A new “Support Blue Fresno” campaign aimed at broadening support for local law enforcement – the latest project of the nonprofit Fresno Police Chaplaincy – began with an unexpected conversation in the home of its executive director, Rodney Lowery.
One day his 15-year-old son, a “very articulate, intelligent young man,” asked his dad what was going on with “all the police brutality.”
He had seen some “pretty clear” but short video clips on social media of this brutality.
Lowery asked his son to consider this: In Fresno alone, police come in contact with hundreds and hundreds of people every day.
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“That’s one agency,” Lowery told his son. “We’ve got 900,000 officers that work in our nation. Imagine all the contacts that are going right, where the cop is doing the right thing.”
They had a good conversation, but his son’s question took him by surprise. Lowery had worked as a police officer in Selma and Fresno for 15 years, retiring after he was hit while on duty by a drunken driver.
“If a young man in my home could question what’s going on nationally, it stands to reason that in the homes where they are neutral or maybe even anti-law enforcement – what’s going on in that mindset?
“Quite honestly, that’s what started this Support Blue. The need to say, ‘Yes, do we make mistakes? Absolutely. Are there officers who do not need to be in the profession? Absolutely. But let’s not forget about the 99 percent who – whether you hate them, love them – if you call, they will come and risk their life for you.”
What people don’t realize is we’re the first ones that want a bad cop out – and that’s with any industry. … Those people want that bad apple out because it does spoil the hard work of the rest of them.
The chaplaincy will lead a number of Support Blue events at which people can show support for local law enforcement, beginning with a Support Blue 5K and 10K run at Woodward Park on Feb. 27.
Part of the campaign includes a video that will go online Sunday, Jan. 24, at supportbluefresno.com documenting a Fresno officer involved in an officer-involved shooting and a suspect’s sister, who saved the officer’s life.
There were nine officer-involved shootings in Fresno last year.
“It’s an attempt to just show Fresno, ‘Listen, you can’t buy everything on social media,’ ” Lowery says. “There are two voices out here. Take some time to listen to ours and see how this officer was impacted by being involved in a shooting.”
The chaplaincy, with approximately 55 volunteer chaplains providing a number of support services for police officers and community members, has been an important link in helping officers strengthen relationships with Fresno residents.
Founded in 1981 with the intent of meeting the “rising emotional and spiritual needs of the officers” by providing a kind of informal counseling, the chaplaincy has expanded to extend that service to community members experiencing crime-related trauma.
Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer says his department receives around 1,200 calls a day for service. Fresno police analysts reported the dispatch center received more than a million 911 and non-emergency calls in 2015 for the first time ever.
In 2015, Fresno police said, the highest number of reported incidents were regarding suspicious circumstances (92,502), traffic stops (68,553), disturbances (62,020), medical and non-responses (54,116), burglary-related (20,751) and welfare checks (23,606).
Many are related to domestic abuse. The chaplaincy has one chaplain devoted to helping with these calls full-time.
“Our detectives are handling over 7,000 domestic violence cases a year. … There’s a whole lot more domestic violence calls that don’t make it to their level,” Dyer says.
The chaplaincy also has programs aimed at helping Fresno youths, including Project STEALTH (Stop Trafficking Exploitation and Liberate Through Hope) and RISE (Resilience in Student Education).
RISE chaplains visit around 2,200 first-graders once a week throughout the Fresno Unified School District to help teach children how to overcome challenges in a positive way.
I think if that is instilled in a child, when they are placed in harm’s way, and those life challenges present themselves, they can effectively bounce back from adversity and it won’t sidetrack them.
Dyer says chaplains are helping create future productive adults by teaching integrity, accountability and making good choices.
“Our goal is to be in every elementary school, and Fresno Unified is going to fund that.”
Dyer proposed a donation of $1,000 per school to help the program at each of the district’s 60-plus elementary schools. The chaplaincy is in the process of recruiting more volunteer school chaplains for the program.
The head of the program, John Edmondson, spent 34 years as an educator and administrator for Fresno Unified, retiring as its coordinator for state and federal programs. Last week, he made his weekly visit to Pyle Elementary School in central Fresno. He read a book aloud to first-graders about a mouse who didn’t lose heart after failing many times to find a way to get to the other side of a seemingly insurmountable wall.
After reading, Edmondson opened a class discussion about the mouse.
“She failed. Did she get sad?”
“Did she get mad?”
“What did she do? She kept on going. … We call that perseverance. You keep on trying.”
Dyer says far too many children in Fresno experience emotional, psychological or physical abuse and RISE chaplains help teach kids “how to bounce back.”
Project STEALTH focuses on helping prevent runaways from becoming victims of human trafficking. There are between 2,700 and 3,000 children who run away from home in the city of Fresno every year, on average, Lowery says, and an estimated 10 to 12 percent are lured into human trafficking.
“Here locally, between 200 and 300 young girls are working the streets of Fresno,” Lowery says.
To prevent more from being exploited, STEALTH chaplains are mentoring around 30 children who ran away from home, meeting with them once a week for an hour or two.
“Nine of them who were not enrolled in school are now enrolled in school, caught up on their units and are no longer runaways,” Dyer says. “And three of them that were failing last year are now straight-A students. And we’ve had another couple of teenage boys who, as a result of the efforts of the chaplains, turned away from a gang lifestyle.”
Chaplains write up many of the initial reports for runaway cases. Lowery likes that chaplains are on the “front lines” in this way. Volunteers spend time with children and families, talking through issues and assessing whether a child might be in danger at home, along with connecting children to services such as the mentoring program.
Dyer looks forward to seeing the chaplaincy programs and the services chaplains provide to officers continue to grow.
“It’s a difficult job,” Dyer says of the work of police officers. “So it’s important that we take care of them, and our chaplains do a great job of doing that.”
Support Blue Fresno event
A Support Blue Fresno 5K walk/run and 10K run will begin at 8:15 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 27, at Woodward Park, 7775 N. Friant Road, Fresno. People can register for, or sponsor, the run online at supportbluefresno.com.
Volunteer or donate
The chaplaincy is looking for more school chaplains to help with its RISE program. More information is available online at fresnopdchaplaincy.org or by calling 559-621-2120. Donations to the nonprofit can also be made on their website.