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The Relationship between Multicultural Training for Police and Effective Law Enforcement. (Perspective)

By Coderoni, Gary R. | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, November 2002 | Go to article overview

The Relationship between Multicultural Training for Police and Effective Law Enforcement. (Perspective)


Coderoni, Gary R., The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin


Racial discrimination lawsuits have high price tags. Civil disorder is costly and often results in death, personal injury, and property loss. According to research, 90 percent of the major civil disorders that have occurred in the United States resulted from police-citizen conflicts, many of which could have been avoided. Multicultural training can reduce the number of lawsuits, as well as the possibility of civil disorder, but only can succeed with the acceptance and management of cultural diversity. Historically, strategies employed by police in dealing with minorities and minority issues have differed from those with other groups. While improvements in those strategies have occurred in the last decade, further improvements are needed and easily attainable. Although these discussions often have focused on African-Americans, many cultural diversity issues have similar implications on other racial and ethnic groups. This issue, of course, is not new to American policing. In 1962, the late Robert Kennedy, whil e serving as U.S. attorney general, said, "Every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves. What is equally true is that every community gets the class of law enforcement it insists on." (1) Communities must begin to insist, if not demand, that their police department's leadership seriously seek to discover and eliminate cultural biases, prejudices, and other barriers that impede the ability of the police to effectively deal with cultural differences in the community. While "racial profiling" has become the latest racial issue, it probably will not be the last. As America becomes more culturally diverse and citizens' skin colors begin to meld, the importance of recognizing sameness, rather than difference, becomes imperative.

Effects of Incidents

In terms of damaged police-community relations, public trust, and public confidence, the true cost of civil disorders, such as the reactions in Los Angeles following the acquittal of the police officers involved in the Rodney King incident, never will be fully understood. Now, 10 years later, the minority community in Los Angeles still feels the effects of that tragedy. Public trust is difficult to attain, important to maintain, and easily lost. One such incident can undo years of hard work and community bridge building. Similar situations have occurred in New York, Miami, and Washington, D.C. Each of these, incidents resulted from police-citizen interactions that crossed racial and cultural lines.

Research indicates that the dynamics of a civil disorder may not be as complex as many believe. Police in mainstream America often deal with situations that lead to miscommunication and, inadvertently, tragic consequences if the police are not trained to recognize and understand citizen reactions based on differing cultural norms. As the United States quickly becomes one of the most culturally diverse nations, law enforcement agencies must train their officers to understand and be understood by those with whom they differ in areas other than merely language.

The results of not understanding cultural differences expend resources sorely needed for other police services and programs, which benefit communities. In addition to generating the enormous costs of rebuilding community trust and creating grounds for large monetary awards from civil suits, the loss of lives and injuries to citizens and police, as well as property damage, can have a serious impact on governments already fiscally challenged. These incidents can negatively affect the ability of local government to secure bonds, make it difficult and costly to obtain and maintain insurance, and frighten potential new businesses or cause established businesses to flee to the presumed safety and security of the suburbs, thereby reducing the tax base as they leave.

Law Enforcement Response

Law enforcement administrators must take a proactive approach to eliminate community disorder and unrest, particularly that which results from a lack of understanding on the part of officers engaged in policing an ever-increasing culturally diverse society.

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