conversations about trying to understand from the other person’s perspective … The pastors in attendance agreed that they can help us reach more people by sharing the message with their church members. In turn, we agree that our officers need to continue to get know members of the community so that we can continue to build trust,” says Burnett.
Apostle Rondie Goode, senior pastor of Kingdom Church International, says he was especially impressed by the information the officers came prepared with, from policing techniques to the breakdown of traffic tickets (6,000 for whites, 2,500 for African-Americans as he remembers it).
“We blessed to have a good police department,” Goode says, adding that some communities are not as fortunate. “We need to support our police department from the pulpit.”
One item that came up was area youth. If stopped, Goode says, the younger generation needs to know that “if you believe in Christ, then you pray for the policeman and you pray for yourself. Let’s get God involved in this.”
He especially praised the standards on which RPD operates, stressing both the responsibilities of the officers as well as the consequences they face if they violate department policies.
“We need to teach our people the police are here for us, not against us,” Goode says.
Other takeaways include the pastors learning that the two hardest areas for police to patrol are North Rome and South Rome. Hagerty says one of the group’s goals going forward is to “help those communities and churches in the areas,” he says.
Hagerty echoed Goode’s comments about learning the police department has been certified since 1986 by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. The agency undergoes continuing reviews to maintain accreditation. One key point that came from that part of the discussion was how the choke hold “has been off the table” for use by RPD for a long time, he says.
Accreditation means overall better training for the officers, Hagerty says.