How to reimagine police training: through community voice
When police training is informed by community perspectives, officers build the skills needed to balance the demands of public safety and the best interests of youth and diverse communities of color.
Director of Strategic Partnership Investments,
Hartford Foundation for Public Giving
The past year’s renewed call for racial justice shines a spotlight on community/police relations across our nation. George Floyd’s murder at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer and the mounting death toll nationally is bringing greater attention to the “defund the police” movement. This is a call to redirect funds from police departments and reinvest in under-resourced services like public education, mental health services and housing. When these and other basic needs are lacking, they contribute to poverty and can drive the disproportionate, often adversarial contact with police people of color experience, particularly Black and Latinx Americans who have been overrepresented in America’s jails and prisons for decades.
While Connecticut policymakers and the public debate an array of strategies, residents expect to see immediate actions to effect change. Local police departments are charged with community safety but lack the tools needed to ensure they can address racial bias, preserve the peace and deliver justice equitably. They face multiple complex challenges that require attention to who is recruited into law enforcement, training and partnerships needed to do the job, immediate strategies for eradicating police brutality, as well as examining access to guns and mental health services.
As the community foundation for Hartford and 28 surrounding communities for nearly a century, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving recognizes that we need well-conceived, long- and short-term holistic approaches to curtail the longstanding systemic racism that has created persistent inequities. The disparate treatment of black and brown Americans by police has fueled generations of conflict between local law enforcement and communities of color. It will require deliberate, well-informed approaches to community policing to ensure safety and address this public health crisis.
Last summer, the Hartford Foundation and the Travelers Championship partnered to support a three-year, $400,000 grant to the University of New Haven’s Center for Advanced Policing and the Tow Youth Justice Institute to launch the Connecticut Institute for Youth and Police Relations (CIYPR). The goal of the program is to enhance education and training delivered to police officers, informed by community perspectives, to build the skills needed to balance the demands of public safety and the best interests of youth and diverse communities of color. Currently, standard police training often focuses on use-of-force and other policing techniques and provides limited education on implicit bias, de-escalation techniques, understanding stages of youth development, building cultural competence, and how each of those factors can inform encounters with youth and families in communities of color.
The program has received widespread support from local law enforcement leaders and was launched earlier this year. The curriculum focuses on police officers who have regular contact with young adults; CIYPR staff will integrate community perspectives on current policing to inform the curriculum and discussions with participating officers. At the conclusion of training, each officer will focus on a project intended to make lasting improvements in departmental relationships with young people and families in their local communities.
The curriculum also focuses on changing approaches to situations that arise in the field and strategies for deescalating them. It integrates restorative justice approaches that seek to repair harm by involving the community in rehabilitating youth, while at the same time holding young people accountable for their behavior. CIYPR was developed by Dr. Lorenzo Boyd, Ph.D., director of UNH’s Center for Advanced Policing and the university’s chief diversity officer, and Dr. Danielle Cooper, Ph.D., director of research for the Tow Youth Justice Institute and an assistant professor of criminal justice, whose research focuses on juvenile justice and delinquency prevention.
While improving police/community relations efforts are part of the solution, it is important to recognize that law enforcement officers are asked to take on a wide variety of roles and situations—from homelessness to mental health crises, which without support they are not properly equipped to handle. The Foundation supports the City of Hartford’s plan to launch a civilian crisis response team to support officers through partnerships with mental health professionals to respond to calls where residents are experiencing emotional and mental distress. The Foundation recently testified in support of pending legislation in the Connecticut General Assembly to provide support for community response teams in urban communities throughout the state. By deploying qualified professionals to respond to calls related to mental health crises, domestic disputes, homelessness, substance abuse disorders and other such challenges, we can limit unnecessary contact with law enforcement in communities of color and begin to more effectively respond to the needs of residents.
The Hartford Foundation is ready to partner with residents to foster stronger relationships between police officers and the people they are charged to serve and protect and develop strategies that appropriately respond to community needs.