Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT) Kalamazoo is pushing for police academies across Michigan to expand anti-racism training after consistently receiving a positive response to their partnership with a local police academy.
On September 17, TRHT Kalamazoo sponsored its fourth full-day engagement during Kalamazoo Valley Community College (KVCC) Police Academy's Expanding Our Horizons: A Cultural Awareness Experience.
The day of training focused on examining the history of racism in law enforcement in the United States, creating positive connections with community members and confronting implicit biases that impact interactions between communities of color and the police.
"We continue to get positive feedback from this initiative every time it is held," said Sholanna Lewis, Director of TRHT Kalamazoo. "One thing we hear a lot from both cadets and community members is that they would like to see this type of program be incorporated into statewide requirements."
Earlier this year, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced a series of policy plans to reform policing within the state. Among these guidelines is the recommendation to add implicit bias training to police academy curricula across the state.
"Holistically, the diversity week is ahead of the curve on covering the topics that Governor Whitmer wants to see incorporated into law enforcement training," Lewis said. "However, the program that Police Academy Director Victor Ledbetter has put into place, including the day that TRHT supports, goes beyond what the governor is calling for, including building relationships with community members of color."
While current state guidelines require 25 hours of diversity training, KVCC's Police Academy dedicates 50 hours to train cadets not only about implicit bias and de-escalation tactics, but also awareness of cultural diversity and the history of the relationship between police, Black people, and other communities of color.
"We are providing a safe space to build meaningful relationships between police and the communities they serve" said Victor Ledbetter, Director of the KVCC Police Academy. "Things are very divided and it seems as if there is an 'us vs. them' mindset on both sides. These events breaks down barriers where both sides can see the value in working together for the benefit of the community and a better quality of life for all involved."
"I have seen firsthand the effectiveness of expanding diversity training to include conversation with people in the community about their lived experiences," "Shifting the culture of law enforcement into one that values communication and relationship building with community members can change the ways that officers and communities interact."
Stacey Randolph-Ledbetter, lead of TRHT Kalamazoo's Law Design team and a retired Public Safety Captain, first developed the training program for the KVCC Police Academy in 2018. The ongoing success of the program has led to its adoption as a part of training for every cadet that graduates from the academy.
"A goal from the beginning was to institutionalize this experience and make it a key component of a cadet's education before becoming a law enforcement officer," said Randolph-Ledbetter. "The partnership between TRHT Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo Community Foundation and KVCC, along with the support of community members, sponsors, and supporters, has allowed us to continue the program with each group of new cadets."
The cadets themselves have praised the effectiveness of the program. In a survey conducted after the most recent training, 96% of cadets responded that the training helped them identify their own assumptions and implicit bias, understand how stereotypes and bias impact people's daily interactions and motivated them to learn more about diversity in the future.
While past trainings have been held on the campus of KVCC, the COVID-19 pandemic forced a change in plans. This September, the event was held virtually over video conference and attended by 17 cadets and 22 community members.
"Here and across the country, we're seeing protests and activism regarding police practices. The current state between law enforcement and many communities is one of polarization," Randolph-Ledbetter said. "This engagement cultivates an atmosphere of respect, understanding, awareness, acceptance, learning and relationship-building. Giving police cadets exposure and personal connection to a diverse group of community members, in addition to sharing history and discussing why we are at this unfortunate crossroad, will better prepare them to work in diverse communities."
Racial healing circles were facilitated virtually by TRHT with the goal of engaging the cadets and the community in mutual listening and perspective sharing, allowing the possibility for personal impact and transformation.
A full 100% of cadets who responded to the survey said the healing circles provided a space to talk truthfully and openly about race and racism and helped them build or strengthen relationships with other members of the community. Every cadet who attended also said they recommend that others attend a virtual healing experience.
With support from Bronson Community Health, Equity and Inclusion staff, cadets and community members later examined laws, historical events and court decisions with an equity lens and discussed whether they ultimately extended or denied democracy to all people of the United States. Community members shared their lived experiences, discussing how they and their families were directly impacted by decisions made by law enforcement, society and government.
As a long-term sponsor of KVCC Police Academy's Diversity Week, TRHT Kalamazoo will host the day-long training twice annually. Western Michigan University's Lewis Walker Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnic Relations and the Council of Michigan Foundations have also committed to being a long-term sponsors. Randolph-Ledbetter's Black & Blue Networking and Consulting LLC will continue to oversee the training program.
Randolph-Ledbetter believes that our current moment is proof that this training program is important to healing the relationship between police and the communities they are entrusted to protect and serve.
"Education, accountability and transparency matter while working to build trust," continued Randolph-Ledbetter. "Incorporating community members into the training of future police officers has proven to be a necessary step in that direction."
TRHT Kalamazoo recently created a video about their anti-racism training collaboration with KVCC Police Academy and local organizations. Watch now to learn more.