An inner-city police station buzzes with the sounds of distress: crackling radios, shouting detainees and sobbing children. But at the headquarters of Washington's 3rd District, there sometimes is perfect harmony.
It might happen in the weight room, the locker room, even the hallways, as five members of Prophecy, a gospel music ensemble, seize the odd moment to practice their praises.
The group's members are Avon Barbour, tenor and desk sergeant; Charles Callis, tenor and tactical operations officer; Harold Brooks, tenor and security monitor; Normal Robinson, mezzo and detective; and DeWayne Anderson, bass and youth services coordinator. Stanley Minor, baritone, works for Pepsi-Cola in Maryland and joined the group through his friendship with Callis.
Though their impromptu gatherings at headquarters are virtually the only time for group practice, members keep vigor in their voices by singing in various church choirs.
Earlier this month, Prophecy went to the finals of the Kentucky Fried Chicken Gospel Music Competition at a sold-out Kennedy Center. Though they finished second to the Teagle Family of Baltimore, their performance brought a $750 prize to their sponsor, the Miles Memorial CME Church of Washington, of which Barbour is a member.
"We don't really have a director, and I think that has slowed us. We're just kind of depending on the Holy Ghost," Anderson said with a smile.
But the six agree that their two years together have been successful. Virtually every singing engagement has led to further invitations. They appeared this spring on a cable broadcast of "Religious Voices Around the World," and have sung at gospel music festivals in Kentucky and Virginia Beach. Recently, they accepted an invitation to sing at the Maryland House of Corrections at Jessup.
Along with their artistic development, they have had personal highs.
"We've come to know each other a lot better -- the fellowship has been tremendous," Anderson said, explaining that the group has taken the gospel to headquarters, at 1620 V St. NW, and started a Bible study group. "There are a lot of police officers coming to Christ. Two are preparing for baptism now," he said, adding that faith helps to sooth the tensions of the street. "We work in such a rugged atmosphere . . . . We become calloused. The 3rd District is the most active in Washington. It's the center for every crime: drugs, prostitution, robbery."
Prophecy's singers appreciate the mix and the message of their music. "We love to blend our voices," said Robinson.
And Brooks noted that the group almost always sings a cappella. "What we've found is that without the instruments, people really listen to what you're saying," he said.
More than 700 people were apparently listening carefully when Prophecy won the semifinals for the Kentucky Fried Chicken concert at Rehoboth Baptist Church in Southeast.
" Prophecy had a number of people spontaneously praising the Lord. And the mark of a really good gospel group is, 'How much do you rouse your audience? How much do you have them praising the Lord?' " said contest spokesman Helen Peterson.
Minor, the only singer who is not a police officer, testifies to his colleagues' dedication to their jobs and to their beliefs. "They try to do what the Lord wants them to do, and what the city wants. It's great for me just to be near them," he said.
In fact, the force was responsible for Prophecy's formation. Deputy Chief Rodwell Catoe sponsored a dinner for the officers to discuss life at the 3rd District. Brooks, Callis and Anderson decided to sing a hymn for their colleagues. "They were surprised most at us having the nerve to do it," said Brooks with a chuckle.
They next sang at a men's day program at the Twelfth Street Christian Church, and enrolled Minor as baritone. Next they sang at the 19th Street Baptist Church, and Robinson joined in.
The group simply grabbed Barbour as he was working. "They caught me walking down the hall at the station and told me to fill in as second tenor," he said with a laugh. In their first competition -- a police talent show -- they took third prize.
"It's amazing the talent you have on the police force -- people who can really sing, can really play instruments," said Robinson, noting that Herb Feemster of the Peaches and Herb singing duo was a D.C. police officer for eight years.
As for rehearsals at the station, Catoe said, "I've heard harmony coming from the basement, from an empty room, from a hallway. It's an inspiring message that we hear. Others see this group and recognize a tremendous faith in God."
Though Prophecy has not yet recorded an album, "that's an avenue we might venture into," said Anderson. In the meantime, they will fight the stage fright that still strikes occasionally.
"When your nerves are strung real tight, your vocal cords are strung real tight. And once that first note comes out real high, there's no going back," said Callis. "That's what happened at the Kennedy Center. We were at least two octaves above where we should have been. It was like we were screaming in pain."
Despite troublesome trips to outer octaves, the group expects to keep performing. "We sing the Lord's praises -- that's what has kept us going," Brooks said.