Magazine article Training & Development

Self-Awareness on Patrol

Magazine article Training & Development

Self-Awareness on Patrol

Article excerpt

Have you ever had to face a rough group of trainees--the type who question everything you do, yawn and look out the window a lot, and generally don't respond positively to your well-planned presentation? Sure, it's tough. But it could be worse. Your trainees could carry guns and clubs to class.

Emily White, a consultant in northern California, says she knows all about training rough crowds. She teaches diversity awareness to California police officers.

White finds her job quite difficult. With limited resources and time, she says she can barely bust through the police officers' layers of anger, apathy, and misunderstanding. She typically has only four hours to train a group of officers and help them to understand and change deep-seated attitudes.

She begins every training session by explaining her background--she was a social worker with police departments in New York--so that the trainees know she understands what police work is like.

"Police officers don't usually listen to anybody who is not a police officer," says White, "so I have to prove myself. Once I qualify, they let me stay for the class."

White says she'd like to have more time to work with the police officers but the departments' budgets won't allow it. Having only four to eight hours to train these officers, White has found, is like training with both hands cuffed behind your back.

Many of the officers would prefer not to attend the classes; they'd rather be on the streets doing their jobs. White says many deny that their departments have any problems and think diversity training is a waste of time. For those reasons, much of White's time is spent winning the officers' trust and convincing them to get involved in what she has to teach them.

"It is naive to think that you are going to change a police officer's attitudes with four hours of training," says White. "At the end of these sessions, I have only begun to scratch the surface."

Instead of spending precious time teaching cultural awareness, White teaches self-awareness and hopes that the attitudes she discusses in class will be remembered when the officers deal with people on the street.

"It's more important for them to understand how it feels to be different--to understand feelings of alienation, of being alone, and of sadness," explains White. "It is only through such a process that we can begin to get officers to start looking at others around them and to understand how uncomfortable those feelings are and to use those feelings to develop empathy for the people they serve. …

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