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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
Shortly after being appointed to the chairmanship of the Training and Education Committee of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), Chief Dave Kurz of the Durham (New Hampshire) Police Department began seeking innovate approaches to topical issues in policing. One discussion with a colleague focused on the concern that there was a lack of historical interaction between academia and police.
As Durham is home of the University of New Hampshire (UNH), Chief Kurz met with David Kaye, Professor and former Chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance and CJ Lewis, Program Manager of UNH PowerPlay, the department’s professional applied theatre company, to discuss the possibilities of a collaborative approach to addressing implicit bias within police organizations by using their PowerPlay program. PowerPlay is a professional training and development initiative that helps organizations improve their work environment by using specially designed interactive theatre models created to facilitate difficult dialogues that focus on interpersonal behavior. PowerPlay uses professional actors to help start conversations about often-ignored human dynamics that can affect and diminish performance. The group works closely with various researchers at UNH and other institutions to build their interactive programs.
PowerPlay addresses such issues as bias awareness and intervention, equitable hiring practices, and enhanced leadership communication and collaboration. Applying this combination of academic research and theatre-based pedagogy to issues related to the climate and culture of a police department seemed like an innovative and novel approach. Chief Kurz, Professor Kaye, and Lewis set out to see if they could design a PowerPlay program that would highlight how language and behavior impacts the culture and climate of a police department. The goal, based on their initial research, was to improve police performance in the field by first improving the culture and climate within the police department.
Working with UNH PowerPlay, Chief Kurz proposed a presentation of this training concept to the IACP at their annual conference being held in October before 15,000 police executives from around the United States and the world. The proposal, entitled “Bias Awareness and Intervention Training: Enhancing a Police Department's Climate and Culture for Better Outcomes,” was accepted for presentation.
The presentation was very well received as an innovative approach to the importance of language and how it may deliberately or inadvertently have a negative impact as a result of biased attitudes. In one instance, the actor portraying a shift supervisor made a statement about a woman officer asking to leave rather than “hang over” for several hours because she needed to retrieve her children from daycare as her husband was out of town on business. The supervisor stated, “See, they want equal hours, pay, and responsibilities but can’t stay over!” When confronted by the woman officer, the supervisor said, “Come on Jenny, I was only joking!”
This scenario—or many similar to it—plays out in police agencies across the country. But in this training, the opportunity to observe these dynamics allows for in-depth conversation among the participants and their impact upon the culture of the organization. In the absence of correction, these toxic statements become the norm and are allowed to fester and expand throughout the organization, negatively impacting morale, the working environment, and ultimately how services are delivered to the community.
The initiative proved to be an outstanding example of the positive attributes of police and academia interaction working collaboratively in an innovative and creative manner. The outcome is the development of exciting and interactive training to police agencies in the United States who may be striving to provide professional and unbiased services to their community.
Dave Kurz, Chief
Durham Police Department
David Kaye, Professor of Theatre
University of New Hampshire
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