Diversity training for officers: ‘It’s so relevant’

Kalamazoo, diversity training
Cultural awareness training at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts on Aug. 17, 2017.

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Seven new Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety officers and four new Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Office deputies met with a diverse group of people at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts Thursday, part of advanced training after finishing the police academy.

“When people hear the term cultural awareness, their minds go so many places,” KDPS Capt. Stacey Randolph said.

Dating may not come to mind when you think about cultural awareness. But let’s face it, the diversity training is all about getting to know someone — without the awkward hug at the end of the night.

“The concept is like speed dating,” Randolph explained. “We have 11 officers, so I have 11 tables set up where the community members are sitting, and they’ll do a timed rotation. In those rotations, they’ll introduce themselves, talk about where they’re from, talk about why they went into law enforcement, and then the community members introduce themselves and give advice about how to be successful in urban settings.”

Randolph created the program and says it’s especially relevant this week, after protests by white nationalists and counter-protests in Charlottesville, Virginia turned deadly Saturday.

“When I was planning the itinerary, I had no idea that Charlottesville was going to happen, but it’s so relevant,” she said. “That’s what we want to get beyond. We want people to know the individuals.”

New KDPS Officer Alan Klein is from metro Detroit. He said the cultural awareness training will help him better serve and protect people he meets while doing his job.

“We tend to label people and treat them differently, and that’s just something I want to be the change,” Klein said.

Sid Ellis, the director of mission advancement at the YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo, volunteers his time to meet new officers during cultural awareness training.

“It gives them an opportunity to meet, great and talk to and have a relationship with African-Americans before they go out on the workforce where they may not have an opportunity to interact with African-Americans before,” Ellis said.

He says he likes to give one piece of advice:

“Give yourself an opportunity to let go of your biases and approach young African-Americans and just talk to them.”