Faith-Based Policing

This is an excellent article written by Sgt. Jeff Baker of the Omaha Police Department.  Weigh in.  What role does your faith (Judeo-Christian or otherwise) play in your service?

Faith-Based Policing

A former agnostic weighs in
  • Jeff Baker
  • 2008 Jun 18

Noted conservative commentator and former Republican representative from Oklahoma, J.C. Watts, issued a rousing response to then-President Bill Clinton’s State of the Union address in 1997. A provocative quote from that transcendent speech was, “Character is doing the right thing, even when nobody is looking.”

Ponder that.

Opportunities to slip toward or into malfeasance in our profession abound, so how do we as individual officers behave when nobody’s looking? Are we acting righteously and honorably away from the eye of the mobile video system? When we prepare our reports? When we testify? Are we being as honest and forthright as we should be given our stated oath? Are we, as the congressman’s definition demands, doing the right thing when nobody’s looking?

Or could it be someone  is looking when by all worldly indications we’re alone with the smelly indigent who lay crumpled in a public park?  Is someone looking when the comely female motorist expresses a willingness to do anything to avoid being arrested for DUI? Or maybe on a more common but no less insidious level,  is someone looking when we supervisors set a poor example by running down the chief or turning a blind eye to unpopular policy?

Faith didn’t come to me overnight, nor did its interface with my work. The product of an areligious upbringing, I spent much of my adult life as an unbaptized agnostic, only entertaining cursory thoughts of a creator just in case one existed.

After an intense, year-long personal investigation into the matter of faith as an adult, I believe in the God of the Hebrew Old Testament. I believe God is a Trinity of persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Therefore, I’m Christian, specifically, a Roman Catholic Christian.

While I remain imperfect, my faith is the cornerstone of my life, my marriage, and ethical decisions I make at home and at work. I find it easier to be a good ambassador for the law enforcement community as a believer. I fellowship with friends and family from other expressions of the faith, so ecumenism is an aspect of my Christian growth and maturation.

I convey these thoughts to the reader in order to lay a foundation for what I’d like to broach in this article: the connectivity between God and cop as seen through the eyes of a brother paladin who himself struggles with bouts of pride, self absorption, and sin.

Before and after
I was recently asked what work was like  before faith, a time when I viewed mankind through secular glasses and a correspondingly suspicious gaze. The honest answer? I wasn’t as patient, polite or professional a police officer then. Yes, I’m still a “Type A,” inasmuch as I don’t shy away from a challenge or wanton disregard for the law, but I’m a  kinder cop today; more often than not, I’m able to see past the bad behavior and accept that somewhere underneath lies a person, another member of God’s creation.

Not always easy to do, I realize. The various dregs of society we deal with may have been born in goodness, yet there could be myriad genetic predispositions, environmental conditions, substance abuse problems, and issues relative to socioeconomics and upbringing which can poison people who -different time and place- might well have been productive members of society.

Thus, a “God’s children” ideology in dealing with the public only goes so far; violence is the exclusive language of a small percentage of our clientele, so you must stand ready to communicate on that level as well. It’s a bit primal at times, but the truth is we deal with evil, not evil as a metaphor for man’s internal struggle to do the right thing, but  evil as a manifest reality . So I make no bones about it. I believe in God, therefore I believe in the devil. It’s plain to see both are at work in our world.

Faith’s intangibility makes it a decision. A gift, yes, but also a  decision which can, at times, leave one in a state of spiritual flux. For instance, in December 2007, I was among the first responders to the worst mass shooting at a mall in U.S. history. The call provoked me to reflect on my mortality, priorities, commitment to training, and my conduct as a sergeant responsible for a crew of officers. The event also caused me to dwell on the Lord and why He might let something like this happen in my hometown (fodder for an article in and of itself).

My wife, who inspired me to take the first step on my faith walk, is unaware of the most intimate details of my Von Maur experience, what it felt like to step inside anticipating a meeting with my God or the devil. She didn’t take in the graphic imagery that still bounces around my head at times. What my wife  could see in the days after the call was a somewhat withdrawn, brooding husband. She was Christ to me anyway, renewing my hope, and I am truly blessed and grateful for that.

Obviously then, our faith and communal hope was pivotal in my getting through one of life’s dark valleys. Together we hope and pray for the eight murder victims. We hope and pray for something beyond a wrenchingly violent and bloody end to their earthly lives that day. We hope and pray for their families, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

That’s the new pivot point for me, hope. It’s Christianity’s essence, for us to decide through free will and of our own volition to be steadfast in hope for and in Him despite the sadness, sickness, death and despair which pockmark our passage through time.

I began my law enforcement career in 1988. Most days, I still thoroughly enjoy being a police officer, particularly a  Christian police officer who has at least a dim intimation of the eternal implications of his actions and decisions.

In the final analysis, the role of peacemaker is more than zero tolerance enforcement, fire teams, vehicle pursuits, and kicking ass, so I challenge you to search within yourself to identify those opportunities to be more than a rigid, protocol-driven uniform in your dealings with the public. Please pray for our vocation, and that all law enforcement professionals throughout the world be emboldened to know, love and honor God.