With 54 homicides at press time -- up from 47 during teh same period last year -- the Richmond Police are trying a new tactic in neighborhoods that seem to harbor the most violence. If successful, the initiative may prove deterring crime is as much a matter of faith as it is force.
In mid-July, the Richmond Police began dispatching uniformed chaplains into Shockoe Bottom to talk the streets and provide a peaceful presence for visitors, patrons and residents.
"When crime occurs it takes its toll on a community spiritually and psychologically," says Richmond Police Maj. Daniel A. Goodall. "We put our chaplains out to help calm and restore."
The city's police department has 12 volunteer chaplains none is a sworn officer who work about five or six hours a week. In the past, their role has been to counsel officers and reach out to families victimized by violence.
But recently, in such cities as Virginia Beach, Boston and Daytona, Fla., police departments have been using chaplains to assuage fear and quell stress in high-crime neighborhoods. No data is available to measure the success of chaplain patrols, but Goodall is convinced they work. He points to the increased level of comfort people have walking the boardwalk at Virginia Beach, and how chaplains in Boston have helped curb contentious exchanges between citizens and police.
On July 16, a Friday, Richmond Police Chaplain W. Robert Floyd, 75, made the Bottom his beat from 8 p.m. to midnight.
"Several folks wanted to know why the chaplains were here. They asked, 'Are you crazy?'" Floyd recalls. "We're not here to offer simplistic answers to complex problems or to evangelize, but to offer hope and encouragement."
During his shift, Floyd says he and a fellow chaplain assisted a truck driver from Roanoke and a college student. "A girl came up and asked: 'Can I stand with you? I don't want to be alone,'" he says of a Longwood College student waiting for her ride. Floyd says numerous other people approached them, mostly newcomers to the area.
Erika Gay, executive director of the River District Alliance, hopes the chaplains' presence will augment other anti-crime efforts in the Bottom. "Everybody is thinking outside of the box to solve the crime issues, and I have complete confidence that safety will not be a concern in Shockoe Bottom in the near future," she says.
Goodall says police and the public should expect to see more chaplains taking to the streets: "It turned out great, so we're going to be putting them out there more and more." Brandon Walters
Letters to the editor may be sent to: email@example.com