OneCOP Program brings faith community and law enforcement agencies together

By Fran Ruchalski

On Tuesday, June 8, religious leaders and law enforcement agencies from all over northeast Florida came together at the Prime Osborn Convention Center in downtown Jacksonville to learn more about the OneCOP (One Community One Precinct) program being implemented by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

Bishop Felipe Estévez delivers an opening prayer to start the program. (photo by St. Augustine Catholic/Fran Ruchalski)

“Bless, oh Lord, the One Congregation One Precinct project – may this trailblazing effort succeed in bringing us all together for greater collaboration for the sake of the common good of all citizens.” With these word, Bishop Felipe Estévez blessed the efforts of those in the room to improve the relationships between the two communities.

This new proactive initiative by JSO and Movement Forward of Atlanta seeks to bring the faith community together and law enforcement personnel into an ongoing partnership to find solutions to a host of problems in our neighborhoods.

“Police-community tensions are at an all-time high,” said Rev. Markel Hutchins, CEO of Movement Forward. “Collaborations between police agencies and local groups, especially faith-based organizations, are invaluable for creating safer and more engaged neighborhoods.”

According to Hutchins, the problems of systemic racism will not be solved overnight, nor will segregating ourselves from one another improve the situation.

“We need to turn to each other and not on each other,” he added. “As long as we stay at that point of division, we will never progress. We need to focus on the things that unite us more than the things that divide us because we are not nearly as divided as we are disconnected.”

Bishop Felipe Estévez greets Imam Hafez Muhammad Bilal Malik of the Islam Center of Northeast Florida. (photo by St. Augustine Catholic/Fran Ruchalski)

The OneCOP program facilitates positive, ongoing partnerships between local law enforcement personnel and diverse congregations of every faith tradition in a variety of activities. The goal is to bring the police in touch with congregants within their houses of worship so that they can get to know, listen, and appreciate one another on a very personal level.

Sheriff Mike Williams introduces local law officials and religious leaders in attendance to the program. (photo by St. Augustine Catholic/Fran Ruchalski)

This mutual respect and understanding will lead to more communication and trust, less bias, and increased familiarity between congregations and patrol-level police officers, improving the lives and outcomes for citizens throughout the city.

“I am extremely excited about the OneCOP effort,” said Sheriff Williams. “To be more successful, we need to work with our community to protect Jacksonville and its citizens. To proudly work side-by-side with each of you in every neighborhood of our city.”

“OneCOP will only bring about more ways for us to stay connected. The more conversations we can have, the more bridges we can build, helps us make Jacksonville safer than ever,” Williams added. “I look forward to seeing the amazing connections made and long-time relationships bloom.”