Fountain Police, community engage in dialogue
Last updated 6/24/2020 at 1:38pm
By Karin Hill
In light of recent events nationwide surrounding police and race relations, Fountain Valley community members, pastors, police officers and government officials are making a concerted effort to shed light on any concerns that may exist locally, as well as providing encouragement where needed.
A string of meetings and community conversations has gained momentum, with positive feedback so far.
"It's very honest dialogue," Fountain Police Commander Frank Lewis said. "You're hearing from all different perspectives."
Lewis said the meetings have been much more than just lip service, and that they have been helpful to everyone in attendance. FPD would be open to meetings with any group, if they desire.
One of the initial events of this sort was held in early June at New Jerusalem Baptist Church, a predominantly African American church in Fountain.
"As the protests occurred around the nation, I called Pastor Daniels and asked if he would like to host a community discussion which would give us as city leaders an opportunity to touch base and ask how we are doing and if there is anything we could do better moving forward," Deputy City Manager Todd Evans said. "Pastor Daniels whole-heartedly supported it, and we worked together along with Liz McMearn to set up the meeting and a virtual link for the at-risk folks to join. It was a great meeting and very similar to those we have had in the past – open, honest, with an air of how can we continue to work together."
Evans, who has extensive law enforcement experience both here in Fountain and with the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, noted that Fountain Police Department already has a solid relationship with this particular church.
"We have a long friendship and partnership with NJBC going back to building the Samantha Crutcher Park (named after a deacon's daughter) on property that the church donated, doing several community events with them to include a Quality of Life neighborhood clean-up and festival, community town halls, working with them to get Hwy. 85/87 dedicated to Rev. James McMearn, etc.," Evans said.
Reverend McMearn met with Evans in 2010 immediately after Evans was named police chief.
"After that meeting, he had my cell phone and would call me anytime he believed there was any issue at the local, state or national level," Evans said. "We worked on all the above projects together and also discussed and worked together on any issue that impacted his congregation no matter how minor it seemed to be."
When Pastor Kevin Daniels took over, the two continued this relationship, which current Police Chief Chris Heberer has built upon and grown.
"The discussion was honest, open and truthful, respectful for over two hours," Heberer said. "And, most importantly to me, we all hugged, shook hands, looked each other in the eye afterwards and without question were all better for it afterwards."
Daniels said his goals in all of this are keeping the community safe, standing against inequality, and sharing God's love. He said Heberer's leadership is what the FPD needs right now.
"I think that at this moment, at this time, Chris is an exceptional leader to take a stand," Daniels said.
John Bornschein, senior pastor of Calvary Fellowship Fountain Valley, said he heard about the meeting at New Jerusalem and was eager to hear more for himself. Some of the same police and city leaders attended the June 11 gathering of the Fountain Valley Pastor's Prayer Group, which is comprised of dozens of pastors and church leaders who gather to pray the second Thursday of every month, going strong for 17 years.
It was at this meeting that Bornschein met Frank Lewis and invited him to speak at Calvary during its upcoming Sunday services. He said he was so impressed with the city's initiative to engage in dialogue and pursue good relationships with the community. He asked Lewis to address the congregation about the current situation.
Lewis is the relatively new commander at FPD, having relocated to Fountain after many years with the Detroit police. Lewis has a unique perspective on race and police issues, having been born to an African American father and a white German mother. He grew up in Detroit on the heels of racially fueled riots between residents and police in the late 60s. He's also a man of deep faith who relies on that faith in everyday life.
On Sunday he addressed two church services with a message suitable for Father's Day, as he credited his own father and mother with instilling in him the attitudes and values to handle many of life's challenges – including personal encounters with racism.
"My parents never allowed us to have any hate in our hearts, nor did they allow us to ever feel sorry for ourselves," he said. "And they also reminded us constantly that life is not fair and you get out of it exactly what you put into it."
Lewis said said FPD officials are open to attending future meetings with any group interested. He noted that while Fountain has not experienced some of the recent racial or police tensions that many bigger cities have, that does not mean the area is not immune. All it takes is a couple of mistakes to get off track, so correct procedures and values are instilled in FPD officers frequently.
"We're constantly engaged with our members and telling them what we expect of them," Lewis said.
Mayor Gabe Ortega noted that Fountain enjoys a diverse population, partly due to the Fort Carson community, with little to no race problems that he can remember during his lifetime.
"While we are small, we could still experience the troubles that the big cities do so we want to be ahead of the issues as much as possible," Ortega said.
He credits city leaders such as Todd Evans and Chris Heberer for making a positive impact through relationships.
"Todd worked hard to establish a strong organization that is professional, transparent and respectful to everyone," he said. "... Then with Chris' leadership his focus has really been two-fold: building leaders within the department and most importantly building a relationship with the community where the citizens truly see that cops as protectors who care about everyone."
"We also want to make sure that while our intentions are good, that if we are missing anything, having frank and open conversations can help us to, again, stay ahead of the game so that if, god forbid, anything negative to occur we will be able to come together and work the problem to come up with a solution that is acceptable to all sides," Ortega said.