James Morris sounds like someone dreamed up by desperate Hollywood writers, looking to find a premise for a new television series. He is both a veteran homicide investigator for the Oakland Police Department and a preacher. Jim Herron Zamora of the San Francisco Chronicle writes respectfully of officer/preacher Morris today, and the path that brought him to his remarkable dual career.
"The two roles complement each other," said Morris, 45, a police officer for 24 years. "I investigate homicides. My job is to arrest killers - bring them to justice. But beyond that I have a role in trying to heal the community. My faith, my commitment to Christ guides me in that role."
Not surprisingly, his calling to the ministry came after over 10 years as a police officer. Ordinarily, those inclined to the cloth do not seek employment in an occupation requiring physical force be applied, sometimes involving firearms.
Morris, known as "Mo" to fellow cops, did not grow up religious but came to Christ nearly 10 years ago. By then he already had a reputation as a tough, street-savvy cop willing to take on the toughest assignments. He also gained a reputation as a prankster, known for cutting out photos of his colleagues' heads and pasting them in unflattering poses onto pictures of athletes or movie stars with amusing captions.
Oakland is notoriously burdened with a high murder rate, with the crime heavily concentrated in poor minority neighborhoods rife with drugs. Ultimately, this must be as much a spiritual issue as a sociological one. Mr. Morris appears to grasp well the dimension of the issue.
"Murder is spiritual," Morris said from the pulpit. "When you take someone's life, you are saying you are God - that you can decide who lives or dies."
Life is full of surprises. Preacher Morris sounds like an extraordinary man, and officer Morris a caring guardian of the public. Oakland desperately needs more such people.