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Religious Leaders Called to Battle Crime

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What if each church, mosque or synagogue in the city acted to keep children and teenagers off the streets, to offer help to struggling families? Those are the ideas behind a new faith-based program that's part of Chief Andre Parker's plan to reduce crime in Richmond.

Goodall, a Baptist minister himself and the officer overseeing the program, knows it will take more than the chief's plan to get religious leaders mobilized. "Money makes things happen," Goodall says with a chuckle. "When we empower these people with some finances, we can get things done."

The police department will soon have money to offer: a $250,000 grant from the federal Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program. "The COPS people really wanted to work with Richmond, because of the problems and promise we had," Goodall says.

Some of the money will fund a series of four police training academies, in which a total of 100 religious leaders will learn how the police force operates, what they can do within neighborhoods to assist officers and which programs in other cities could be adapted to fix some of the problems in Richmond.

Those who attend the academies will then be eligible for grants of $5,000 to $10,000 for their churches. The grants must be used to create programs with specific goals: tutoring children, offering sports or activities after school or visiting families in their homes. "We're not just trying to throw money out there and say 'Do something,'" Goodall says.

He believes church involvement can change neighborhoods, even if most of a church's members live outside the immediate area. Take Church Hill, for example — if every church in the area decided to claim the four blocks surrounding it, the entire area would be covered, Goodall says.

The initiative will start as soon as the grant is in his hands, Goodall says. Then, he'll tell ministers "Here's the money. Y'all ready to go?"

— Melissa Scott

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