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November 22, 2006

Keeping the Shalom

When we talk about restorative justice, which we do a lot at Prison Fellowship, one of the foundations of this idea is the concept of shalom. Crime, and sin in all its various forms, breaks shalom, a concept that was understood by the Hebrews as a state of harmony, completeness, and wholeness.

Too often today, our conception of the police force is one of reacting to major offenses. Thankfully, though, police officers historically have seen themselves as about more than just reacting to violence; they've seen themselves as preservers of the peace. As Chuck Colson writes in Justice that Restores, "In the U.S. at the turn of the last century it was the police who developed food and soup lines, built police stations with space where migrants could stay, referred beggars to charitable agencies, returned lost children to their homes, and patrolled the streets, preserving the good order of the community." Along these lines, I was pleased to see that the UK just honored several of its officers for just such outstanding contributions to promoting and preserving peace at the Police Review Gala Awards and the Office for Criminal Justice Reform’s Justice Awards. Here are some innovative examples of keeping the shalom from the Times Online:

Also nominated for an award is Mark Peer, a PC from Gloucestershire Constabulary, who took on antisocial behaviour by securing a £15,000 grant to build a skate park. The park drew young people away from their regular meeting place in a retail area and complaints from shopowners fell by more than 80 per cent.

An officer from Norfolk Police has been nominated for the Community Police Officer or the Year award for his efforts to forge better ties with Eastern European residents in Great Yarmouth. PC Gary Pettengell learnt Lithuanian in his spare time and set up a support group and a website to help the thousands of migrant workers who have moved into the area. Another nominee in the same category did the same for the Polish community in Wrexham, North Wales. PC Keith Sinclair also printed business cards in Polish bearing his mobile number so that residents could contact him.

PC Krys Urbaniak, of Greater Manchester Police, stopped young people in Swinton from damaging vehicles by interesting them in stock car racing and car maintenance....

No less innovative is a youth services team from Lincoln that set up six-a-side football matches on Friday evenings to steer teenagers away from alcohol and crime. The scheme promotes fair play on and off the pitch, with teams losing points in the league if their members are found to have created trouble. The disincentive to drop down the ladder means that there is a significant peer-induced pressure to remain on the straight and narrow.

Sounds like these folks would be in good company with William Wilberforce's contemporary Sir Robert Peel, the home secretary when the Metropolitan Police of London began in 1829. His Christian name, Bobby, is now used for police, a tribute to his high standards and ideals that the first job of the police was not fighting crime, but keeping the peace.

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