One of the most powerful voices within the Marshall Williamson community was also a primary source when it came to policing the area. But now Pastor Rodney James is officially the volunteer chaplain of the South Miami Police Department.
“It’s a tremendous honor to be named the chaplain for our police department,” said James, 45. “It says to them that they have a lot of faith in and confidence in the work that I do both as a pastor and as a person in the community and should be entrusted with the spiritual well-being of our police officers who protect our community. It’s a major honor to me.”
James moved to South Miami from South Carolina in Oct. 2011. While in South Carolina, he also served as a police chaplain. James has a wife and three children.
South Miami Police Chief Rene Landa counts on his relationship with James to police the community, and said that it has helped in decreasing crimes in the city by 27 percent from 2013 to 2014.
“He has really been involved with me,” Landa said. “He has invited me from the onset to all of the clergy meetings in our community. When all the clergy meet together and they have people from the community that come together to these big meetings, they turn around every single time. If there is an incident, when they have needed to, they have sat down and talked with me.”
James is the pastor of the Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church of South Miami and serves as the president of the South Miami, Concerned Clergy & Citizens Coalition.
“He was elected to president within a week or so of arriving here,” Mayor Philip Stoddard said. “People got his number quickly and recognized we had an unusual person here … somebody with real social talent who is on the up and up and had the skills and vision and insight into people to help people get along in ways they had not been able to get along before. And to pull people together. He has done it and done a great job of it.”
James was officially sworn in on June 2 into a program that has not had a police chaplain since before 2004, according to Landa. James will wear a gold badge when riding along with police officers.
“People call me a leader in the community but I don’t see myself as a leader,” James said. “I just see myself as someone who is very concerned about the community and wants to see it prosper and do well in its future and guarantee that it has a future.”
“We have to have concern not only for people that are in a church but people that are in a community. That we need to see after that community and try to make sure that injustice is addressed. That people have what they need to make it with basic needs: housing, food, clothing, making sure that communities receive the kind of treatment that they need from the government and from the world at large. Social justice has always been a major thrust of what I do through ministry. I believe that the church ought to be effecting positively the community that surrounds it.”
James said he worked alongside Stoddard, among others, to complete construction of the long awaited Murray Park Pool. He says the difference between Landa’s tenure and the last is the relationship and involvement within the community.
“He has really taken an interest and become a part of the community and has encouraged the police force to be community people and not just policeman,” James said.
“With Chief Landa there is a definite relationship between him and the community. Not only the community at large, but also the community leaders. He meets with us quite regularly. We have an open line to him and he takes every matter very seriously and addresses it immediately. That has been a big difference. He has taken the time to build relationships in the community.”
Landa said that James has been given his departmental orders and will perform invocations and benedictions for swearing-in ceremonies for new officers and promotions. He will also be a resource for other issues within the community and offer religious support to citizens and police officers. The chaplain also provides support service and counseling of a nondenominational nature to employees and their families.
“Community policing is really successful when it is really about making sure that you are a part of the community, not just in the community patrolling it but you are a part of the community where people get to know you,” James said. “People will not do things because of the relationship that they have with you. Or you will be able to talk to them out of things because of the relationship you have. (Landa) has made that a real thrust in his administration. He encourages officers not to just ride though but to get out of the cars, talk to the people, get to know them. He has been very involved in what is going on in our community.”
Stoddard said that he also counts on James as a contact.
“Chief Landa engages the Marshall Williamson Community when there is a problem,” Stoddard said. “His contact is always Pastor James. … [James] is a pretty smart guy on top of that, with very good social skills and is highly regarded within the community. So he is a point of contact within community, with the families, whenever there is a source of tension. And they do come up. Chief Landa wanted to make that official.”