At the Mt. Zion Church of God (7th Day) in Brooklyn, New York, the words “safe summer” still loom over the community.
So far this year, there have been more than 1,700 reports of serious crime, with homicide up 15.4% over the last year, grand larceny up 55.8% and robberies up 42.3%.
Rev. Edward-Richard Hinds calls it a “gun-demic.”
“Public safety is a shared responsibility. We cannot police our way out of violence,” said Hinds, the president of the 67th Precinct Clergy Council, “The GodSquad.”
“The GodSquad” started back in 2010 to provide Brooklyn’s youth with career planning, mentoring and tools for handling conflict without violence.
“This is our community. We live here, our houses of worship are here, we are a voice in our community. And we believe for us to make a change for the community, you have to be here, be a part of the community,” Hinds said.
The group looks to serve as a bridge between the police and the community they serve. It has also established Clergy for Safe Cities, which supports gun violence prevention initiatives guided by the principle that public safety is a shared responsibility.
In Miami Springs, Florida, Officer Janice Simon is also working to bridge the divide.
“This is where the magic happens,” Simon said.
At the Miami Springs Police Department, Simon is one of two community policing officers.
“Sometimes people think, ‘Oh the cops,’ and you don’t see them as human beings. It’s our job, it’s our profession, you know, and we enjoy doing it. We’ve chosen to do it, but there’s a whole other aspect to us,” Simon said.
Simon said she believes her role lets the community get to know her more as a human being.
Community policing is a concept that dates back to the 1960s and ’70s following the civil rights movement. It began as an opportunity for officers to be more involved in their neighborhoods, beyond the standard traffic stop or crime scene.
Now, most, if not all, police departments across the country have a community policing division. And money is being poured into them.
Last year, the Department of Justice announced more than $139 million in grant funding through the Office of Community-Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office).
This year, through a bipartisan budget deal, the Biden administration secured over $511 million for that same office.
But there is still debate on whether community policing is, in fact, effective.
When it came to the number of violent crimes, only one of those states reported a decrease.
“I think it’s a very important tool,” Miami Springs Police Chief Armano Guzman said. “We have stopped individuals from a call from citizens seeing a suspicious person in the neighborhood and that individual had an arrest warrant for attempted murder.”
Police said that is happening because they form a relationship with the community, much like “The GodSquad” in New York.
The group is funded by city and state contracts and private funding, and has seen some success stories.
Tyron Stearns admitted he made some bad decisions in high school and lost cousins, family and friends to gun violence.
“I’m just out here trying to make a difference. One that I didn’t have,” Stearns said.
Hinds said he met Stearns at a funeral. Stearns’ friend had been shot and killed. Now, the 25-year-old man sings.
“We are not of the expectation that outsiders will come in to create the change. Change should come from within. Because if the problem lies within, the answer should also lie within,” Hinds said.
“The GodSquad” said they have a budget of about $1.5 million each year, but that is just a drop in the bucket compared to other the community policing budgets across the country.