Montgomery, Alabama’s Solution to Fighting Crime: Jesus

Ray Downs at The Atlantic tells the story of an Alabama city with a high murder rate and how local cops are fighting back with taxpayer money and Jesus:

Operation Good Shepherd [is] a publicly funded Christian outreach ministry started by the Montgomery Police Department that puts Christian pastors on crime scenes to counsel and pray with victims and witnesses. Police claim the program is a way to regain trust in the community, but there’s another motive, which they aren’t at all coy about: evangelism — they believe a stronger sense of Christianity will reduce crime.

I’m sure while they’re at it, they’ll replace all neighborhood watch programs with giant pictures of Jesus…

The goal is to “defuse potentially volatile situations and offer alternatives to violence” but you can’t throw religion on a tragedy and expect everything — or anything — to be fixed. Not to mention the program is just waiting to be declared unconstitutional:

The “outreach ministry” is entirely funded by taxpayers. Although the pastors are all volunteers who are not compensated by the city, police officers get paid their regular wages to train them and the program incurs administrative costs, including ID cards for pastors to get access to crime scenes.

“Even without paying the ministers, using ministers as a formal part of the police department — as an outreach ministry — I think violates the Establishment Clause,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the School of Law at University of California in Irvine. “The government cannot take actions that appear to endorse religion. Using ministers in this way does exactly that.”

Legality aside, though, does the program even work?

Take a wild guess:

A second problem is that there is no evidence a program like this can have any effect on crime. Corp. Hicks, who created the program, said he did not consult any professionals for it. Rather, he based it on similar programs that were put into place in Dayton, Ohio and Arlington, Texas. However, those cities have not recorded data on the effect of those programs, so there’s no indication they are a good idea to recreate.

They might as well just start hiring psychics to try and predict where crimes will take place. That has the same chance of working as this does.

We’re talking about Alabama here. We’re talking about a state where more than 85% of the population is already Christian. The problem isn’t that the criminals don’t know about Jesus; the problem is that they have problems in their lives that religion isn’t about to solve.

To paraphrase one of the commenters, this isn’t just ineffective, it’s predatory: It finds people when they’re vulnerable and uses the opportunity to proselytize to them, all on the taxpayers’ dime. It may also prevent the victims from seeking out real, long-term counseling that could help them since they’ve already been “cared for” by a man of God.

There’s no reason pastors can’t help victims (who seek them out) after a crime — they don’t need the police to give them more opportunities. So why bother? The city doesn’t need to spend any money on these pastors; they need to invest in hiring more cops so that these crimes are prevented in the first place.

The city of Montgomery isn’t benefitting from any of this. The data doesn’t support the idea that this program is working. The only people getting anything out of it are the pastors who just found fresh meat for their congregations.

(Thanks to Scott for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • flyb

    How is it that these programs are allowed to continue? Certainly the Dayton and Arlington programs would have been stopped by now. Right?

  • Graham Martin-Royle

    If I were a victim of a crime, the last thing I would want is a pastor trying to get me to pray. I think I would end up becoming a criminal as I’d be likely to punch his/her lights out.

  • kaydenpat

    Wonder what will happen if they run into an atheist victim/witness or a non-Christian victim/witness. This program is wrong on so many levels.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    Made me laugh…

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    That picture made me think that they hired Jedi Masters to enforce the laws. Seriously though, the last thing anyone needs after a crime is told how god has a plan for them and how things happen for a reason. As you said, Hemant, this is Alabama we are talking about and it’s impossible for anyone in that state to not know who jesus is.

  • jen

    At 85%, belief couldn’t be much stronger. And how the f#@k does involving a minister AFTER the fact help prevent crime.?

  • Artor

    I’m not even convinced that hiring more cops will help anything either. The money would be much better spent on education and social services. There’s plenty of data to show that a better educated society with a safety net for those in trouble leads to much lower crime rates.

  • Miss_Beara

    Because they love to exploit a tragedy with Jesus. Horrible earthquake in Haiti? Let’s go there with our bibles and tell them about Jesus! Earthquake and tsunami in Japan? Let- well, you know how the rest goes.

  • busterggi

    Yeah, because no real Christian would ever commit a crime.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    Can’t have people living off the public teat because if that happens they will just want more and more hand outs. Free college, housing, food, phones and the list goes on. We will just create a bunch of lazy people.






    In case your meter is broken, the above is sarcasm.

  • James Stevenson

    Tell the victims and witnesses (because theres nothing about pastors talking to criminals there) that god has a plan… so don’t bother to report crime because its just god reaching out to advance his grand will? Lower reporting will surely reduce crime rates. Only logical line of thought I can see here. Though we all know the only reason they did it is because they want to push that number a few percentage points closer to a hundred.

  • James Stevenson

    Evil atheist who doesn’t appreciate god’s gift of taxpayer funded on-the-scene prayer? I mean only those selfish atheists could possibly not be councilled by talk that their suffering is meaningless.

  • LesterBallard

    Wouldn’t this Jesus be better at fighting crime?

  • Brian

    Well, Bibles and handcuffs go pretty well together, metaphorically speaking.

  • WallofSleep

    So they’re gonna enlist Jesus to fight crime. Nice. Could we possibly enlist Inuus or maybe Priapus to attend to the state of modern porn? There’s way too much slapping going on these days. I find it off-putting.

  • Heisenberg

    Sounds like it would make for a great “buddy cop” show. Starsky & Jesus; one cop carries a gun, drives a hot car, and has a bad attitude. The other cop is completely unarmed, and tries to saves the souls of the criminals… and somehow manages to get shot up and die every episode. But it’s ok, because he miraculously comes back to life and unloads some righteous fury!

  • Stev84

    It doesn’t. But it gives them access to some very vulnerable people. That’s what they really care about.

  • A3Kr0n

    The Montgomery police chief needs to be fired immediately.

  • Mick

    We’re talking about a state where more than 85% of the population is already Christian.

    Is the police chief elected in Montgomery?

    With Jesus on his side he’ll get back in with 85% of the vote at the next election. Cunning bugger.

  • Anna

    This never makes any sense to me. Statistically, the most crime-ridden communities also tend to be the most religious. If religion solved the problem of crime and violence, then those who live in poverty would be less susceptible to drugs, gangs, and other social ills, not more.

  • cary_w

    Our town has a lovely little stone monument of the Ten Commandments that protects us from all crimes. When the criminals drive down Main Street and see it they are reminded of the glory of God and are inspired to repent and leave the life of crime! If Montgomery still has crime, them obviously their local churches aren’t doing their jobs! They need to get out there and erect Ten Commandment monuments and giant crosses!* That how you protect your city from crime!

    *just make sure to fund them with private donations and put them on church property so no one can force you to take them down :-)

  • anniewhoo

    This is obviously a terrible idea, but what about victims who are already most vulnerable to Christian hate? The rape victim? The abused spouse? The LGBT victim of a hate crime? How will these pastors deal with these victims? I shudder when I think of it.

  • Ton_Chrysoprase

    Great idea, although I don’t think Jesús would let the other guy take the wheel.

  • islandbrewer

    “You think it’s Valdez the drug runner who knocked me out and crucified me? It appears this case is …”

    *puts on sunglasses*

    “Full of holes.”


  • Cake

    I’m surprised that nobody has posted this

  • Birdie1986

    Exactly what I was going to say.

  • Guest Without A Name

    “I’m sure while they’re at it, they’ll replace all neighborhood watch programs with giant pictures of Jesus…”

    This might actually inhibit some criminals, see the Princess Alice effect:

    “Princess Alice is watching you”: children’s belief in an invisible person inhibits cheating.

  • mikedave

    I try hard not to be this cynical. Yes religions that seek out people at
    their most vulnerable are the ones that survive and flourish so its not
    surprising that existing religions take every opportunity to do so. But
    the people involved, the pastors etc, usually don’t see it this way,
    they are generally good people trying to do good things. This is just another example of religion making good people behave like dicks, it is insidious really.

  • Holytape

    Their motto, “Jesus cares, albeit after the fact, and not enough to actually do anything productive. But He still cares.”

  • 3lemenope

    But the people involved, the pastors etc, usually don’t see it this way, they are generally good people trying to do good things.

    I like to assume this until there is actual evidence to the contrary, and probably from a statistical point of view, it is true that most people in pastoral positions are not cynical and see themselves as providing a valuable service to the world.

    But I’m in a position where there isn’t much of a threat to me if I’m wrong, so it’s a bit of a luxury of privilege. I definitely don’t begrudge people in vulnerable positions taking a more directly hostile and skeptical stance towards the intentions of people who swoop in to meddle with their vulnerabilities.

  • Mark Hyzer

    Corporal Hicks should take off and nuke the site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

  • JuneAbend

    Hi there!
    I represent Jesus, who didn’t care enough to be here personally, a few moments ago, to prevent your being raped and beaten. After we kneel together here for a moment, and forgive your attackers (from local, good christian families) by praying to the omniscient, omnibenevolent saviour (who lovingly chose this to happen to you), I’d like to tell you about god’s wonderful plan for your life.

    Hey, Miss? Where are crawling off to? Wait…but…

  • Carmelita Spats

    Telling a rape victim that God has a “purpose” for her attack and that the violence wrought upon her body is “God’s will to bring her closer to Him” or the “result of sin and a fallen world” or “a way for you to learn compassion and offer your suffering unto the Lard” or “God’s way for you to experience true humility and forgiveness” is completely evil and the product of a debased mindset. Pastors are about as “good” as psychics, shamans and Third World crank healers. Good people have the decency to REMOVE themselves, their agendas, and let mental health professionals, people with REAL credentials, do their job. It’s all about client-centered best practices and not inflating their already overstuffed church coffers. If I were approached by a buck-toothed pastor braying Christianese after being informed of my rape, I’d kick him in the nuts.

  • squinney

    And WHITE blue eyed Jesus, no doubt. Idiots.

  • squinney

    THAT was GREAT. Thanks for sharing.

  • God’s Starship

    That’s like pouring gasoline on a fire.

  • StuckNtexas

    Disturbing, yet not surprising. Based on 2000 census data, 24.73% of Alabamians 25 years of age or older do not have even a high school diploma. As of 2007, the high school drop out rate was 41.4%. 1 in 4 children in the state live in poverty. It’s the 2nd hungriest state in the nation. If prayer worked,shouldn’t the state have much better statistics? How about less money for unconstitutional programs and more money for education?

  • EdmondWA

    He can’t make that kind of decision. He’s just a grunt.

  • Miss_Beara

    But you see, everything happens for a reason and he works in mysterious ways.

    Something something free will yadda yadda he loves you blah blah blah he has a plan.

  • Trickster Goddess

    Police claim the program is a way to regain trust in the community

    If the community doesn’t trust the police, then the police need to do some soul-searching about what they themselves need to do differently and not just try to paper it over with a religious PR guy.

  • God’s Starship

    The holy rollers are tedious when I’m in the best of moods. And they want to stick one in my face when I’m at one of the lowest points in my life.

  • guest

    A minimum price on alcohol might help too.

  • guest

    I don’t understand how counselling victims and witnessess is going to fight crime. It might make the victims and witnessess feel better, and so reduce the impact of the crime on their lives, but it’s the criminals the pastors should be talking to. Perhaps the kids with a parent in prison that the article mentions should be mentored by the pastors…or maybe that’s a recipe for a spate of a different type of crime.
    It is exploitation, to find people who are hurting and to help them, and then preach to gospel at them. It’s similar to Christian charities, where people who are given aid tend to convert out of gratitude.

    Maybe a local humanist group should offer to do outreach too? If there is one in Alabama.

  • guest

    -Dr. Earnest Blackshear, a professor of psychology at Alabama State
    University who has worked with Montgomery police on past programs, says
    he has lobbied for more scientific methods to finding solutions to
    Montgomery’s murder problem, including a public health approach that
    would include psychological counseling and youth development programs.
    However, funding has been a roadblock – a common complaint among Alabama
    activists who say public health approaches to social problems are a
    better remedy. With Operation Good Shepherd, aside from some nominal
    administrative expenses from printing up diplomas and ID cards, the only
    cost involves redirecting police personnel–who are being paid
    anyway—from their other duties to train the pastors.

    “I think government right now is trying to figure out
    capitalistically how to do it for less, and I think they’re finding that
    you can’t,” Blackshear said. “And [Operation Good Shepherd] is just
    another attempt at trying to get something run by volunteers.”- This is similar to the situation in the UK, with Cameron’s ‘big society’ which is just an excuse to cut goverment spending and get charities (mostly Christian) and volunteers to pick up the slack. It’s frustrating that no-one will invest in solutions that have actually been tested. If you’re not monitoring it how will you know it works?

  • Miss_Beara

    I live in Chicago where, as many people know, has a huge gang problem. There was just 13 shot, including a 3 year old boy, on a basketball court on the south side. There was a gang related shooting outside a church on the far north side a few months ago. Well, during that one they interviewed a pastor of the church. Did he say that it was a violence problem? Did he say it was a social problem?

    No. He said it was a spiritual problem. So he and his other congregants decided to pray for peace instead of taking action. There are also marches to end the violence on the south and west sides, prayer vigils to end violence. These areas have huge problems that a simple prayer will not fix.

  • Spartacus Roosevelt

    I live in Montgomery. It is a gang problem primarily as well as neighborhood beefs that have escalated as what few jobs that exist for the poor and black areas of town have dried up in the last half decade. There has been a lot of pressure coming from the black community for MPD to do something. The white community (yes, old divisions die hard in this throwback of a city) may hang its head and “tsk tsk” at the murder rate, it isn’t their family members and neighbors dying. MPD is at a loss, so by bringing this group of predominantly black, west side ministers on board, they can say they are “doing something” with little capital outlay and the highly religious black leadership in town view it as a good first step. I am sure the guy who came up with the program and the participating ministers believe in the program, but MPD and city leadership probably view it as damage control in the face of rising violent crime. It is an institutional deployment of the “prayer: looking like you are doing something while doing nothing” trope.

    Meanwhile the rampant property crime is not addressed, so lock up your lawn equipment.

  • Baby_Raptor

    But that requires effort. Why expend effort when you can just appeal to low IQ and emotions?

  • smrnda

    Upvoted. Isn’t possibly subjecting non-Christian crime victims to Christian bullshit during a traumatic time a violation of their rights in some way? It’s blatant government support of religion – they’re lugging around a Christian propagandist to let loose on whoever.

  • smrnda

    Somehow religious people seem immune to this data. I mean, crime is pretty low in Japan, and I don’t think the Jesus Fan Club has a lot of members there.

  • smrnda

    I’ve actually been in a number of those areas; a lot of people living their have much more realistic assessments of the problem, but regrettably don’t get enough media time.

    A number of years back, some *higher ups* in Chicago gangs were busted by the FBI and the police. Most of us know that people who run organized crime are running a businesses, but with the void in leadership, violence increased between rival factions.

    This article is also very telling – Chicago is near Indiana, a state with very lax gun laws. It creates a massive business opportunity for people looking to flood the city with guns.

  • Richard Wade

    …he based it on similar programs that were put into place in Dayton, Ohio and Arlington, Texas. However, those cities have not recorded data on the effect of those programs, so there’s no indication they are a good idea to recreate.

    We don’ need no stinkin’ data! We use faith! Ahahahaha! Arriba! Arriba! Andale! (firing guns into the air, riding off in a cloud of dust)

    Funny how you never see Joe Klein riding along with police to defuse potentially volatile situations at crime scenes. Ahahahaha! Arriba! Arriba! Andale! (throwing my wireless mouse into the air, typing off in a cloud of dust)

  • Intelligent Donkey

    Could be worse. They could be trying to stick one in the face of your child.

  • Itarion

    Are you suggesting that people are purchasing guns legally in Indiana, then running them across the literally unenforced border (seriously, it’s a sign that says “Welcome”, just like any other state border) between Indiana and Illinois and making a killing, so to speak, selling them on the black market in Chicago? That is absolutely ridiculous. No one with lax morals looking to make a quick buck would run weapons into a gang-war zone.

    Invisible hand: If people will pay, people will sell.
    Also, war is a merchant’s delight.

  • Itarion

    Because effort actually gets shit accomplished?

  • Baby_Raptor

    If these people actually wanted to get something accomplished, I don’t think they’d be hiring ministers to further traumatize crime victims.

  • Itarion

    Touché. But I would not presume to speak for these people.

  • Itarion

    I think Dionysus, Aphrodite and Eros would also be well suited for that.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Think about it; what could this possibly hope to accomplish? Even if you pretend to believe as they do for the sake of the argument, at best you’re looking at new converts from the victims/witnesses.

    Preaching to them isn’t going to help catch the criminal. And it isn’t going to convert the criminal–the person actually doing the crime–either. So it’s not going to do much to lower the crime rate.

    And if they happen to get ahold of someone whose not already a godbot, I doubt those people are going to appreciate their bad experience being used to sell them fairy tales.

  • Derrik Pates

    Because it’s what the (conveniently Christian, and in the case of Alabama, wildly under-educated) majority wants. And the majority is never, ever wrong.

    (Answer key: the above is sarcasm. Just in case you didn’t guess.)

  • StevesWeb

    More Religion != less violence
    More religion = more violence
    Less religion = less violence

    Trust me, as a queer I know this is true.

  • Itarion

    My meter is often broken, but it has never been that broken.

  • newavocation

    They should turn their patty wagons into confessionals and give the offenders the option of confessing, being forgiven and let off to do another crime. Isn’t that how it works?

  • Charles Raymond Miller

    American Atheists has sent a demand letter to the Montgomery PD.
    Not only is this program one of the most egregious violations of the Establishment Clause in over 50 years, it is a complete and utter failure. Since starting the program Montgomery ha seen it’s biggest spike in homicides since 1977.

    Chuck Miller Regional Director Alabama.