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.