Police and Ministers

The Houston Police Department is asking ministers to go into apartment complexes and help curb crime. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, the HPD officers believe faith-based programs attack the root problems in high-crime areas.

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"When you change the way people think, you're going to change the way they act."

Houston Police Officer Barry Curtis works in the Fondren division, one of the highest crime areas of Houston. Curtis is implementing a program to help local ministers and church congregations move into apartment complexes where crime is a problem. He says local statistical evidence shows faith-based programs help reduce crime.

"Working with the kids, setting them up with youth programs, taking away that idle time that they the kids have had which then they start looking for things like the gangs and drugs and such to get in to."

There are 168 apartment complexes in this part of town, which encompasses Fondren and Gulfton. The department is asking local ministers to commit time, resources and most importantly, manpower. Churches will send people to actually live in the complexes, an idea generated by a ministry called Apartment Life. The volunteers will meet with families, identify social needs and help start localized YMCA programs. Hispanic Ministers Against Crime President Adalid Verastagui says they'll be working as liasions between the police and community.

"Sometimes the community, or especially the Spanish community, are scared of the police department. And this is where the ministers come and build a bridge, I would say, to communicate with the police department. And we have a tremendous success in there because we give them some information and resources to the community."

One of the challenges has been getting access to the complexes. But that's where the police department will come in by working with apartment managers to make sure church groups are welcomed in. And Houston Mayor Bill White told members of the clergy they would have the full support of the city of Houston.

"Tell us what we need to do to nurture and grow this. Please, for those in the faith community here either clergy or lay leaders, don't wait for me or anybody else to tell you what to do. You know in your heart and you know in your common sense some of the things that we need to do within some of these complexes."

HPD is modeling the Police, Apartments, Clergy Team on a similar program in Dallas. So far, six ministers are signed up to help and the city is recruiting more. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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