Houston has—or at least had—a group called “Ministers Against Crime,” which teams the city’s clergy up with Houston police officers for a number of crime prevention and police promotion programs. This interview includes a pretty good summary of the group and what it does.
I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the program. It seems there could be some church/state concerns, particularly when the department starts handing out “badges” to religious leaders (although it isn’t clear if the badges imply any real authority). On the other hand, policing has grown far too reactionary. One of the byproducts of the militarization trend is the “us versus them” mentality it tends to ingrain in cops, even those that don’t serve on SWAT teams or drug task forces. It’s generally a good idea for cops to be more active in the communities they serve. And churches obviously are a pretty important part of many communities.
In any case, the alliance in Houston is breaking down, because Houston police don’t want the ministers they’re working with to criticize them. The fissures started forming when a Houston police officer was recently acquitted on criminal charges after beating a teenager.
Eyewitness News spoke with the coordinator of the group Houston Ministers Against Crimes and he says it’s situations like the Chad Holley case why they are no longer working with the Houston Police Department.
“This is their rule book. They took our group, the Houston Ministers Against Crime, and changed it to PACA (Police and Clergy Alliance),” said the Rev. Robert Jefferson with the Cullen Missionary Baptist Church.
Reverend Jefferson is one of dozens of ministers who are no longer working with HPD. Houston Ministers Against Crime and the police department had a partnership for more than three decades. But just recently, HPD adopted new guidelines for the Police and Clergy Alliance, also called PACA.
“In PACA, you cannot speak out against the city, nor the police department, you cannot associate yourself with people who are speaking out, and you cannot cause any kind of problem in the city as long as you’re carrying a PACA badge,” said Rev. Jefferson.
Wednesday’s verdict in the Chad Holley case, Rev. Jefferson says, is an example as a case he would not be able to discuss under the new guidelines. But since turning in his PACA badge, he spoke openly to us about it.
“Yes, I do feel like they whooped that boy unmercifully and somebody should be punished,” Rev. Jefferson said.
Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland says he has done nothing to curb anyone’s First Amendment rights to speak or say what they want.
“But as a member of PACA, if you are representing PACA, obviously we don’t endorse any political views, and I think that’s proper,” said Chief McClelland.
“It’s saying shut up, muzzle it, don’t say nothing or we take your badge. That’s what it says,” Rev. Jefferson said.
Part of the new PACA guidelines are that members can’t hold a press conference or press briefing to condemn city administration or the Houston Police Department. In addition, members aren’t allowed to represent anyone in any matter adverse to the city or HPD.
If the point of the program was to promote and celebrate Houston’s police officers, I suppose you can’t really fault HPD, here. If the intent was to nurture dialogue and relationships between the department and the city’s churches on crime and policing issues—a far more productive objective—then the new HPD guidelines are obviously counterproductive.