Baltimore & Me:Community Policing: Outreach minister serves BPD as civilian chaplain

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Minister Debora Berry’s work in the southeastern district as a chaplain for the Baltimore City Police Department (BPD) has aroused in her a deeper appreciation for the men and women who suit up everyday to protect and serve the citizens of this city.

Earlier this year, Berry graduated with the third class of the civilian chaplain academy, the faith-based program of the BPD’s Community Collaboration Division—ready to serve.

“I’m truly honored to be called to this,” said Minister Debora Berry, whose previous work in ministry centered around planning faith-based activities for youth with Greater Harvest and Beyond the Walls ministries in East Baltimore.

“It’s new to me, but I accept the calling. I’m excited about what God is truly doing, not just for me but, for them. They are the ones that have to be out here each and everyday to deal with what’s going on [in the city],” she said.

Understanding the inherent interdependency in the relationship between police officers and city residents, Minister Berry’s service to the program is split between manning one of the dozens of prayer alters strategically located throughout the city and providing spiritual care for first responders and officers on beat.

She credits the training she received from the academy for expanding her consciousness about topics, including: domestic violence, racial bias, and principles of community policing and mental health.

“My job is to be there to pray when called,” said Minister Berry, who was called to a shooting on the first day of field training with the chaplain academy.

“We are there to pray with the officers… to cover for the first responders… to pray for the community,” she said. “We’re there praying for whoever is going through what they’re going through.”

Another call, took her to the scene where a man attempted suicide by jumping in front of a bridge in Dundalk toward a moving train.

“He missed,” recalled Minister Berry. “It was hard to be up close with someone who wanted to take their life. When I saw him there I just asked God to transform his mind. Life is too precious just to throw away like that, regardless of what you’re going through.”

Minister Berry brings a warrior’s spirit to her work with the faith-based program. More months than not, she exceeds the 20-hour expectation set for volunteer clergy because sometimes,she says, that’s what it takes.

During one-on-one with officers, the outreach minister helps them to spiritually digest what they experience physically on the job— to see things through the eyes of love, to work through the toxic emotions that have the potential to drive police, as well as any other human being to take their own lives or to complicate the lives of others.

“I was pretty much there everyday at one point,” said Minister Berry. “Every day that the partner officer I was assigned to was working, I was there; I had to develop a rapport. I had to build that relationship to where he could open up.”

When they first met, Minister Berry says, her partner was numb. From what she could gather in the beginning, he was facing challenges with balancing work and home, and adjusting emotionally to his experiences on the job.

“He would never open up, he would just walk around saying, ‘I’m OK. I’m OK. I’m OK.’ But now today he opens up— we talk outside of the district. He calls and checks up on me— and I [check on] him, and the relationship we have is mutual.”

Prayer, as Minister Berry employs it, is not just about the words. It’s about the infinite power activated when people take courage to stand with one another, in the face of the appearances that make them different, to make a commitment to collectively, acknowledge the source of absolute good— God, a higher power or whatever connects all humanity.

For all the good seeds planted in the hearts and minds she has touched with her service, Minister Berry says she has reaped a harvest that has transformed her life. She recalled being called to the scene of a fatal house fire in North East Baltimore that claimed the lives of six children, earlier this year.

“My biggest challenge was seeing those babies, innocent souls, being pulled out of that fire. It really touched my heart. I thought about my babies, my [five] grandchildren,” the mother of two daughters and one son said.

With first responders since 10 a.m, she stayed and prayed until the fire was extinguished and everyone was out of the house. She was drained, and just when she thought she had no more to give, her partner officer stepped in. “He covered me in prayer,” she said. “You have to love one another. It’s all about love. We have one big happy family over at the southeastern district— we stand together, civilians and police officers.”

Tiffany Christy is an urban educator, youth advocate, and multimedia editor and producer. She enjoys capturing the beauty of her beloved Baltimore in words and pictures. Follow Tiffany on Facebook/tiffany.ginyard and visit her blog, Fly Lyf, at www.flygirlnetwork.org/blog.