Policeman-preachers see meaning in dual callings

By Michael H. Cottman

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON – They take their guns and Bibles to work; they recite the law and preach the Gospel. They have ushered suspects to jail, but prayed for their release. Sworn to arrest thieves and murderers, they are also bound by their faith to forgive them.

On Sunday mornings, a small number of police officers across the region replace their neatly pressed uniforms with flowing robes and preach to congregations.

The contradictions between policing and preaching play out daily for law enforcement officers who are also ordained ministers – men of peace who enforce the law with potentially violent results.

But the jobs also have much in common, say those who do both – they are all-consuming and often involve helping people who need direction. Some say their combined roles have become more essential since the tragedies of Sept. 11, when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

“Law enforcement is also a calling by God,” said veteran District of Columbia police officer Silvester Hampton, who is also an associate minister at St. Mark’s Missionary Baptist Church in Washington.

Hampton, 43, a police officer since 1990, said he received a calling from God to his ministry about three years ago. And, he said, his philosophy about policing has changed tremendously since then.

“Jail is not the solution for everything,” said Hampton, who, with wife Patricia, has two children, ages 20 and 17. “We’ve all done something stupid when we were younger. … I try to remember that; I try to put myself in another person’s place.”

Hampton said he also feels that his faith sometimes serves as a shield in a profession in which danger often lurks.

“I was chasing a guy wanted for an armed robbery, and he produced a weapon,” Hampton said. “Another officer wrestled him to the ground and took the gun away from him. He told us that he should have shot both of us when he had the chance. But he couldn’t, because one of us was filled with the Holy Spirit. He didn’t even know why he couldn’t shoot us.”

None of the officers interviewed for this article has had to use his gun to shoot at a suspect, and for that too, they say, they are blessed.

“I pray every day that I don’t have to shoot anyone,” Hampton said.

Fairfax County, Va., police Sgt. Kevin Treadwell, 43, participates in once-a-week Bible study classes in his department with a small group of police officers to help them become more compassionate law enforcers.

Treadwell, with the county department for 17 years, works as a court liaison officer. He has been a minister for 12 years and has been pastor at The Living Word Church of Jesus Christ in Leesburg, Va., for the past three years. Treadwell and wife Kathy have two children, ages 18 and 14.

The department Bible study group is not large, “but it’s effective,” Treadwell said. “It gives us encouragement, strengthens our spirituality and our soul, and we take that strength with us as police officers.”

Treadwell said his roles as a minister and law enforcement officer have taken on a greater sense of urgency since the terrorist attacks because people are feeling more vulnerable.

“We’re living now in unprecedented times,” Treadwell said. “There were no guarantees already, but since September 11, I’m talking to more people as a law enforcement officer and as a minister because people are realizing just how fragile life is and they want to talk about it. The events of September 11 moved people to turn their attention back to God.”

George E. Hackey Jr.’s roles as a police officer and minister meld almost seamlessly.

Hackey, 53, who lives in Germantown, Md., is pastor of Sharp Street United Methodist Church in Sandy Spring, Md. – the oldest African-American church in the county – and has been a police officer for 27 years. He has spent most of his police career in the community services division in Gaithersburg, which focuses on interacting with residents. Hackey and wife Dory have three children, ages 31, 21 and 20.

Since becoming a minister five years ago, Hackey has been beseeched by parents to counsel their children and offer them words of hope. He has helped turn lives around, he said, but he also has lost some to violence. Dozens of students write Hackey once a week to update him on their progress in school and in life.

Perhaps Hackey’s most noted achievement is the volunteer suspension-assistance program he co-founded in 1998. The program is called SHARP – Sharp Street Hosts an Academic Resource Program.

Its goal, Hackey said, is to assist students who are suspended from public school so they do not fall behind in their class work. The program provides students with supervised study time and focuses on preventing additional suspensions.

“Children are not responsible for the environment they grow up in,” Hackey said. ” … So it’s our responsibility as adults to help them.”

Hackey said that he is not shy about arresting people who break the law but that he uses common sense on the street and tries to understand the problems a person is experiencing.

“I try to look at everyone’s circumstances,” Hackey said. “Are they in a crisis? Do they have resources? As a pastor, I’ve learned that there are more people in pain than we think.”

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