Trinity Alum Serves as Miami’s New Assistant Police Chief
Connecting theological understanding and crime prevention
Trinity CommunicationsDecember 07, 2016
Law enforcement leaders in many major cities approach annual crime reports with some trepidation. The statistics in these reports often paint a stark picture of how violence has penetrated their streets, parks, and neighborhoods.
In Miami, as in other big cities, the news isn’t always good. But on the occasion of the FBI’s release of new annual crime statistics in late September 2016, the city’s annual murder rate had dropped by 7.5 percent. Rapes had decreased by 30 percent.
A key reason cited for the decreases: strong efforts to enlist the community as a partner in fighting crime. The Miami Herald reported in its Sept. 28 editions that “community leaders, activists and church elders, have successfully urged people to come forward more often with information.”
“This county is head and shoulders above the rest of the country as far as community policing and crime-fighting.” Miami Police Chief Rodolfo Llanes told the newspaper.
In the same week as the new FBI report was released, Llanes announced the promotion of Dennis M. Jackson II to the position of assistant police chief.
The former major had been in charge of the Community Relations/Public Information Section, lending leadership to programs such as the Police Athletic League, Drug Awareness Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) and Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.).
In a news release announcing the promotion, Llanes said he expects Jackson “to continue to make our city a safe and enjoyable place.” The release also states that Jackson oversees “the largest section of the Department, the Field Operations Division, which is responsible for the day-to-day delivery of a wide range of police services within the City of Miami.”
Jackson’s experience extends far beyond community policing programs. He also serves as a bi-vocational pastor, and recently earned a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) regional campus in neighboring Broward County.
Jackson says success in ministry and in crime prevention often hinges on people in the community who are ready to cooperate with people whom they trust.
“The word of God says when the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice,” says Jackson, who adds that the work of pastors and police officers requires similar skill sets, the most important of which is a desire to serve and improve the lives of people.
“The way we go about addressing anything that relates to crime, drugs, or gangs is to ensure that the community trusts us enough to work with us,” Jackson explains. “If the community can’t get involved in every step, I don’t think it’s a good plan.”
Jackson and his wife Tanya exhibit caring as they lead a church in Miami’s troubled Liberty City section.
“He’s involved in a community that is at risk,” observes Arthur Connor, Jackson’s friend, former Trinity classmate, and fellow pastor. “There are many broken homes. His community is a place he loves.”
New Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church sponsors an after-school tutoring and mentoring program in partnership with Holmes Elementary School, located just three blocks to the east. Bolstering that work became the subject of Jackson’s capstone project for his TEDS degree.
About 100 students are served each day in the church’s after-school program, and the U.S. Department of Education is investing $1 million within five years to fund further success.
“The approach was to create an academic after-care to serve inner-city youth that were typically lacking academically,” Jackson says. “Studies have proven that a lack of academic success is the gateway to other problems with youth.”
Jackson says church members are hopeful that their after-school program will serve as a model for similar programs in Miami-Dade County.
Observers of the effort say it’s important evidence that a relatively small church can accomplish big things.
“He has a great heart for his church,” TEDS Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology Steven Roy says of Jackson. “He loves his church. He’s the quintessential bi-vocational pastor.”
Roy supervised the capstone project, and Jackson says Roy instilled high academic standards.
“He’s very tough, and actually, I appreciated that,” Jackson said. “Dr. Roy has helped me and mentored me along the way.”
Connor graduates this year from the same TEDS degree program that Jackson completed. The two became close friends as classmates, frequently sharing candid stories about the challenges they face in communities torn apart by poverty, racial strife, and diminished confidence that improvements will come.
Connor attributes Jackson’s success on the police force to a public perception of pure motives. People trust him.
“When it comes time to serve them, the response is different (from what police often encounter),” Connor says. “They see it’s not just about a paycheck or punching a clock, but it’s about really having a heart for that community.”
Jackson credits the faculty at TEDS with helping him integrate biblical principles with cultural demands.
Professor of Church, Culture and Society Peter Cha taught what Jackson considers a challenging and influential class, listed in the TEDS catalogue as “Christianity and Contemporary Culture 5620: Cultural Exegesis.”
Cha flew to South Florida from the TEDS main campus near Chicago four times during the semester to teach the class. Jackson was so impressed with the content that he offered to bring Cha back to Miami one more time to address to the Miami Police Department’s command staff.
“I told him, ‘Now you’re able to share as a leader what you’ve learned from the class, so I don’t want you to underestimate your ability to communicate’” Cha says, smiling as he recalled the conversation with Jackson. “He’s an amazing guy. Just really winsome and thoughtful.”
Cha says he tries to teach students how to analyze and exegete culture and society.
“Dennis was one of 12 or so students in that class, and I think it was particularly impactful for him,” Cha said. “This was right after Ferguson (the St. Louis suburb rocked by racial unrest in 2015), and he’s a police officer — an African-American police officer. He was trying to make sense of what was going on.”
“Dr. Cha’s class gave me a better understanding of what has been going on in society,” Jackson said. “He helped me to look at things and think about improvements, and that was really, really a blessing to me.”
Cha and Jackson spent time together at lunch and after class, continuing lively discussions that had started in the classroom. Cha said the discussions often focused on the concept of race and how racial conflicts develop.
“Dennis was very honest in sharing his stories,” Cha said. “He was processing out loud at that time as things were happening in our nation and in his community.” Cha said the classmates often spent time in prayer together, as Dennis wasn’t the only student working through difficult issues.
No one is willing to predict that future top law enforcement administrators will rise from the ranks of Trinity’s Master of Arts in Theological Studies program, but Jackson says he feels well equipped to build upon the successes in Miami’s community oriented policing programs.
“I’m one of those students who kind of took his time to get through the program,” Jackson said. “I think that the Lord just really blessed my understanding of a lot of spiritual things at Trinity.”