RIALTO - Police want local religious leaders to lend a helping hand to their community- policing program.

"Wouldn't it be a better place to go to a faith-based organization instead of a street gang?" Police Chief Mark Kling said.

Police Department officials met on Thursday with more than a dozen local religious leaders to take an inventory on counseling services, what could be done to feed the homeless, and the kinds of after- school programs available.

Churches offer English classes, football fields, gymnasiums, basketball courts - all things that help young people stay on the right track.

There is a concern that state funding for after-school programs might disappear given all the buzz over budget cuts, Kling said.

The Police Department has been reorganizing its policing efforts into an "area-command program."

This would divide the city into three areas and seek to create better relationships with residents.

"What we're hoping is to get a larger section of the community involved," Kling said.

Suggestions from the meeting included restarting the Police Department's chaplain program so religious leaders can be on hand to comfort officers and residents at emotional crime scenes.

Mike Story, Rialto's development services director, said his staff often runs into homeless people or day laborers.

"We need to know how to help some of these people," he said.

Kling said he thinks the Police Department should address the causes of crime - instead of just arresting people - and churches can help in that effort.

The Rev. Steven Porter of St. Catherine of Siena said he wanted to talk about how the police handle illegal immigrants.

"But there is a fear from undocumented people that the Police Department is going to arrest them," he said.

Kling said the Police Department does not pursue people based on their immigration status.

"We are not the immigration service," he said.

Sam Petitfils, associate pastor at Sunrise Church, said he liked that there was a lot of discussion about attacking the root causes of crime.

"I thought it was very informative, helpful and the beginning of a very outstanding network," he said.


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