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'Our Land': Pastor Stephen Rowan Talks About Community Policing

Pastor Stephen Rowan of Bethany Baptist Church. (Tony Ganzer/WCPN)

by Tony Ganzer, ideastream

Today we have another piece in “Our Land”: a conversation on community policing in Cleveland. This series is featuring many diverse Cleveland perspectives beginning always with the same questions: What should community policing look like, and how far are we from it?  Today we hear from Pastor Stephen Rowan of Bethany Baptist Church in Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood.

ROWAN: “I think community policing should mean that police have an on-going presence. I think it should be walking out among the residents.  I think visiting the businesses, the churches, the enterprises that are open and receptive to the police’s presence in the neighborhood.  And it’s gotta be something you don’t see once a week, I think every day.”

GANZER: “How far are we from that reality do you think?”

ROWAN: “As far as light is from darkness, probably.  Now I do know that our police chief believes in community policing, I’ve been in several meetings with him, and situations where he’s talked about it.  I know there are officers that believe in this, and our mayor as well.  So I’m hopeful for all that, but I think we’re far from it because I don’t see the police.  But I will say some of our staff have told me—and I’m  in and out going to meetings and back and forth—but some of our staff have told me that they’ve seen some police walking up and down 105 th street in recent weeks.  But here’s what happened on one occasion, they suggested, they said, ‘Well Pastor’s in there, why don’t you go meet our pastor?’ And they wouldn’t do it.”

GANZER: “Why not?”

ROWAN: “I don’t know.  I don’t understand why, why they wouldn’t. He said, ‘Why don’t you come and meet our pastor,’ and he told me that the officers just kind of blew him off.”

GANZER: “Over the course of this series I’ve talked to many different kinds of people, and they’ve pointed to a number of things trying to explain the rift between the police and the public.  They’ve pointed to race, they’ve pointed to class—where do you think this rift comes from?”

ROWAN: “Oh, I would say both of those are true, but I think it also comes from the fact that I think there is a belief—a stereotypical belief—that people in the community allow criminals to fester and that they approve of the behavior of some of the people that commit criminal acts, and I just don’t think that’s true.  But I’ve been a victim myself of police criticizing me saying that I get along with the drug dealers, or that I harbor them and all these kinds of things.  Do I know people who deal drugs? Of course I do.  And I know mothers, and fathers, and grandparents and others, who don’t approve of that behavior that their children or sons and daughters might be engaged in, but I still have to show them the love of Christ, and so I cannot judge them for what they do, what I can do is try to redirect them.”

GANZER: “It seems like there’s plenty of criticism for everybody to go around: some folks criticize the police, some folks criticize churches, some folks criticize non-profits.  Are we all on the same page when it comes to an ideal of community policing, do you think? Or are we moving toward the same page?”

ROWAN: “I think so. I think most people would agree that it’s important—there was a day when you would know the police officers in the community.  Now this is what has been said to me, and I’ve heard it from more than a couple of sources, that the police are told not to really engage residents, and that they shouldn’t get out of their cars and all those kinds of … because it’s too dangerous.  And it’s unfortunate that we live in a climate now where police feel under siege.  And there are people that are very angry toward the police, but I think that your average person would not justify anyone attacking the police or disrespecting the police, and I think that because there is this element of people that do those things that everybody gets painted with a broad brush, and I think that’s very unfair.  I respect the police, I’ve got a brother who’s a police officer…”

GANZER: “But incidents like the shooting of Tamir Rice, the case with Tanisha Anderson, these have exacerbated maybe the trust issue that we have between the public and the police…”

ROWAN: “I would agree, absolutely, because you cannot justify certain behavior when it’s clearly wrong.   Police are human like anyone else, just like pastors, and mailmen, teachers, politicians, there are always people in a group that are gonna be good, and there are some that are going to be bad.”

GANZER: “Is there something you think people are not talking about in this discussion?”

ROWAN: “I went to those listening meetings, I went to several of those, and people pretty much got out everything they wanted to say, and council sat back and listened…”

GANZER: “But converting that to action.  I’ve heard some skepticism from people.”

ROWAN: “Oh, yeah, there’s plenty of skepticism.  But again, I’m in the business of hope.  I’m in the business of hope, and I’m not changing my business.  See sometimes you’ve got to act people into a new way of thinking.  See instead of trying to get them to change their minds about a thing, show us through action.”

Find  more parts of this series here.

Tony Ganzer has reported from Phoenix to Cairo, and was the host of 90.3's "All Things Considered." He was previously a correspondent with the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, covering issues like Swiss banks, Parliament, and refugees. He earned an M.A. in International Relations (University of Leicester); and a B.Sc. in Journalism (University of Idaho.) He speaks German, and a bit of French.