Keith King brought dozens of his fellow ministers to the police academy so they can prevent the next shooting—rather than march on the cops after it happens.
King (pictured) had a dual role at the gathering Wednesday afternoon at the academy on Sherman Parkway.
He was one of about three dozen local black and Latino ministers present who have committed to serving as “ambassadors” in the neighborhoods for the police as part of a new community-policing outreach program.
King preaches on Sundays at Christian Tabernacle Baptist Church on Newhall Street, where he has served as the top pastor for the past eight years. He has worked as a minister since 1991.
Over much of the past 17 years, he has spent his weekdays prosecuting drug, gun, and health-care fraud cases as an assistant United States attorney.
King still works for the U.S. Attorney’s office, only these days he concentrates on connecting law enforcement with the community.
Hence Wednesday’s event. King joined Police Chief Dean Esserman and New Haven State’s Attorney Michael Dearington in officially welcoming the three dozen ministers present—and another 20 or so who have signed on—to the new “Clergy Ambassador Program.” As law-enforcement officials and King spoke from the front of the room, the ministers spread out at desks usually occupied by police recruits, whose name signs remained in place.
Periodically over the years the city’s police and prosecutors have held press conferences announcing they want to work with ministers to gain the black and Latino community’s trust.
What may be a difference this time: The effort had already begun in a quiet, more focused way. Since taking over the department late last year and vowing to resuscitate community policing, Chief Esserman has made a point of meeting with ministers informally and over meals and inviting them to sit in on department meetings. Representatives regularly attend weekly CompStat sessions, for instance. They also participate in the department’s growing support group for family survivors of homicide victims.
The new Clergy Ambassador Program makes that relationship formal. Participants are receiving training in how the department works, how the cops do their jobs. They commit to “serve as liaisons” with the community. In addition to attending CompStat and survivor meetings, they pledge to “provide the police with suggestions,” talk up law enforcement with people they know in their neighborhoods, and “organize and sponsor faith-based events that promote community building, youth empowerment, and conflict resolution.”
Rev./Assistant U.S. Attorney King put it more succinctly at Wednesday afternoon’s event.
“We want the police department to know us. And we want to know them,” he said.
“We want not just to come out and march after a shooting. We want to prevent the shooting.”
Afterwards, King, who has never had occasion to have to prosecute a church member, said he sees “overlap” in his weekday and weekend jobs. In the church, and in the U.S. Attorney’s office, he said, “we believe there are consequences to choices.”