At a crime or accident scene, when a victim or family member is traumatized or in pain, Franklin County sheriff's deputies will be able to turn to clergy members to help them find comfort.
Seven clergy members in the first Police and Clergy Together program, or PACT, completed their training Dec. 11. They will work in Prairie, Pleasant, Jackson and Franklin townships in western and southwest Franklin County, the sheriff's-office zone that receives the most runs for violent crime.
One of those newly trained PACT members is the Rev. Nancy Day-Achauer, pastor at St. Mark's United Methodist Church on Sullivant Avenue in Prairie Township.
"Prairie Township was selected because they just ran stats on sheriff's department zones to see which had the most activities as far as violence," she said.
Day-Achauer said she was surprised to discover that Prairie Township led the way in the department's accounting of violent crime.
The sheriff's office is looking for the clergy members to provide a calming presence after violence or a tragedy, she said.
They'll be called in after there's been a homicide, for example, or an officer-involved shooting or a fatal crash. They'll do ride-alongs with deputies twice a year, beginning in January.
Areiele Link, the program's manager for the sheriff's office, calls it a "pulpit presence."
Another program participant is the Rev. Javier Rodriguez, a retired pastor from the United Methodist Church who served for 27 years in Ohio, Texas, New Mexico and California. A native of Costa Rica, the 74-year-old said his fluency in Spanish would help with the growing Latino community in the area.
"It's something that should have been done a long time ago," he said of the program.
The new program is based on one run by the Dayton Police Department. The program there began in 2012 and now has 45 clergy members, said Chris Pawelski, that department's community engagement officer.
Dayton modeled its program after one in Fort Worth, Texas, Pawelski said.
Members of the Dayton group ride along with police once a month.
Members also are called out to homicides, shootings and suicides.
One of the first calls the group had was for the death of a 12-year-old boy. The family was distraught, and two clergy members were sent to help as best they could.
"It's been a huge asset for us," said Pawelski, who estimates clergy members are sent out about once a month. Franklin County Sheriff Dallas Baldwin said his brother, Laird, is a pastor involved in the Dayton program.
Chief Deputy Jim Gilbert said he can think of 10 to 15 incidents in the past year in which pastors could have been helpful, including shootings and overdoses.
The Rev. Leo Connolly, the sheriff's-office chaplain and pastor of St. Cecilia's Catholic Church on Columbus' Far West Side, said they'll see how the program works in this first zone, then see if it can be added to other areas of the county.
The pastors will not be a part of the investigative team.
"A big part of the training was how not to be a problem, how not to contaminate evidence," Day-Achauer said. "A lot of it was our own guidance on how to be helpful."