Rockford Police tackle racism with religion - WREX.com – Rockford’s News Leader

Rockford Police tackle racism with religion

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(File photo) Scene outside the home where Demetrius Bennett was shot and killed Nov. 1, 2012. (File photo) Scene outside the home where Demetrius Bennett was shot and killed Nov. 1, 2012.
(File photo) Scene outside church where Mark Barmore was shot and killed in 2009. (File photo) Scene outside church where Mark Barmore was shot and killed in 2009.
ROCKFORD (WREX) -

Rockford Police leaders address issues there might be subconscious racism in the department. A week ago, minority community members called on police to do more about what critics call cultural issues. The police chief turns to faith for answers.

The NAACP went public with its concerns after a grand jury cleared officers of shooting Demetrius Bennett. He was killed November 1, 2012. He's one of three black men Rockford Police shot and killed last year. Grand jurors ruled all of the shootings justified. To rebuild the relationship with the minority community the police chief opens up to religious leaders.

"There have been concerns about community interaction with the police department," says Reverend Erma Ford, Allen Chapel.

"We have a few bad cops, just in every organization there are just a few bad seeds," says Reverend Deryk Hayes, New Zion Baptist Church.

About 30 Rockford religious leaders brought those concerns to the police department on day one of a new program. The five week effort includes discussion with officers and police chaplains, plus ride-alongs with a cop at any time to see what they deal with every day..

"The more that we can collaborate and get those leaders informed about the operations of the police department it just makes life a lot easy for our police officers," says Chief Chet Epperson.

Worries about the minority community and officers go back farther than just last year. In 2009, police shot and killed Mark Barmore inside a church basement. It sparked a divide in the community that some religious leaders worry about how to get beyond.

"We like to say here in this community that it's a river that divides us but I don't think that's the case. I think it's a mentality that divides us and we all need to come somewhere on common ground and see what we do agree on and work with that," says Hayes.

There are four more meetings scheduled between Rockford Police and clergy every Wednesday in May from 9 to 11 a.m. at the Public Safety Building. Any religious leader can attend.

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