NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – Some of the actors are now dead and some of those who survived are behind bars. In 2016, the city of Norfolk saw a surge in murders that followed the release of locally produced rap music videos where rival gangs displayed their anger and their weapons.
The Clergy Patrol was launched that year under previous Norfolk police chief Larry Boone, as the city saw a sharp increase in the murders of young men in the Berkley and Huntersville sections of the city. That year, 48 people were killed in senseless gun violence.
Two years later, 10 on Your side took viewers along as Dr. Antipas Harris, founder of the Urban Renewal Center walked the beat with a Norfolk police officer. The Clergy Patrol was suspended in 2020 because of the pandemic but Harris said he recently called on interim Police Chief Michael Goldsmith to restore the program as crime is on the increase. In 2022, 63 people were killed in the city of Norfolk.
Harris, who has 20 years of experience as a university professor, explained how the program can address the gun violence problem that remains unabated in 2023.
“On Friday and Saturday nights when they (police officers) respond to calls, we are with them,” Harris said. “Of course, if there are dangerous situations, we could only come in after the situation is deemed safe. We represent the community; we come out of the community; we represent the community and we seek to mediate conflict, de-escalate conflict and humanize the citizens. We help them feel that we actually care about their humanity.”
The resumption of the program will require additional recruitment and training for what Harris calls a new kind of church.
“The faith community is very concerned about how we create a model that could help with public safety and how we can be part of the solution,” said Harris who added Virginia Beach police officials are “very” interested in the clergy patrol program.
He also believes the patrols will reduce crime and incidents where officers lawfully, or unlawfully, use potentially deadly force.
“I can only imagine Memphis, Tennessee when those five officers stopped Tyre Nichols,” Harris said. If a clergy patrol had been present he would not be dead today.”
Norfolk Police issued the following statement about the return of the Clergy Patrol:
In the spring of 2016, the Norfolk Police Department launched its nationally recognized community outreach initiative, named the Clergy Patrol. The initiative is a faith-based, voluntary partnership between Norfolk Clergy and police officers, for weekend ride-alongs. The Clergy Patrol initiative met an abrupt pause in March of 2020, with the advent of the pandemic.
Targeted Launch Date
As a post-pandemic world evolves, so goes the return of the Clergy Patrol, with an estimated launch in the Spring of 2023.
Effort to Recruit
Norfolk Police is actively seeking new Norfolk Clergy leaders of all denominations for weekend ride-alongs. A Clergy Patrol open house for Norfolk Clergy, hosted last month rendered several new members. Norfolk Clergy interested in partnering with officers for weekend only, ride-alongs, are to call, (757) 390-1954 for an application, and follow Norfolk Police Department social media platforms for further information.
The goals of the initiative include:
- Bridging the gap between citizens and officers for mutual respect, as the Clergy are allowed to safely engage residents in the wake of an incident, by means of prayer, encouragement, and/or resources the Clergy’s ministry may provide.
- The outreach also serves as an opportunity for Clergy to understand the arduous work of police officers, and to share common ground as stewards of peace and safety.