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Easing Tensions

Ohio sheriff relies on Assemblies of God Chaplain Larry Lane and churches to build community trust.

While tensions remain high in the aftermath of various police shootings, relationships and trust are being built between law enforcement officers of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office in Dayton, Ohio, and the residents they serve.

According to Sheriff Phil Plummer, much credit for these eased tensions goes to ordained Assemblies of God minister Larry J. Lane, an endorsed U.S. Missions chaplain who serves as a “community resource officer” for the department.

Plummer says he created the position for Lane, a former jail chaplain, three years ago because he figured Lane would do well in the community with his many faith-based connections.

“We have a lot of churches in our community and it’s good to have a man of faith in that position to network with the churches,” Plummer says. “To me, the churches are the backbones of communities.”

The goal, Plummer says, is to improve police and community relations by building trust and educating youth that police are their friends.

Lane began initiating various outreaches into the Dayton urban and suburban communities six years ago after an arsonist burned down the home of an African-American woman who had moved into a white neighborhood.

Feeling the need to get residents of different races to talk civilly to one another, Lane and members of the department started hosting block parties at local churches. This past summer, 65 similar events were held across the county. Residents enjoy free food and games as they mingle with uniformed deputies and members of local congregations.

Local church participation is important, Lane says, to build upon the relationships that are initiated at the events. The church Lane attends, Christian Life Center in Dayton, has hosted many of the outreaches.

“We want the people to know that they don’t have to be afraid of the badge,” says Greg Bueno, Christian Life Center community event team leader. “We want them to feel like they can trust the sheriff’s office and the church. Partnering together is just a win-win situation for everyone.”

The events coincide with the church’s LoveDayton Community Outreach, through which the congregation partners with local businesses, non-profit organizations, and faith-based groups, including 22 other local churches, to perform acts of service in and around the city.

Bueno, who serves alongside Lane on the Montgomery County Police Athletic League, says residents look forward to seeing church members in neighborhoods.

“People come out because they want to see what’s going on and that opens the door for the church to welcome them in and let them be a part of the church family,” he says. “It also gives them a sense of belonging in their community because they’re part of the change.”

Lane says it’s all about building relationships.

He recently started a program called IMPACT – Improving Modern Policing And Community Trust – through which citizens and representatives from 20 police jurisdictions across the county meet monthly to talk through issues and discuss ways to improve modern policing and build community trust.

In addition, Lane in a year will address approximately 25,000 area school students, around 85 percent of which are African-American. Messages focus on anti-bullying, the dangers of addictions, social media safety, and the department’s Students Taking A Real Stand program.

The five points of the STARS program are being strong and not bullying others, being safe by putting down guns and knives, being smart by not using drugs and alcohol, being still by thinking before acting, and serving others. Lane is well received by students.

“I’ve earned the right to be heard because they know me and I’m always thinking of their best interest,” he says.

He works with two schools on a weekly basis where students are rewarded with quarterly field trips funded by the department.

Lane notes a marked improvement in discipline, behavior, and attitudes in schools where the program is presented. Efforts are paying off in the community as well, Plummer says, as evidenced when a recent officer-involved shooting was met with no backlash from residents.

“Our philosophy is to get out of our patrol cars and get into the neighborhoods and community,” Lane says. “Let’s work together to make a difference.”

Shannon M. Nass

Shannon Nass and her husband, Greg, are credentialed ministers with the Assemblies of God and live in Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, with their twin daughters, Naomi and Charlotte. Shannon is a freelance writer and special education teacher who also serves as coordinator for Beyond Survival Ministries, a Christian nonprofit organization dedicated to spreading the gospel.