Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station and Local Clergy Forming Community Partnership

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Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station Captain Josh Thai speaks to community members and more than 40 faith leaders from Malibu, Calabasas and Agoura Hills at the first Clergy Advisory Council meeting last Wednesday, Oct. 3.

A priest, a rabbi and a minister walk into… the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station last week for the first-ever local meeting between LA County sheriff’s officials and clergy. In fact, nearly 60 people, including members of law enforcement and clergy of all faiths from the Malibu/Lost Hills jurisdiction met in order to form a volunteer Clergy Advisory Council and Chaplaincy Team. The group will help improve lines of communication and services between faith congregations and law enforcement.

The idea to form the partnership came from Captain Josh Thai, and is based on a similar group that formed in Redlands in 1982 to bring “unity to the community;” with more recent chapters spreading to New York and other states. 

As a Vietnamese refugee, Thai said he experienced the positive benefits of diverse faiths working together for the greater good. Combine that with the uproar in the surrounding community over the past few months over the murder in Malibu Creek State Park and two bodies being dumped in the area, it seemed like now was an optimum time to reach out .

“Captain Thai wanted to form an ongoing clergy council to explore ways of mutually supporting each other,” Patrol Chaplain Phil Reeves told the gathering. “Today, 90 percent of the clergy in the Lost Hills jurisdiction are here—a huge turnout.” He explained that while this first meeting would be “more of a meet-and-greet than meat and potatoes,” in the future he wants to have meetings twice a year with actions and ideas.

The Lost Hills Station envisions the two groups being able to work together on community issues and concerns, better communications, being partners in reducing crime, and linking those in need to services and resources. 

“I think it’s very important to have a faith group as part of the community,” Thai said at the meeting. “I was a Vietnamese refugee, and in the camps, there were church groups throughout the U.S. that sponsored us … Our family ended up being helped by a church in Covina, and one of the members was a retired LAPD officer who inspired me to go into law enforcement. I was a Buddhist growing up, but there was a Christian church helping me.”

Thai had a message for the clergy who attended: “You might hear about things going on [from members of your congregation]; like the Creek shooting. Come and be part of our group and get the stories straight from me. I need you to extend your eyes and ears, and I need a bridge and a connection between your congregations and the police department.”

The clergy was also invited to become volunteer “patrol chaplains” for the sheriffs’ department. Thai explained that after the Creek shooting, the two little girls whose father was killed while they were camping were brought to the Lost Hills Station until the next-of-kin could be identified and contacted. 

“Our chaplain was able to comfort them, and stayed with them for hours, and took them back to the crime scene to get their stuff,” Thai related. 

Patrol chaplains receive special training, are issued apparel and equipment, and assist not only crime victims, but also department employees having life-related issues and work stress. They are part of the Sheriffs’ Psychological Services Bureau.

One of Malibu’s clergy is already serving in this capacity: Brian La Spada, senior pastor at the Calvary Chapel Malibu. 

“Anything you could contribute to the station would be greatly appreciated,” Thai said to the clergy. “I invite you to contact me about having a ride-along with the deputies. And anything your community is in an uproar about, we can communicate, and you can talk to your congregations.”

In closing, Reeves said, “We’d like to keep a ‘Rolodex’ here of clergy from different faiths that we can call upon if needed. And feel free to email us with your vision of what this council should look like.”

Before and after the meeting, clergy from the area mixed and mingled over coffee and pastries, and seemed to relish having the opportunity to meet one another.