Police Chief Campbell speaks on “Trauma and Grace” at Trinity Church
NEW HAVEN — As he prepares to step down as the city’s top law-enforcement officer, Police Chief Anthony Campbell said he hopes to inspire others to act with kindness and grace — as others had for him.
Campbell was the guest speaker at Trinity Episcopal Church on-the-Green in New Haven Sunday morning, and he recounted the support and help he received as a young police officer coming back from a major injury. The chief told the congregation, “Where there is trauma, there is the opportunity for grace to flow.”
Wearing a full uniform, Campbell reflected on his unusual background growing up in the Harlem section of New York City — his mother a corrections officer, his father a drug dealer. Campbell became a cop and was later ordained as a minister after studies at the Yale Divinity School.
“Trauma and Grace” been the theme of the Trinity congregation’s Lenten services, with guest speakers invited to offer their perspectives on the topic.
The police chief told the congregation about a difficult encounter he had when he started in law enforcement, booking and fingerprinting a criminal suspect who was full of rage and hostility toward the police. Diffusing the tension with a piece of candy, the rookie cop said he realized how much he shared with the young man, and the two made a connection.
“We were talking to another as I finger-printed him, and as I shared my life story with him, he shared his life story with me, I found that we had a lot in common. It was simply by the grace of God, that my path had gone in one direction, and his path had gone in another direction,” Campbell recalled.
A year and a half later, Campbell met the man again, in pleasanter circumstances. The formerly hostile criminal detainee had a different message, Campbell told the congregants: “I just wanted to say thank you for treating me with decency and respect, for giving me a moment of peace in a time that was really difficult for me, thank you for acknowledging my humanity.”
The police chief recalled a severe injury he sustained 13 years ago, when a young Bridgeport man ran him over with a car on the street as part of a gang initiation. It looked like Campbell’s law-enforcement career would be over as a result of his grievous injuries — and the young driver was expected to get 20 years in jail.
Campbell requested that the young man get a more lenient sentence — the judge complied with his request and cut the sentence in half — and Campbell eventually recovered and worked again as a police officer. He credited friends and supporters, and his Bible study group, for their help.
Turning to the present, Campbell said each person listening listening to him in the pews had “a grace which lives in each of us.” The police commander said there would come a time for all of them when that kindness could make a big difference.
“If you open your eyes, there’s constant opportunities for us to provide that grace to someone who may be hurting, right amongst us,” he told the worshipers, who gave him a warm round of applause following his speech.
Campbell regularly attends Vertical Church in West Haven.