A new program soon to establish in Cleburne partners Cleburne Police Department with churches with an eye toward aiding crime victims. CPD Chief Robert Severance said he hopes to see the program spread to other county law enforcement agencies.
The Neighbor’s Keeper program operates under Victim Relief Ministries, an organization founded by Gene Grounds in 1999 in Dallas.
About 60 area community and law enforcement members attended Thursday’s introductory and informational meeting at the Cleburne Chamber of Commerce.
Although VRM operates throughout the country, area chapters remain locally focused, representatives said.
The organization addresses disaster response initiatives and support and aid to crime victims.
The goal, VRM President and Chaplain Edward Smith said, is to fill the gap after disaster response and emergency management personnel and rescue workers leave the scene.
Grounds ran a prison ministry before founding VRM.
“A police sergeant in an Austin suburb told me about a similar program, which was just volunteers, not a faith-based program,” Grounds said.
Smith said that while the program is faith based, it remains open to participation by all religious groups, Christian and non-Christian.
“We are a ministry and we don’t apologize for that,” Smith said. “But the point is not to shove religion down anyone’s throat.”
Smith said the mission of VRM and the Neighbor’s Keeper program flows from the Good Samaritan parable, given that police and rescue workers are naturally inspired to choose their professions through compassion and a desire to help.
Smith, Grounds and Severance said working with churches makes more sense than calling on individual volunteers as churches are already established and focused on reaching out to and helping the community.
The problem, Smith said, is that church members and ministers are not often equipped to deal with crime and disaster victims, which is where training and programs offered by VRM comes into play.
Smith stressed that participants, be they volunteers, crisis responders or chaplains, are vetted, undergo background checks and receive training.
Smith also said VRM chaplains are not police department chaplains, who focus on officers and department personnel. VRM chaplains work alongside departments and department chaplains, but retain their focus on crime and disaster victims.
Neighbor’s Keeper program’s partner with law enforcement agencies to supply the appropriate physical, emotional and spiritual support to victims, Smith said, ranging from long term assistance for victims of major crimes to replacing broken windows in the homes of burglary victims. Program volunteers also assist police through participation in community events and programs.
The need is great, Smith said.
“The statistics are staggering,” Smith said. “There are 1 million crime victims every month, and those are the reported crimes. I cannot imagine what the unreported numbers add up to. Can we help 1 million victims a month? No. But we’re working to build a response and try.”
Dallas police Lt. Anthony Williams said officers were skeptical of the program initially until they began to see its benefits.
Dallas officer Dave Wilson said he believes the program works so well because, in times of crisis, the faith community is the “rock and foundation” residents turn to.
“We’re looking for churches of any denomination, any size, to become more involved, get outside the walls of their church to touch people they don’t know, be there to help them,” Wilson said.
Emil Balliet, senior chaplain of the Grand Prairie Police Department, agreed.
“All religions are welcome to participate,” Balliet said. “There are no big churches, no little churches, no politics involved.”
Severance served as a lieutenant and Community Services Division commander at GPPD before joining the Cleburne force in December.
“We were working on putting together a clergy coalition as kind of a crime watch type group and about that same time VRM contacted us,” Severance said.
The number of churches and volunteers coming on board in Grand Prairie during the Neighbor’s Keeper program’s first year has increased dramatically, Balliet said.
“We’re still in the planning stage,” Severance said. “But certainly we’d like to see every church in Cleburne get involved and work with us to reach out and help crime victims. This is also a big step in our community policing initiative plans and something we look forward to working with other [Johnson County] cities on.”
Severance said he plans to begin contacting area churches soon.
Cleburne Fire Chief Clint Ishmael called the program a great idea that could also benefit victims firefighters and rescue workers encounter.
“Absolutely,” Ishmael said. “I’m glad Chief Severance brought the idea to Cleburne and I’m looking forward to working with him to help residents in our community.”
Johnson County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Tim Jones agreed.
“We have small programs in place that really haven’t been developed,” Jones said. “I’ll be taking this to my church board to try and get our people involved.”