What would it take to build trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve? We don’t need to look far to find negative stories about law enforcement in the news, and hope of building trust can seem far-fetched. But Rev. Samuel L. Feemster, pastor of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church and co-City Director in Washington DC, is trying to change this reality.
FROM LAW SCHOOL TO LAW ENFORCEMENT
As a graduate of Wake Forest University School of Law, Sam had his sights on practicing law. However, God closed that door and opened the door for employment with the FBI. As an FBI Special Agent (SA), Sam conducted background investigations and investigated foreign counterintelligence and white-collar crime cases. He also served as a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) operator, before being promoted to Supervisory Special Agent (SSA) and being assigned to the FBI Academy.
At the Behavioral Science Unit, Sam conducted extensive work in the area of spirituality and law enforcement. This work led him to design and teach an innovative course titled Spirituality, Wellness, and Vitality Issues In Law Enforcement Practices.
This personal conviction to find congruence between his work and faith had deep roots. Sam had good role models that exemplified faith and work integration—his illiterate grandfather who was known for his butchering skills, his aunt who was able to get shy and reluctant kids to do memory recitations, and a pastor who helped small, economically depressed congregations build churches.
Sam also believes that law enforcement was an ordained vocation. His work on spirituality and law enforcement at the FBI was consistent with public and private initiatives for law enforcement, such as Responder Life.
R.E.S.T. STOP EAST: AN EXPRESSION OF GRATITUDE
After Sam left the FBI, he became the pastor at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church in Arlington County, VA. Home to the Pentagon, Arlington County is home to thousands of people working as first responders in police departments, fire departments, and federal agencies.
Sam didn’t come up with the idea of REST Stop, but he did create its acronym: Restoring Essential Servants Together. Mt. Vernon Baptist Church has been hosting R.E.S.T Stop East since 2014.
According to Responder Life, “A Rest Stop is an avenue for meaningful connection between the desire to show care and support to the community, and being more effective in doing so.” Sam adds this nuance:
“R.E.S.T. Stop East is an expression of our gratitude for the courageous women and men whose repeated exposure to danger and evil during the routine of their vocational lives is our shield from harm—it is our deposit into lives from which much has been withdrawn.”
Mt. Vernon’s R.E.S.T. Stop East is a haven where police officers can take off their heavy holsters, catch up on paperwork, or take a few minutes of downtime between finishing a midnight shift and reporting to court.
There is no outside signage, and advertising is by word-of-mouth only. Admittance to this dedicated space inside Mt. Vernon is via a combination lockbox on an exterior door. Inside is quiet space with comfortable couches, wifi, TV, a bathroom (especially helpful at midnight since stores are closed), food, cold water, coffee, tea and inspirational reading materials.
Sam has even collaborated with local business, who donate some of their proceeds to help run R.E.S.T Stop East. For example, on certain days identified by participating establishments, patrons can choose to have part of the cost of their orders donated to the ministry.
BUILDING GENUINE RELATIONSHIPS
“The hope,” explains Sam, “is to build genuine relationships.” An affiliate of Responder Life’s network of Rest Stops, R.E.S.T. Stop East is helping build relationships as Mt. Vernon meets the officers’ spiritual, emotional and physical needs. The notes below are a testament to relationships developed through R.E.S.T Stop East:
“Thank you for the great place to get warm on a very cold night.”
“I just wanted to say thank you for providing a place where we can come and sit back for a few minutes and not have to watch our backs. I’m truly grateful for what you’ve done for us. Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays!”
“I wanted to express my deepest gratitude to the church for providing us a clean, quiet, and most of all, safe place to gather. Now is a very tumultuous time to be a police officer, and it can be very disheartening to serve without knowing if your service is valued and appreciated. Even the smallest gesture of kindness and thanks can renew our morale and reignite the drive we have to serve this community. To you, this may just be one room of many that you have in your church, but for us it is the ultimate display of gratitude, understanding, and love. Thank you again for opening your doors to us.”
Sam admits that initially some officers were suspicious and cynical of this service. One even inquired about the location of the donation box, unable to believe all the amenities were free. However, over time, some officers have truly owned this space, even donating furniture or other supplies.
Today, Sam is talking with pastors in other precincts to encourage them to open a R.E.S.T. Stop East at their churches to care for and connect with the law enforcement in their communities.