Cover Story, July 2018

Cover Story, BRPD Chief Murphy Paul, Faith and Family First

Faith and family first

Chief murphy paul calls the community to action

Armed with 27 years of law enforcement experience and standing on a foundation of faith, Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul exudes confidence in efforts to stem the rising tide of violence among American youth.

“If we’re going to change the hearts and souls of young men, then I think it’s going to start with our faith-based community,” he said. “Less than 7% of individuals are responsible for a majority of the violent crime. They’re not in their congregations on Sundays – they’re not. So, if we’re going to evangelize to the lost, you have to get from behind the pulpit. We have to hit the streets.”

That means intentionally stepping into troubled areas, building bridges of trust and opening avenues of communication. But they want to do it wisely. This summer, the U.S. Department of Justice is holding sessions in Baton Rouge with faith-based leaders and other community partners on safely engaging the community at the street level.

“We’re going to ask our pastors to try to reach the hearts of these young men, and we’re going to have mentors out there,” Paul said. “We’re going to do everything we can to have a positive impact on this culture of violence.”

“One of the things we recognize is that there are barriers in community-police relations. So, what we’re telling the community is – if you’re scared to come forward to law enforcement, if you don’t want to come forward, then go to your pastor, your faith-based leader and talk to him or her,” Paul said. Faith-based leaders can then present appropriate information to law enforcement.

While current statistics indicate an increase in the homicide rate, Chief Paul expects the number of violent deaths to decrease as their efforts take hold. “We’re below the national average when it comes to solving these homicides and that’s due, in part, because the community is not coming forward and working with us to provide information to put these bad guys in jail,” he said. “Every violent crime that we see right now – there’s a gun involved. And we’re starting to see that some of the criminals are getting younger and younger.”

It’s important to get to know people, then look for crisis signs. “A change in behavior is a big indicator,” Paul said. “So, I think it’s important in this day and age that when we see something, we say something.”

Chief Paul favors the idea of police officers in schools to serve as resource personnel. However, there is currently too little funding and too few officers. Consistent, on-site police officers would develop relationships with students that can break down barriers, flag problems and help kids view police officers in a different light.

“We’re starting to see some progress. The community is saying we’re sick and tired of the violent crime that’s going on in our community, and they’re talking,” he said. Crime Stoppers, the anonymous tip line, is receiving as many as 400 calls per month at 344-STOP.

But the core of the issue is a need for changed hearts, Paul believes. “We are dealing with a culture of violence in the city of Baton Rouge where we have young men who don’t care if they live another day. They don’t care about the consequences,” he said. “Their hearts are not in the right place. With all our work and efforts as police officers, we’re not in the heart business.”

That’s where the faith-based community can work best – by transforming lives, Paul said. He traces his own success to adults who cultivated his faith and understanding of right and wrong.

Growing up in New Orleans, Paul confronted a spectrum of tough choices. “I look at the young men that I grew up with – some are in jail, some have lost their lives, some may not be doing as well. And I look at all the successful [ones].” Education and positive role models are key, he said. “You need mentors; you need people to look up to, people to help lead you in that direction.” Paul said some people who run into trouble with the law were never taught to do the right thing.

“It’s unfortunate that we do have a generation that are lost, but we can’t give up on them. It’s not the Christian thing to do,” he said. “We have to keep trying.” To youth in the community – and his own four sons – Paul preaches the three C’s: control, choices and consequences.

“You have control over everything you do. How you respond to a situation is more important than the hardship itself. That’s why you have to be wise when you make choices because they have consequences,” he said.

“So, I tell kids: Don’t buy into this victim mentality. We make mistakes. Learn from them,” he said. “The way you do that is understanding the 3 F’s: faith and family first. They are the only institutions that don’t judge you and give you second chances.”

Paul said many people invested in his life and led by example. “My mom [Patricia Price Paul] always preached the importance of putting God first,” he said. His parents divorced when he was very young, leaving her to raise Paul and his two sisters.

“She just showered us with so much love. My sisters – we have a great relationship. I can’t ever think of a phone call or a conversation where we didn’t say “I love you” and “I love you, too,” even after an argument. He credits his mother for her awareness of their friends and activities – and for being quick to intervene when something didn’t seem right.

“My mom could come in my room any time and just search the room. I can remember one time she searched the car – she didn’t like the company I was with that time,” he said. “Kids out there don’t always make the best decisions.” He advises parents to take charge by searching their kids’ backpacks and bedrooms. “We need to look under the mattress, we need to pull out the drawers, we need to go to the car, get the keys, search in the glove compartment, the trunk and everything. Be involved.”

“I’m in a great place right now, spiritually,” Paul said. To start the day with a positive attitude, he turns to gospel music. At 6:00 every morning, a cashier at the State Police cafeteria sends a verse of scripture. “Today’s scripture is ‘Live wisely among those who are not believers and make the most of every opportunity,’ [Colossians 4:5, 6 NLT]” he said. He reads the daily scripture on the Bible App. He is refreshed and encouraged at Healing Place Church. “Every Sunday, you get an opportunity to empty that stress cup,” he said. “It puts things in the right perspective.”

That perspective is at the heart of his appeal to the faith-based community, in the belief that a mindset of awareness and mentoring can make a difference. Chief Paul is so committed to the concept of community involvement that – when he decided to retire from State Police – he intended to spend the rest of his life connecting capable volunteers with their areas of passion through his new nonprofit, Work to Give. He prepared to become a certified mentor trainer through the John Maxwell program, Then, he experienced a life change.

“If you want to see God laugh, tell him your plans,” Paul said. “God began to bless me and open up doors and opportunities that I could never imagine.” Fellow mentors in the Maxwell program saw his sense of hope, his enthusiasm and his experience as qualifications for a future police chief – something he had not considered. On their advice, he turned in his application for Baton Rouge chief of police just before the deadline.

I’m excited about the future of the police department here. We have great men and women who work here,” he said. “I think God put me here for a reason.”

“It’s a difficult time. I do believe that. And that’s why I think prayer is so important,” he said. “God has a way of calming us in difficult times…I pray and ask God for wisdom, for guidance on decisions.”

“But I think the true change in the crime issues here is not going to come from me,” Paul said. “I think it’s going to come from the community – and it’s going to come from the faith-based community. They’re in the business of changing hearts.”




The Baton Rouge Police Department is seeing success through connections with community leaders including faith-based partnerships.

Susan Brown began her career in radio news. She was news director for WJBO/WFMF radio and a journalism instructor at LSU. She holds a master’s degrees from LSU and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and served as a chaplain at Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women.

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Cover Story, July 2017

When God Says ‘Move,’ You Move

 

When God Says

‘Move,’

You Move

by Trapper S. Kinchen         photos by Beth Townsend

vickie Williams-Tillman is a hardworking wife, devoted mother and proud grandmother of six. she works as a clerk at st. Jude the Apostle school during the day, cleans offices at night and divides her spare time between church, family and friends. on the surface, her life seems relatively normal, but she is a certified hero.

On the morning of Sunday, February 19, while headed to the grocery store, she turned off Airline Highway onto Harry Drive. She suddenly noticed something near the roadside. A bloodied police officer was struggling to subdue a suspect in an empty church parking lot. In a split second, WilliamsTillman followed an impulse that wound up saving that officer’s life.

The embattled policeman was Billy Aime—a twenty-one year law enforcement veteran. When Williams-Tillman found him, he was trying to subdue an aggressive man who had just taken a hit of heroin. The situation was wild, and the suspect was desperate to avoid arrest—biting, hitting and even using his fingers to tear at the inside of Aime’s mouth.

Aime, who stands well over six feet tall, said, “First, he hit me with my baton, and I don’t know how many times I got hit with it. I also got hit with my flashlight. He kept grabbing stuff off of my belt. I even felt the blunt force of my radio on my head at least two or three times. And he had his hand on my gun the entire time.”

Aime did everything he could to keep the suspect from gaining control of his weapon. Unable to call for backup, he kept the assailant pinned against his cruiser. But the repeated blows to his head made it difficult for Aime to maintain his equilibrium.

Williams-Tillman came across the scene just as Aime and the suspect had reached a stalemate. Instinctively, she pulled into the parking lot and rolled down her window, asking, “Do you need help?” Aime said yes, and she quickly dialed 911. After calling for backup, Williams-Tillman turned towards Aime. She said, “I asked Billy, ‘are you going to be okay?’ And we just locked eyes. He never said anything. I saw in his eyes that he couldn’t carry on with his task, and that’s why I got out of my car.”

In what she described as an “out of body experience,” Williams-Tillman walked over to Aime and pried the suspect’s hand from his gun. She said, “I grabbed his hand and jumped on his back, everything happened so quick.” The attacker, franticly trying to break free, clawed at her. She used her body to support Aime, helping him restrain the suspect until reinforcements arrived.

For Aime, the whole experience was a blur. His mind was wholly focused on keeping his weapon in its holster, but he said, “I remember the moment she pulled in. I even remember the direction she pulled in from. Did I expect her to get out of her car? No. But she got out, and the next thing I knew, I felt her hand come across my hand and pry the suspect away from my gun.”

As soon as reinforcements placed the assailant under arrest, Aime lost consciousness. The blows to his head caused a serious concussion. In fact, Williams-Tillman’s physical support was the only thing that kept him from collapsing during the attack. Aime spent several days in the hospital, and it took three weeks of recovery before he was able to return to duty.

Meanwhile, the day after the incident, Williams-Tillman was back at St. Jude school. Her close friend and coworker, Pat Yoches, was amazed when she heard about her colleague’s heroism. Williams-Tillman and she have worked side by side for nearly a decade, and Yoches said, “I was shocked. She’s always helping people at work, but I couldn’t believe she responded the way she did to that attack. It’s just absolutely incredible.”

Aime, too, was astonished by Williams-Tillman’s bravery. He credits both God and her for rescuing him that fateful morning. He said, “There’s no doubt she saved my life.”

Aime, who stands well over six feet tall, said, “First, he hit me with my baton, and I don’t know how many times I got hit with it. I also got hit with my flashlight. He kept grabbing stuff off of my belt. I even felt the blunt force of my radio on my head at least two or three times. And he had his hand on my gun the entire time.”

Williams-Tillman placed her own safety at risk by coming to his aid. But—like the Good Samaritan in the Bible—she selflessly responded to Aime’s dilemma because it was the right thing to do. The Holy Spirit fortified her with courage, and she allowed Him to use her as an instrument for good. She said, “At the time, it was all about Billy. It wasn’t about me.”

Since that first accidental meeting, Aime and WilliamsTillman have formed an incredibly tight bond. She said, “Those few moments together have connected us forever.” They now consider each other family, and if she doesn’t hear from Aime every couple of days, Williams-Tillman checks on him. She said, “I’m always concerned about his safety, and he’s in my heart. He’s like a little brother to me.”

As citizens, we are all responsible for supporting our local law enforcement’s efforts to keep our communities safe. And it’s important for us to remember that a uniform and badge do not make a man indestructible. As WilliamsTillman said, “Police officers are only human.” In truth, they need our consideration and encouragement as badly as we need their protection.

The story of Williams-Tillman’s courage serves as a shining example of Baton Rouge solidarity. Her actions remind us that—no matter who we are—we all play an important role in uniting our city. She said, “You can’t look at people for their color. We’re all brothers and sisters. We all share the same Father. That’s what I taught my children, and it’s what I teach my grandkids.”

For Aime, his relationship with Williams-Tillman represents the spirit of the Body of Christ. She came to his aid not just as an African-American woman assisting a white man, but also as a Christian helping a fellow human being. Likewise, he and his colleagues endeavor to serve justice without partiality. He said, “BRPD doesn’t care what color you are. If you call, we’re coming. If people need us, we’re always going to come.”

No one in Baton Rouge could have predicted how God would use a local grandmother to save the life of a police officer. Aime still can’t wrap his mind around it. He said, “I’ve never been assisted before like I was by Ms. Vickie. It was a total shock. She went above and beyond what any other citizen would have done. It was almost like a family member seeing you on the side of the road and jumping into action.”

Vickie Williams-Tillman and Billy Aime are just two ordinary people God happened to bring together through an incredible circumstance. Their paths likely never would have crossed if he hadn’t been patrolling on Harry Drive or if shehadn’t stopped to check on him. Aime said, “Several other cars passed me that day. I saw them go by while I was pressed up against my unit.”

We often fall prey to distraction, and our busy modern lives make it easy to overlook important details. However, it is vital that we take the time to look up from our devices and set our routines aside. By doing so, we become vessels through which God’s love can flow outward into the community. Williams-Tillman said, “It just takes a minute to help somebody. Don’t worry about what other people think, because that holds you back. As long as I’m doing what I know God wants, I’m completely satisfied.”

Fear, hesitation, and self-interest keep many of us from doing the right thing. What makes Williams-Tillman so remarkable is her willingness to serve the Body of Christ no matter the cost. Consider how many times a day the Lord opens doors for you to help your neighbor, and reflect on how often you seize those opportunities.

Human beings—regardless of their age, race or situation—have great potential to effect positive change. All it takes is a little compassion for our fellow man and a great deal of willingness to act when we see a need. WilliamsTillman said, “I wouldn’t advise somebody to do something like I did, but when God says move, you move.”

TrapperHeadshot

Trapper was born on the lip of Lake Pontchartrain. He was raised there, reading in the salt-flecked breeze on a splintered wharf that jutted into South Pass. Never bored, he divides his time between trying to raise organic chickens in the Livingston Parish piney woods, traveling to different time zones, and exercising his mind by steadily learning as much as he can. He graduated from LSU in 2013 and Wayne State University in 2015. He is a busy fiction writer and contemplative naturalist. He has a great time living life.

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