Street Pastors used to fight gang culture
A pioneering scheme that would put church volunteers on the streets to help tackle gang culture could be operational by the end of the year.
Stephen Corbishley, the Commissioner of Police, explained that a plan to introduce Street Pastors to Bermuda is in the works.
Mr Corbishley said Street Pastors had been successful elsewhere and that there had already been an “overwhelming response” from island churches.
He told The Royal Gazette: “From my perspective, we’ve got to get out of the cycle of just dealing with the consequences and start to look at some of the root causes.
“I’ve instigated three Street Pastors schemes. It allows us to mobilise church support in dealing with some quite significant community issues.”
Teams are made up of trained volunteers from churches.
The programme first ran in London 15 years ago with a team of 18 and has evolved into a network of around 15,000 volunteers across Britain and beyond.
Pastors usually carry out their work on weekend nights, but they now also operate during the day in community settings such as parks, schools and colleges.
The organisation’s website said a street pastor is someone who is “willing to engage with people, whatever their perspective on life and wherever they hang out”.
Mr Corbishley said: “It’s not a group of people that evangelise on the street, it’s people who offer real pastoral care to those that are vulnerable.
“It may be direct care or pointing them to other agencies that can assist. They’re a really effective tool to work alongside not just the police but a variety of partners that exist in Bermuda.”
He said the scheme’s structure and approach meant volunteers often had greater opportunities to meet people who might be reluctant to talk to police.
Mr Corbishley said one street pastor in the UK had a conversation with a “significant gang member”, who “broke down in tears and surrendered a weapon and the drugs he possessed”.
He added it was the breakthrough needed to steer the individual away from some of his associates, treat dependency problems and find help to get his life back on track.
The commissioner, who joined the Bermuda service from Kent Police, admitted not every night would have a similar result.
However, he added: “I think there’s a community duty to support them, not just penalise them.”
He said Bermuda’s gang violence reduction co-ordinator Leroy Bean and police chaplain Kevin Santucci had backed the introduction of the programme, which would be among only a handful of international Street Pastor schemes.
Mr Corbishley said: “We’ve already been overwhelmed by the number of churches that want to get involved.”
He added it was hoped training could begin “in the near future” and funding will be earmarked to get the scheme off the ground.
The commissioner added: “It is my ambition that we achieve a Street Pastors structure towards the end of this year.”
He said: “I’m keen to get them recognised and supported by local communities and get them to work in areas where we think there are some challenges, where communities lack confidence or there are issues with young people congregating on street corners.”
Mr Corbishley added: “It is not simply to support those that perhaps are troubled or vulnerable or even involved in criminal activity.
“They are not a replacement for the police, this is a programme that works in partnership.
“There are very clear protocols for the safety of those involved and quite clear guidance, but additionally they can be utilised in other environments, like community events.”
Mr Corbishley took charge last month, a week after a gunman opened fire at a group on Court Street in an attack that claimed the life of Taylor Grier, 30, and wounded a 55-year-old man.
Danshun Swann, 25, died after he was stabbed during a fight involving more than 20 men outside Southampton Rangers Sports Club just weeks later.
Chaplain Santucci described Street Pastors as a “wonderful initiative” and hoped its introduction will help encourage a culture of respect among all island residents.
He said one of its benefits is that volunteers come from different denominations and continued: “That in itself shows us that there is diversity, but at the same time there is unity because we all have the same thought and view working towards strengthening our community.”
The chaplain added: “We are at a crossroads of something great within Bermuda, working with all that we have.
“I think it’s time that we challenge ourselves and be willing to say, what we have done has carried us so far, but we need extra to help us over the mountain.”
He also supported a farm initiative planned by the Government, as reported in the Gazette on Wednesday, to provide opportunities and support for “at-risk” young people. They would work the land and sell produce at market but also have access to mental health professionals and help to find employment.
A Street Pastors representative said the teams have “a significant positive impact in any area where they operate”.
She added: “We are equipped and able to get alongside local churches in extending the network of initiatives for the benefit of all and this can only happen with the close working relationships of the churches together, police and government agencies.”