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Ventura County Religion

Police Using Prayer to Arrest Stress

Law enforcement: Christian peace officers meet weekly to share anxieties and prevent them from encroaching on their everyday lives.

April 18, 1998|BRENDA LOREE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Early each Thursday morning, a group of peace officers from throughout Ventura County gets together in the Government Center cafeteria over coffee for a little shoptalk, a little Bible study and maybe a couple of prayer requests.

It's the Ventura County chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Peace Officers, and anyone in law enforcement--game wardens, FBI agents, parole officers, sheriff's dispatchers--might show up.

"This get-together is a midweek lift for me," said Mike Thomas, a district attorney's investigator at this week's session, attended by eight men and one woman. "It builds me up to finish the week off."

On Thursday, Pastor Charley Trigg from Oxnard's Calvary Chapel was talking to the group about anxiety.

"It's dangerous out there," Trigg said, half-conversationally, half-sermonizing. "But the Lord is the best partner you can have out there.

"God said 'Trust me--my plan is not for you to be full of anxiety, but full of grace. The antidote to worry is prayer,' " he continued.

Unfortunately, anxiety can come with the territory for a police officer, said Vinse Gilliam, a district attorney's investigator and the group's coordinator.

"In some ways, police officers are a different breed," Gilliam said. "They tend to keep to themselves--it's a demanding job."

Demanding, he said, because a peace officer is constantly dealing with negative situations. People don't call cops because they are content.

"Coming to these meetings is an outlet to deal with the negativity," Gilliam said.

Police officers usually get into the business to help people, he said, but the negativity sometimes can make them cynical.

And that is what the meetings, which are a bit like shooting the breeze with people who have jobs like your own, try to alleviate.

"We try to deal with the tensions of the job in a constructive manner," Gilliam said.

One Sheriff's Department employee mentioned his worries about diverticulitis. Another's wife was ill. Both asked for prayers from the others.

The group is a local chapter of the nondenominational national Fellowship of Christian Police Officers, which was launched in 1971 by Los Angeles Police Department officers. Its current national chairman is Robert Vernon, an assistant police chief during Chief Daryl Gates' tenure who is now retired. Vernon became controversial before his retirement when a few LAPD officers thought he blurred the distinction between his personal religious beliefs and his job.

Gilliam, a national board member with the fellowship, said he does not mix his religion with his work.

Said Gilliam: "The primary purpose of coming for all of us is to have individual officers share concerns that relate to our jobs."

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