Police departments and government agencies all over the country are developing and implementing progressive diversity and inclusion training that better supports and serves the cultural make up of their communities. Departments and government agencies have made admirable strides in addressing cultural awareness. However, the conversation about diversity has changed. The traditional approach to diversity focused on compliance and avoiding litigation, which has not been very successful. Anytime a company or agency develops training or a tactical plan it is imperative to follow-up and assess to ensure that the training or the plan being deployed has accomplished the intended goal.
The approach to diversity and inclusion has evolved beyond just the diverse group that is being represented or underrepresented. Inclusion focused on how these diverse groups or individuals’ perspectives are being represented in the overall mission and whether their differences are being valued or just being tolerated.
The conversation has progressively switched to equity rather than equality. Equity recognizes that not all individuals start out with the same resources or opportunities. Equity historically was aimed at the underrepresented population that provided equal access to resources to help close the gap among these groups. The common misconception is that equity and equality have the same definition and are interchangeable, however similar in spelling the meanings are fundamentally very different. Equity is providing everyone the same resources that they need to be successful, while equality is treating everyone the same. Unfortunately, a well-meaning attempt at equality has resulted in poor or unequal outcomes.
The U.S. Census, from the 2009-2013 American Community Survey data, revealed that at the present time in the United States there are over 350 different languages being spoken in homes across the nation. (Bureau, 2015) The language barrier is just one of the components that law enforcement must address.
Departments or agencies that have been proactive implemented cultural awareness, diversity and inclusion training recognizing the need to train their work force to respect and understand that various cultures have different ways of life. Cultural awareness training is designed to counter stereotypes by understanding the different elements of diverse groups and how these elements bind individuals together to create cultures unique to one another.
There are many methods to teach diversity training, and more and more law enforcement agencies across the nation have allocated multiple resources to create programs in an attempt to strengthen their departments or agencies cultural awareness and sensitivity posture.
The most important aspect of diversity and inclusion training is that it must be proactive with a unique approach that enhances positive community and police relations. All training must be developed and unique to the sentiment being portrayed by the community being served. Each state, county, or local agency should have the pulse on the cultural make-up in their geographical area and in addition have an understanding of any underlining issues that the community has expressed as an area of concern.
The approach many departments have taken all over the nation to educate their men and women on the importance of cultural diversity and inclusion training is a testament to the role leadership is taking on this vital task. There are many benefits to learning about and understanding different cultures and sub-cultures, one being, it plays a major role in developing peaceful communities. Learning and understanding different cultures builds upon community policing and creates an atmosphere of trust that results in problem-solving and enhancing varying conditions within that community.
However, the one element or prerequisite required to implement real change in diversity and inclusion training is the communication component. Good communication skills are essential to allow others and yourself to understand information more accurately.
The majority of the times, law enforcement officer’s interactions with the public is not always a positive or pleasant one. The success or break down in the cultural diversity component is effectively communicating with the public. The most effective tool in any officer’s own repertoire is their interpersonal communication skills. These skills allow an effective officer to control, de-escalate, diffuse or clarify any situation that is present.
As mentioned earlier any good tactical plan or training needs follow-up and assessment that has actionable feedback. Communication in any culture requires the message content to be clear and concise with a positive intent. The importance of effective communication cannot be overstated.
Training the law enforcement community in diversity and inclusion that emphasizes a clear message of EQUALITY to the public will be the first major step to improving community relations. This training will reinforce the fact that all cultures are treated equally all the time-every-time. Using the community’s feedback to address their concerns will be extremely useful to understand what is working and not working. In addition, the feedback will provide a basis to make adjustments to the training, if it becomes necessary. This follow-up and assessment allow the community to be heard. Diversity and inclusion training were designed to accomplish results through listening, understanding and treating everyone equal.
Departments and agencies have done an outstanding job of focusing on the cultural awareness component of training and educating the work force. Moreover, the additional training that is required to truly make an impact on any diversity and inclusion training is to focus on proper interpersonal skills required to efficiently and effectively communicate with any group.
Training specifically designed with the emphasis on equality, is the best way to illustrate to the community that their concerns have been heard. This message to the community creates respect that will re-build the trust that has been eroding for the last decade with an increased benefit on recruitment strategies. The result will be superior intrapersonal skills, professionalism, a better understanding of equality, and a partnership with the community.
Bureau, U. (2015). Census Bureau Reports at Least 350 Languages Spoken in U.S. Homes. [online] The United States Census Bureau. Available at: https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2015/cb15-185.html [Accessed 6 Feb. 2020].
Forbes.com. (2014). Reaping The Benefits Of Diversity For Modern Business Innovation. [online] Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/ekaterinawalter/2014/01/14/reaping-the-benefits-of-diversity-for-modern-business-innovation/ [Accessed 26 Jan. 2020].
Scott Downs is currently an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at Briarcliffe College, his works have been published in the Journal of Emergency Management, as a content expert. He is a summa cum laude graduate of Saint Joseph’s College and holds a Master’s Degree from the Long Island University- Homeland Security Management Institute that was designated by Congress after 9-11. Scott, being a former 4th generation law enforcement officer and former Director of Operations for a National Security company, combines his educational and real-world experience to actively serve both the public and private sectors with the best practice methods as a safety, security instructor and consultant. He can be reached at [email protected]