By Faran Fagen
To bolster its link with its community, the Broward Sheriff’s Office Tamarac District has created an interfaith initiative.
Recognizing religious leaders are stakeholders in the community with a powerful voice that reaches thousands of individuals, Lieutenant Jemeriah Cooper’s goal is to provide them with pertinent information for themselves and their parishioners. “I believe in partnering with our community interfaith group so we can all share a greater responsibility towards keeping Tamarac safe.”
During interfaith meetings, Cooper, an Executive Officer, is the facilitator who creates a positive and constructive dialogue between law enforcement and religious community leaders.
“Our meetings generally begin with opening statements from me and updates from past conversations and new topics,” Cooper said. “Then, the opportunity for attendees is provided to introduce themselves and ask questions to BSO staff. Ideas are shared in an open dialogue which has always been positive and constructive since we began the initiative.”
The interfaith meetings are held quarterly at BSO’s Tamarac District offices at 7515 Pine Island Road, where religious leaders from the city are invited to attend. However, there are plans to expand the invitation to surrounding cities to significantly impact the community.
Additionally, BSO’s, Chaplain’s Services Manager, Dr. Debra White, has played an integral part in the initiative’s success.
As a former Deputy Sheriff with the BSO, White has innovative ideas to increase communication in the community. She has revised the process of Chaplain Services, and her team has been engaging other BSO contract cities to assist employees and the community.
During interfaith meetings, several topics have been discussed. Sergeant Jay Santalucia presented information to guests and provided education on how they and parishioners can remain safe while attending religious services.
Additionally, detectives from BSO’s Real Time Crime Center presented information on how religious institutions can opt into a program that allows BSO to have a live camera feed in case of an active incident. If 911 calls are made, BSO can log into and view a live feed, providing real-time intelligence to responding deputies and other resources.
Much like another initiative in Tamarac called “Welcome Home,” Cooper has taken Interfaith Meetings a step further and created the Police Education and Community Engagement (PEACE) Initiative.
According to him, there are two reasons for using this acronym. “First, peace is something I believe everyone desires to have in their lives,” said Cooper, a lifelong resident of Broward County. “Second, as a law enforcement agency, we can provide enforcement while engaging the community.”
How it works is members from BSO Tamarac’s Crime Prevention Unit team up with churches, temples, and synagogues at their locations. At the end of their service, they are available to provide current information or answer questions from parishioners.
“We realize that everyone has busy schedules and may not always be able to attend homeowner association meetings, community events, etc.,” said Cooper. “BSO wants to ensure we meet with as many residents as possible, and this is another way of providing a service to the community.”
Additionally, utilizing the PEACE initiative, the Tamarac District, led by Captain Jeff Cirminiello, will branch out with other initiatives such as Coffee with a Cop, Shred-a-thons, Park Walk and Talks, Driveway initiatives, Faith and Green, Faith, and Blue events, and more.
In the works is an Explorers Cadet Program for middle school children that would help kids with attaining life skills and learning about law enforcement. As the cadets age out of the cadet program, they would enter an Explorer Program.
The long-term plans for the interfaith meetings are to “continue focus on positive change and strong working relationships with our community stakeholders,” Cooper said.
Cooper has a strong church background growing up in a household where his father was a pastor, and he was educated in bible scriptures which gave him something greater to believe in.
“With that, I have a passion for helping others,” Cooper said. “I learned very quickly that sometimes people need a little assistance from church. In my position, I now can partner with churches and offer help to those individuals who are in need.”
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- Faran Fagen, who teaches high school journalism, graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a Journalism degree and from Florida Atlantic University with a degree in Education. He's worked at The Palm Beach Post, SunSentinel, and MLB.com. He lives in Coral Springs with his wife and two children. Oh, and his three dogs -- who all think that they're his favorite.
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