Building Bridges Between Police and Communities: Operation Blue Shield

By John Zmirak Published on May 30, 2018

Dallas police officer Crystal Almeida just left hospital rehab. She and officer Rogelio Santander were shot on April 24. They’d answered a call at a Dallas-area Home Depot to aid an arrest. Santander died shortly after the shooting. A priest at my parish, Fr. Ignacio Olvera, prayed with Santander and his family in the hospital. Visibly shaken by the experience, Fr. Olvera recounted it from the pulpit. He asked us to pray for Santander and for peace in our community.

Two years ago, on May 9 in Downtown Dallas, I was just a block away from the deadly police ambush. It coincided with a march by Black Lives Matter. (Read my recollections of that awful night.)

So police and other first responders are very much on my mind. That’s why I decided to talk to someone who is looking out for them. For their safety and that of the communities they serve.

New Yorkers in a wealthy neighborhood were chanting “What do you want? Dead cops! When do you want it? Right now!”

A Blue Shield That Protects Everyone

Toni Brinker is a Dallas-based community leader and CEO/Founder of Operation Blue Shield. It’s a registered 501(3)c. Its mission? To build safe, healthy, job-creating neighborhoods and a stronger America.

Brinker told The Stream:

In 2014, I saw people marching down the street. (This was in a very affluent part of New York City.) They were yelling; “What do you want? Dead cops! When do you want it? Right now!” I knew then that my world would never be the same and that I could not stand by and do nothing.”

Operation Blue Shield tries to address the deeper roots of community conflict. Its goal is safe neighborhoods that become “cities of opportunities.” Brinker writes:

The sacred fabric of a city is defined by its people. Citizens, first responders, and community-outreach organizations must work together. The result can be booming economic development. Improved residential opportunities. And increased public safety. It is impossible to have success or failure in one category without the other two producing the same result. But to achieve these shared goals, we need to begin at the beginning.

Building up Healthy Communities

Public safety is the first and most critical component. That’s because public safety affects every citizen and every neighborhood. Brinker said:

We want safe and economically sustainable neighborhoods. But that only happens when people living and working in those neighborhoods have a sense of security. That’s built on a foundation of trust. Think of parents of a young family putting their children to bed for the night. Or someone catching the bus and heading home for dinner. People need a sense of security. And a feeling of community inclusion. That gives them the desire, courage and determination to pursue their dreams.

Public safety, neighborhood stability and economic development are inextricably intertwined. To work successfully, each one needs the support of the other. We must remember that we are ALL citizens and we’re all in this together. Hence our group’s slogan, “We’re all in.”

How to Build Bridges

After a violent incident, Brinker says, “Operation Blue Shield works to bring both sides together. The issues are complicated and many times deadly…. Just turn on your television. We are not a healthy society. It is up to Christians to stand up, speak up and get involved the right way. Our children do not deserve the world that we are giving them. Those same children also need to understand it is not okay to bully, spew hate, make fun of others and so on.”

“We typically start by bringing people through social, athletic, or service events. We want first responders and residents to see each other as fellow citizens, Americans and Christians. That’s why our programs center around Christian based values and that is why we work so closely with churches across America. People helping people create the vital components of a safe and stronger America and a better world.”

We typically start by bringing people through social, athletic, or service events. We want first responders and residents to see each other as fellow citizens, Americans and Christians.

A Many-Pronged Attack on Social Pathologies

Operation Blue Shield’s Affiliated Programs and strategic partners include:

  • Run With the Heroes Family Fun Run. Police officers run 1K, 5K, and 10K races alongside neighborhood residents and church and community leaders.
  • Power of One Lecture Series. This offers a town-hall style meeting for citizens, public figures and first responders. In 2016, the Dr. Phil TV show covered this. Officer Tommy Norman of the Little Rock, Arkansas Police Department joined Pastor Bryan Carter of Concord Baptist Church. The nationally-broadcast segment reached an audience of 4.1M viewers.
  • Violence Free Zones. Working with the Woodson Center, Operation Blue Shield helps provide mentors to high-risk students through their schools. Students in such programs nationwide have shown a 44 percent reduction in behavioral incidents. Schools with such programs show a 24 percent increase in their high school graduation rate.
  • HOPE for Prisoners is a nationally-recognized re-entry program for ex-offenders. First responders serve as volunteer mentors providing strategic leadership and character development for ex-offenders through an 18-month program. Only six percent of participating ex-offenders ended up re-incarcerated. That’s compared to a national average of 75 – 90 percent.
  • Kids ‘n Kites. Operation Blue Shield annually partners with neighborhood leaders, local schools, first responders and community organizations to host a spring kite festival. Over 500 children and their families have participated in this fun event.
  • VITA Tax Assistance. Operation Blue Shield annually partners with neighborhood leaders, the United Way, the Ferguson Road Initiative, Foundation Communities and the IRS. Together, they offer free tax return preparation, filing and financial literacy counseling through a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Center. In 2018, sixty-one volunteers prepared 1,530 tax returns for 1,492 families, keeping nearly $3m in the neighborhood.
  • Camp DEFY. Operation Blue Shield partners with the Department of Justice and the US Navy to offer the Drug Education for Youth program. This unique one-year program targets 9-12-year-olds from high crime neighborhoods. The leaders? First responders and Naval personnel as trainers and mentors, preparing students for a drug free future. Camp DEFY begins with a one week stay at Fort Worth’s Naval Air Station/Joint Reserve Base.
  • Operation Beat The Heat. Operation Blue Shield teams up with corporations, local groups and citizens to collect bottled water, sports drinks and hot beverages. More than 2,000 cases of water are distributed by first responders who “pay it forward” to hardworking citizens. This is a perfect example of one citizen helping another.
  • Pulpit Swap and Pulpit Swap (Kids Edition). Operation Blue Shield joins local and national faith-based organizations to help create unity and understanding. Experiencing a different community and hearing differing viewpoints within a faith-based environment can change the direction of a country… for the better. To date, over 1,500 people have experienced the benefits of this program.
  • Kickstart Kids, an award-winning in-school character development program. It uses karate to teach life-changing values in public schools. Operation Blue Shield is piloting a program in Texas to involve first responders in this program. This will create safer schools and communities by building positive relationships between young citizens and first responders.
  • Child Safety Network. Operation Blue Shield is developing a child safety program with Child Safety Network (CSN).

Safe Communities with Lots of Jobs

“Our group feels the faith based community needs to be doing more to bring our country together,” Brinker told The Stream. “The church is the spiritual guardian for all Christians. Educating believers on how the world ‘works’ and how we can build safe communities together is crucial. The faith based community, especially our pastors, can help turn unstable neighborhoods into safe, healthy resilient neighborhoods. They can teach/show people (through their sermons) how to build better communities.”

“Safe communities provide economic development (jobs) and that allows people to live out their dreams & take better care of their families,” Brinker said. “Please join our mission by volunteering or donating. We need your help to help our communities. Our programs work and they are critical to building safe, healthy neighborhoods and a stronger America.”

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