St. Paul cops rely on a higher power


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TheeBadOne
January 2, 2004, 07:24 PM
When it comes to fighting crime in St. Paul, police have a number of tools at their disposal: sophisticated computer networks, high-tech crime labs -- oh, and divine intervention.

The last of these comes courtesy of the God Squad, a collection of streetwise ministers who have been called upon hundreds of times to mediate gang fights, to keep the peace at homicide scenes, to bring in suspects and to defuse dicey situations before they get out of control.

"Without the God Squad the body count would be higher," said Cmdr. John Harrington of the St. Paul Police Department. "They've saved my behind."

As an example, the ministers spent much of last year helping police deal with a violent turf war between two gangs.

The solution the ministers came up with was incredibly simple, Harrington said: "They talked to the moms and said, with some legitimacy, 'We don't want to bury your sons.' "

The God Squad began informally in the late 1990s in the tough sections of the Summit-University area. The ministers now spend countless hours in and beyond that neighborhood.

The ministers walk the streets, attend high school events and talk to everyone from gangbangers to school administrators looking for ways to stem or prevent violence.

The ministers aren't out proselytizing or trying to fill pews on Sunday mornings. They say they're trying to keep volatile situations from turning deadly on Saturday nights.

"We're not trying to 'save' folks," said the Rev. Devin Miller, who helped start the group. "We're trying to save folks."

Harrington and other police officials credit the God Squad with helping to keep St. Paul one of the safest cities in the country by talking to suspects, victims, relatives and residents on behalf of police.

"There are times when the police will call us out and say, 'Why don't you guys handle this,' " said the Rev. Divar Kemp of the Greater Mount Sinai Missionary Baptist Church on Dale Street in the Summit-University neighborhood.

Harrington thinks the group is unique because police call them, and because ministers coordinate with police on ways to keep the peace. The relationship became more formal in November when the police gave the ministers dark blue windbreakers (called "raid jackets") with "God Squad" written on them.

Harrington, who is credited with coining the "God Squad" phrase, said issuing the jackets was largely a safety measure. "We wanted something so they would be easily recognizable if they go into a hot zone."

Their calling

The ministers believe they are effective because they don't work for the police, they work with the police. They are not police chaplains, and they see their involvement as an extension of their calling.

"We're here to minister to people, and you minister to people at their worst," said the Rev. Walter Grantham, who joined the God Squad last year as its fourth member.

The group has proved so successful that it gets called to help beyond St. Paul. Last month it pitched in to help break up a large gang fight at a Maplewood hockey arena.

Homicide Cmdr. Nancy DiPerna considers the God Squad a good resource, especially when police are investigating a crime and tensions at the scene threaten to spiral out of control.

"They've been real valuable in getting people to come in and cooperate," said DiPerna, who stresses that the ministers do not investigate crimes.

Last year, when murder suspect Jason Dixon [J.D.] was sought by police for fatally stabbing his cousin in a fight, he turned to the God Squad because he knew the ministers from living in the neighborhood.

"J.D. was too afraid to turn himself in to the police, so he turned himself in to us and we brought him in," said the Rev. Darryl Spence.

DiPerna said the God Squad is called in "when they know some of the players involved." The ministers, who seem to know just about everybody, get called on quite a bit.

"Ministry is 24 hours, seven days a week," Kemp said. "How can you live in a community and not get involved? God gives me the time to work in the community."

Kemp is the only one of the four affiliated with a church, but the others have a full schedule working with nonprofit groups in the community. They make a point to be available to police if something happens, whether it's 2 in the afternoon or 2 in the morning.

Police say the God Squad has been especially helpful when race threatens to become an issue, such as when a black man is shot by a white officer. The ministers calm people, asking for patience while the matter is investigated.

"That's a very important message that comes not just from the Police Department but also from a respected member of the community," said Officer Paul Schnell. "I can . . . rely on their leadership and their standing in the community."

Spence, says the turning point for the group came in December 2001 when a police officer mistakenly shot and killed house painter Charles Craighead as he struggled for a gun with a carjacker.

Spence was at the scene, standing behind the yellow police tape with a group of very angry residents, when Chief William Finney arrived.

Spence said Finney spotted him, called him over, lifted the tape and escorted him inside the crime scene so he could get information firsthand.

Spence believes that incident served as a message to the community that the ministers had the chief's ear; it also let officers know that the God Squad was to be taken seriously.

"They have credibility in the community and they have credibility with us," said Harrington, who would like to start God Squads in other police districts and eventually in other cities.

The one issue looming before the God Squad is Finney's retirement this summer. Although unlikely, there is the possibility that the new chief could frown on relying so heavily on civilians.

But Grantham and the others believe the God Squad has helped St. Paul avoid a lot of the police-community problems that have plagued other cities, including Minneapolis.

Harrington believes that the God Squad model could work in Minneapolis, where Mayor R.T. Rybak has selected Dayton, Ohio, Police Chief William McManus to succeed Police Chief Robert Olson. McManus has a reputation for reaching out to the community.

"The difference, if you ask me, is that their mayor doesn't listen to them, their chief doesn't listen to them," Kemp said. "Our chief listens to us. But that was earned."

http://www.startribune.com/stories/467/4297209.html

Photo Link http://www.startribune.com/stonline/images/news25/1god02.l.jpg
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What I want to know is...... if you are guilty of commiting a Mortal Sin......do they dole out gospel punishment? :eek:

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Drizzt
January 4, 2004, 03:44 PM
I like it.

More 'power' to them.

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