By Sharon Gibney
MINNEAPOLIS (NNPA)–Can Black officers actually change the way police departments interact with the communities they claim to serve? Members of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) say “yes.”
Over the past 25 years, members of the organization have developed public policy on community policing issues and piloted a host of innovative training programs and conferences. At the 109th Annual IACP (International Association of Chiefs of Police) convention recently at the Minneapolis Convention Center, NOBLE participants gathered at a reception to honor the contributions of various members, as well as to discuss future community/police initiatives.
“Our mission is to be the conscience of law enforcement,” said Maurice Foster Patrick, NOBLE executive director. “We want to bring a solid consciousness to the enforcement of criminal laws, as well as advance the development of the diversity of law enforcement.”
In 1983, NOBLE released a breakthrough study on hate violence, racial and religious violence, and harassment. The report also included recommendations that resulted in federal legislation requiring data collection on hate violence incidents. NOBLE also has spearheaded a Victim’s Assistance Project and a Community Oriented Policing System (COPS) in numerous cities. Mr. Foster said NOBLE members are in a prime position to influence law enforcement policies and systems.
“Being Black, we are most likely to be victims of racial profiling,” he said. “But we are also responsible for enforcing the system and laws that give rise to these problems. So we bring a unique perspective to these issues.”
This unique perspective is manifested in the organization’s current project: interactive training modules for officers. NOBLE members, concerned with the increasing incidence of racial profiling in cities across the country, are teaming up with IES, an interactive training company, to create computer simulations that will help both officers and their supervisors become more sensitive to community concerns. Although the project is still in the developmental stage, executives are hopeful that the simulations will eventually be implemented nationwide–and that their results will help transform police/community relations.
“We are currently working on an A-Z classroom training simulator,” said Brian Boykin, a Fairfax, Va., lieutenant and NOBLE trainer. “In this simulator, officers will have to respond to various situations they’re faced with in something like a routine traffic stop, and also in supervisory scenarios. Basically, we want to encourage the use of a ‘soft skills,’ rather than a ‘lethal force’ system.”
Officers’ success in the simulations depends on their approach to various community members and colleagues. Since the simulations are video-based and interactive, how they answer will change the video outcome.
“The professional car stop module encourages officers to approach drivers as reasonably and professionally as possible,” said Lt. Boykin. “We are trying to demonstrate how to de-escalate situations, rather than escalate them. If I ask you the wrong questions [in the car stop module], it’ll show you what happens and how it escalates.”
For Lt. Boykin, these new training tools have the potential to substantially change officers’ approach to their jobs. “This [the simulations] could very well be the only feedback an officer gets on their job,” he said. “Many times, there is little to no explanation of the rationale behind what they did, and what the community member did.”
Lt. Boykin said that NOBLE and IES are trying to create simulations that not only deal with racial profiling, but also fourth amendment guarantees issues, sexual harassment and supervisory accountability issues.
“These courses are still in the pilot stage, but we hope that they will be implemented very soon, and modeled all over the country,” he added.
When asked why police chiefs and executives, many of whom do not believe that there is a problem with racial profiling or diversity within their ranks, would want to use the software, Lt. Boykin replied, “By and large, chiefs throughout the country understand that they have to manage community perceptions. If a community believes that there is a problem with racial profiling, then there is a problem with racial profiling, and something has to be done.
“Some kind of mutual respect has to be created. At the very least, we need to help the community understand why it is the police do what they do.”
–Sharon Gibney, Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder