By Brandon HENSLEY
She’s not part of The Justice League or The Avengers, or another type of comic book superhero team, but Rev. Beverly Craig knows what it’s like to get a call and spring into action when needed.
In the early part of the last decade, a riot broke out at Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic. Craig joined 63 members of the LAPD and other religious leaders on a sheriff’s bus, complete with the shackles inmates would wear, and went up north.
Once inside the prison, Craig observed how bad the tension was between the black and Mexican inmates.
“They really wanted to kill each other,” she said.
So Craig listened to the inmates and heard their stories of how they were being mistreated, how their beds were unclean and the food unsanitary. (Not true, said Craig. “We got to see their beds. They were clean. And we ate their food.”)
Craig is all about energy; sensing it, feeling it, relying on it. She said the area around the cells were full of hate. But then it was time to pray.
Craig and others went up to the cells and surprisingly, so did all of the inmates. Every one of them.
“When we called for prayer, they all came to the front, to the bars,” she said. “And we prayed. It was just really cool.
“It brought a spiritual atmosphere that wasn’t there.”
Transition forward to 2011, and Craig thinks that’s what’s missing in her community in La Crescenta.
There used to be a council of clergy members who would be called upon by sheriffs in a time of crisis. Thanks to Craig, who heads the La Crescenta Center for Spiritual Healing, and the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station, the clergy council is here again.
On May 4, Craig was at the station with several other community religious leaders to hold the official first meeting of the new Clergy Council, which was hosted by Community Relations Dep. Jorge Valdivia.
The council, as of now, consists of around 10 members including Pastor Bryan Griem of Montrose Community Church, Father Bryan Jones of St. Luke’s of the Mountains Episcopal Church and Kimberlie Zakarian, a family and marriage therapist.
“They’re trying to bring spirituality into law enforcement,” Craig said.
These types of councils are not uncommon throughout law enforcement. Police stations and/or sheriff departments in Lancaster and Glendale have them. They don’t have to be called clergy councils; they can be called crisis management councils or community action councils. The point is they’re everywhere and they help.
In cases of death or other stressful times, the council will get a call from the department and meet with those affected by what just happened. The clergy will simply act as a friend.
“When that happens you take the person aside and the first thing you do is to get them to calm down … and you just let them talk. You just listen to them. It’s what you call active listening. Actually it’s called spiritual companioning,” said Craig.
Capt. David Silversparre, who was not at the meeting but could be at future meetings, has been at the station since 2008. By then, the council had sort of petered out. They weren’t calling clergy members anymore. Silversparre heard about it and wanted to change it.
“It’s raising the level of the community relationship between the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the community,” he said. “So many people have relationships with churches, religions; it’s another group of people that the information to the department can strengthen.”
What happened before at CV was a Clergy Academy. Craig and others took a 10-week course, meeting two hours a week at the department. They met with detectives from drug and gang detail. They went to a shooting range in Monterey Park, and fired bullets on a screen that simulated real-life events. They even went on ride-a-longs with deputies.
“More than anything they want us to understand what a deputy has to go through,” Craig said.
This time around, there is no Academy, although Craig said she would do it again – though she listed firing a gun as her least favorite part of the training.
What they’re really there for is to help others emotionally through tough times.
In 2004, a JPL commuter van plunged off a mountainside while driving through Angeles National Forest. Seven were injured, and three were killed. A clergy member was sent to the scene.
Several years ago, a Japanese restaurant went out of business in La Cañada, and the owner killed himself (“It’s disgraceful to not make it in business” for the Japanese, Craig said.). The man tried to hang himself in his garage. The rope broke and he died from a blow to the head.
Clergy member Darrell Dearth, who passed away recently, came to the house to console the man’s wife.
The CV station has a small prison, and some clergy members used to come and pray with the inmates.
Now that the council has started up again, Silversparre said the meetings will be a conduit of positive information.
The hope is that members will be able to make a connection to people, that in case any victims or family of victims want help, they can pick up the phone to any of them and bypass the sheriffs.
“It is a positive resource for situations and events whether it’s mentorship, advice or assistance; they’re giving community members in need people that provide mentorship or things along that line,” said Silversparre. “It also can be used as a positive resource for patrol deputies if there has to be a notification to a community member of death or injury or field situations where there are multiple victims.”
This council also won’t just be for regular community members.
“We’re not just there for the community, we’re there for the deputies,” said Craig.
The clergy will get to ride in patrol cars again, providing a way to connect with deputies. People in law enforcement need help, too. The Glendale Police Department recognizes this.
“Anytime there’s a tragic event within the department or our officers are exposed to something, we do have crisis management that is available,” said GPD officer Joe Allen. “We do have a staff of clergy that is with us as well at a reserve officer capacity … there are different levels of reserve officers. We have reserve officers who are chaplains, priests, fathers who come out and occasionally ride with us in case. If we need to do a death notification they will go with us and respond with us.”
In the end, it all comes back to positive energy with Craig. She wants to once again be a light in dark times for people.
“When you bring a higher spiritual energy into a dark energy, it’s going to dissipate it,” she said.
Which is something Silversparre wants as well, evidenced by a story he told from when he was a deputy in 1983 in South Central L.A.
“I had to go give a death notification to someone,” he said. “There were four children between the ages of probably one and five, and I had to let the young lady know that her husband was killed. And that was a very difficult part of my job, and to be able to bring along somebody of compassion who has a religious backing … I think is a positive.”