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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
The Houston Police Department (HPD) has over 5,000 sworn officers, over 1,000 civilian personnel, and serves a fast-growing population of around 2.3 million people. Ranked the fourth largest city in the United States, Houston has seen tremendous growth over the past 40 years. Its continuously changing demographic makeup presents opportunities and challenges for public safety agencies.
With such diversity among its residents, it is no surprise that Houston’s police department is a majority-minority department, with 53% of its staff identifying as minority. Women make up 18% of its staff. Despite this diversity, the department realized that it was not immune to cultural misunderstandings and decided to invest in a different type of diversity training.
The Outreach Cultural Intelligence Training, developed and executed by Outreach Strategists, gives officers the opportunity to learn from each other, not just the trainers. The experiential, scenario-based training is customized to meet the specific needs of the HPD, with the goal of highlighting officers’ connections to the community through role-play.
The half-day training simulates a community meeting in response to an officer-involved shooting. Officers are separated into small groups and are given individual roles to portray, such as a member of the victim’s family, a representative from the media, a city councilmember, and a member of the police department. The groups enact their own community meeting, and through the process are forced to see themselves outside of just the role of law enforcement.
“This is the first time that officers get the opportunity to experience this; to walk in someone else’s shoes,” said Mustafa Tameez, Outreach Strategists’ founder and managing director. “It gives them a deeper understanding. We learned from it that officers want to have these conversations in a safe space.” Tameez, whose father retired from a career in law enforcement, says that this training is unique from other diversity trainings in that participants lead the experience, not the trainers. “We make sure that we never preach. We facilitate the conversation.”
Alim Adatia, training instructor and former prosecutor, says that while conversations about explicit and implicit bias are important, the trainers don’t force that discussion on participants. “We understand that there is a piece of this that needs to be had around bias. But introducing it in a classroom format puts up barriers.” When participants play the role of the media, the police officer, and the victims’ family member, they begin to understand why a mother or a news reporter might react in a certain way at a particular moment. This experience leads to conversations and discussions about bias outside of the classroom.
Outreach Strategists Trainer Alim Adatia, Houston Police Officer Tanika Tucker, Outreach Strategists Managing Director Mustafa Tameez, Houston Police Department Assistant Chief Charlie Vazquez, Outreach Strategists Trainer Richard Baker, Outreach Strategists Team Member Mandi Lovett
For Officer Tanika Tucker, who started with the HPD as a civilian employee 17 years ago, the training gave her a new respect for the media. “Being a police officer, I had never spoken with anyone in the media, so this gave me a different perspective.” She also shared that the training brought her closer to her fellow officers, many of whom she had never met. “I didn’t know anyone at my table and I was the only female. It was interesting for me.”
Assistant Chief Charlie Vazquez, who has over 21 years of law enforcement experience, says this training works because it is different from any previous diversity trainings he has attended. “In previous mandatory cultural diversity trainings, people would say they [the trainers] came off accusatory,” he shared, “These [Outreach Cultural Intelligence] trainings make officers consider the feelings of others—of victims’ families.”
The trainings are not developed in a vacuum. The Outreach Strategists team works closely with department leadership and community groups to determine the best way to present the information to officers. One important factor is ensuring that the training includes a history lesson.
“Each training involves a custom video that gives historical information about different areas in Houston,” said Tameez. “The video covers every protected class within the city, including veterans. It covers the transitions in the different neighborhoods [. . .] and we cover mental health issues as well. We show census maps—1980, 1990, 2000, 2010—so you can see demographic shifts.”
Ultimately, Outreach Strategists hopes the trainings can help bring about new levels of understanding between police and the communities they serve. Richard Baker, founding partner and trainer, says, “I hope the training creates this idea that there has to be an ‘us.’ It can’t be an ‘us’ versus ‘them.’”
The training has been so well received that Outreach Strategists plans to offer the training to community leaders in the future. “It’s all about building the skill of being able to look at things from the other side,” said Tameez.
To learn more about the Outreach Cultural Intelligence training program, visit http://www.outreachci.com/.
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