Camden clergy to help police nip violence

Fearing a long, hot, and violent summer, a group of Camden clergy are gearing up to work closely with law enforcement officials to ease street tensions.

With the city police chief’s blessing, Camden Churches Organized for People is this week launching a Clergy Task Force.

The task force, which is open to all religious leaders in the city and not just CCOP members, will be meeting with Police Chief Scott Thomson and other law enforcement officials regularly — possibly weekly or bi-weekly — to discuss crime trends and violence hot spots.

The clergy leaders would then organize peace walks and other outreach efforts based on the information gathered at the police meetings, said one of the organizers Rev. Heyward Wiggins III, pastor at Camden Bible Tabernacle in North Camden.

Their first meeting is scheduled for Tuesday.

“A lot of times we are reacting,” Wiggins said, adding that the goal is to be more proactive and “to show our presence and begin making inroads with young people who are out there” selling drugs.

CCOP has had a good relationship with police, Wiggins said, but now clergy will have formal and regular conversations with the top cops.

“Much like we already do with our law enforcement partners, we will review the current trends of violence, measure the effectiveness of our collaborative efforts, and formulate strategies to suppress the shootings and murders. Only, this meeting will be sanitized of law enforcement sensitive information, but meaningful enough to be actionable,” Chief Thomson said in an e-mail.

Thomson said Boston and Chicago have had success with clergy task forces.

Clergy can sometimes be very effective in getting neighborhood leaders to “suppress the street beefs,” Thomson said.

“The matriarchal or patriarchal figure of a neighborhood has significant influence over changing behaviors. We need to empower them and have their back when they do step up,” the chief said.