during the Police Academy's first ever youth-led cultural competency training. The Inner Harbor Project's Cultural Competency Team spent a year developing and piloting a training for police officers, private security personnel and bus drivers on positive ways of interacting with youth. The training is a synthesis of original research IHP youth conducted to understand the tension between young people and police in Baltimore and successful trainings by other youth organizations like New Lens.
The course has three modules focused on fostering empathy by changing how authority figures interact with youth.
IHP has trained 46 cadets, the Lexington Market and Inner Harbor Police Unit.
Larry Alexander, one of the youth leaders on the team, describes what it's been like to lead the trainings:
I am a part of the Police Training team also know as the Cultural Competency Training team. I have personally led three police training workshops so far: two with the Inner Harbor Unit and one with the Lexington Market Unit. The conversations we had went deep as we began to understand how the officers really felt about everything that has been recently going on in Baltimore City. They were opinionated, honest and open to answering our questions. In return, we answered their questions honestly and openly. I feel as though we all came to an understanding of how we felt about the recent events in the city.
Really, the workshops feel a little bit too short to me. In one class, when I was wrapping up, the officer said “No, it’s ok, we can keep going.” I wished we could continue, but then I started to think, “What if we ran out of things to talk about, then what? Would we then start discussing each other’s day? Who knows." I'm like a fish in the ocean, I just go with the flow. But so far I believe that the classes have been pretty good! Everyone has an open mind to everyone else's opinion and listened to the way others felt about things.
One memorable thing was when one officer said, “I never get to just talk to kids like this and it’s refreshing.” I feel that way too. The reason why officers and teens don’t get to communicate is because we [teens] no longer have structured ways to talk to officers. When I was younger, everyone went to the PAL center (Police Athletic League). During every single class, someone brought up how the kids and officer’s communication was better when we had them around.
To finish this off I want to include that when I was younger I didn’t really know any people that hated cops; they honestly didn’t mind when they were around. They didn’t mind the kids hanging out with them at PAL centers and they honestly felt safe when they were around. Maybe I'm just from another era, but to me when we lost those centers the communication started to break down and cops stopped being just normal people and became something evil in the eyes of the community. Maybe we should bring back the community events and Recreation/PAL centers. Just a thought.
Police officers who have participated in previous trainings have said:
“It’s unique to sit down and actually talk to young people.”
“I feel live I’ve been to church. I feel refreshed.”
“Throughout my twenty plus years on the force, this is the first time I’ve gotten to sit down and actually talk to young adults about how they feel.”