Eighteen Columbus pastors are taking part in the inaugural Pastor’s Police Academy at police headquarters, beginning today and continuing each Monday through February.
The program, similar to the city’s long-running Citizen’s Police Academy, is designed for the pastors to learn more about the department, who its leaders are, how officers are trained and the standards to which they are held, Chief Ricky Boren said before the first class began.
One of the most important things city leaders hope will come out of the class will be communication and understanding between the police and the pastors, and by extension, their congregations, Boren said.
“We want them to know the professionalism of this agency, how we do business on a daily basis, we want them to know what they need to do if they need our help,” Boren said. “Each one of them has a congregation. Each one of them can go back to them and train them that this is a professional agency and that we’re their friends.”
Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, who welcomed the pastors to the class, said the improved communication and new relationships could help lessen animosity between citizens and the police, especially when there are officer-involved shootings or perceived excessive force..
“We definitely want to be involved on the front end of what you see going on around the country. When these horrific, unexpected perhaps completely unpredictable events come up, the community is thrown into turmoil,” Tomlinson said. “It’s too late to try to create relationships at that point. You’re damage control at that point. This is going to be very important in that regard.”
Several of the pastors attending expressed optimism about the potential for the class to help.
The Rev. L.K. Pendleton, pastor of St. Mary’s Road United Methodist Church, said she wants to take what she learns back to her congregation, especially the younger members.
“I want to learn how the police interact with our citizens on a daily basis. We’ve got about 25 children in our children, so we want to be able to teach them how to interact with police to avoid some of the deadly complications we’ve seen in the news lately,” Pendleton said.
The Rev. Jimmie Elder, pastor of First Baptist Church downtown, said he hopes the academy can work in both directions.
“One of the things I hope we can do is to connect more closely with the police department, and to give the police the support and encouragement they need.”
The Rev. Grace Burton-Edwards, rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church on Hilton Avenue in midtown, she has been in Columbus for about two years, and sees the academy as a chance to learn about the police, and more.
“I’m here to learn about our police department, but also to learn more about our community, what some of the needs and challenges that face the community, so our congregation, like yours, can be part of some solutions,” Burton-Edwards said.
The Rev. Johnnie Flakes III, pastor of Fourth Street Baptist Church on Fifth Street in the Historic District, was traveling when he heard about a similar academy in that police department. When he returned to Columbus, He suggested to Tomlinson that it might be a good ideaq in Columbus. She agreed, and suggested it to Boren.
Flakes said he hopes to improve the relationship and communication between the community and the police.
Flakes wants to see “an ongoing trust relationship between among not only just the officers on the street, but also with those in leadership, in order for us to support them, and not just when there’s a crisis in the city.”