As I conducted research with police officers for the development of the Badges2Bridges cross-cultural training program (www.badges2bridges.com), I was surprised to learn that officers receive little training on diversity, inclusion or cross-cultural learning. In fact, while some police service organizations may offer this training on an annual basis, others don’t, not even within a one-year timeframe.
While I understand that police officers are inundated with an array of topics during annual training days, it is critical that they receive cross-cultural training in order to develop key competencies that will support their work with minority and under-represented communities.
Cross-cultural policing can be described as the effective use of law enforcement practices aimed at understanding and responding to the needs of cultural, racial and ethnic communities in a manner that maintains their dignity and upholds their human rights.
A lack of cross-cultural training can often lead to misunderstandings between police officers and residents from different cultural backgrounds. In extreme circumstances, such misunderstanding can escalate and lead to fatalities. In most cases, they contribute to mistrust amongst culturally diverse residents, which can lead to a lack of cooperation on the part of residents where solving crime is concerned.
For example, in many African American communities, eye contact is extremely important. Residents may look to an officer’s body language, in the form of eye contact, facial expressions and tone of voice, to determine whether the officer is being genuine or “respectful”. On the other hand, an officer may view an African American resident who refuses to make eye contact as being “disrespectful”. In this case, the resident may have been raised to believe that making direct eye contact with an individual in a position of authority is respectful. Such misunderstandings are common and can be reduced by paying attention to the following strategies:
- Always use professional and respectful language. Introduce yourself, stating your name and the police service organization that you work for. Tell the resident why he or she is being stopped and the next steps that you are about to take. This will reduce anxiety and enable the resident to feel some level of control.
- Avoid using stereotypical language during any interaction with a resident.
- Avoid using slang, derogatory terms or profanity.
- If the resident is from an Indian culture, ask how he or she would like to be addressed.
Develop ongoing relationships with community leaders. Such relationships foster trust between law enforcement and communities. If an issue arises, you may be able to rely on such relationships to increase your understanding of community dynamics.
- Invite community members to assist you in your decision making. Ensure that meetings are held at times when residents can attend (for example, at night) and ensure that the location is easily accessible.
I would like to hear your thoughts. What are some other effective cross-cultural strategies that police officers can use to build bridges with minority and under-represented communities?
Dr. Anita Jack-Davies is founder of Badges2Bridges, a law enforcement education program (LEEP) that is currently being offered in Canada. Dr. Jack-Davies is Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography & Urban Planning at Queen’s University, Ontario Canada and can be reached at www.badges2bridges.com.