A Christian policing group which believes that the power of prayer can catch criminals and keep officers safe from harm has been awarded a £10,000 grant from the Home Office to widen its involvement with local church groups.
The Christian Police Association (CPA) wants members of the public to "adopt a cop" by praying for the safety of local officers as they ply their beats. Subjects that the association says congregations should be encouraged to pray for include "helping officers make on-the-spot decisions" and encouraging them to "resist corruption".
The nationwide organisation, which boasts 2,000 members, claims that there is "circumstantial evidence" to suggest that regular prayer sessions can help reduce crime rates and encourage criminals to make a new start to their lives.
This week they are launching a new initiative called "CoAct", which is partly funded by a £10,000 Home Office grant, to improve links between local church groups and police officers and encourage congregations to act as "peacemakers" in areas where gang violence and antisocial behaviour is high.
Don Axcell, a retired Metropolitan Police sergeant who heads the CPA, told Police Review: "We want people to pray for the police, for example in solving crimes or protecting officers. We want to see the Christian community fully interacting with the service. I think it will break down barriers."
Mr Axcell said two incidents from his own career had made him believe that prayer really could help apprehend suspects. "One officer was investigating an incident but had not been able to apprehend a suspect," he said. "He encouraged a church to pray for him and within days a suspect had been charged. Another officer encouraged churches to pray about domestic burglary and over the year it came down by 30 per cent. We do not discount good police work, which is why we call it circumstantial evidence."
Les Isaacs, the founder of the influential Street Pastors movement, which patrols more than 70 cities across the country helping drunken revellers and diffusing gang tensions, says church groups already play a strong role in tackling antisocial behaviour.
"The approach has to be both pragmatic and spiritual," he said. "Prayer makes a tangible difference, we see it every day. If you pray for the well-being of the community around you will see people physically become less aggressive."
But Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said the Government should not be funding religious-oriented police organisations which he believes have helped factionalise officers into competing camps.
"I have no objection to a local congregation praying for their community but the Government should not be funding these sorts of sectarian police groups," he said. "If there's one institution that should be avowedly secular, it is the police force. Yet we have Christian, Muslim and Jewish police associations all battling for greater recognition and government funding."
Matt Baggott, chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and president of the Christian Police Association, said CoAct would be a "great way of giving police officers the support, care and encouragement that they need and value".
A Home Office spokesman added: "We have given the Christian Police Association a one-off grant of £10,000 to support its ongoing work to improve community safety, tackle antisocial behaviour and reduce violence."