Chattanooga police cadets finish 'immersion' diversity training

Chattanooga police cadets finish 'immersion' diversity training

December 5th, 2014 by Kendi A. Rainwater in Local Regional News

Police cadets listen to other members of Chattanooga's Police Academy give presentations at the Humanities Auditorium at Chattanooga State Community College.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

Cadets have run mile upon mile in the police academy as they prepare to serve the city. They have done push-ups until their arms ached, and learned how to fire weapons and drive police cars at high speeds.

The most recent class of cadets also just completed 50 hours of "community immersion" as part of its training.

The 24 cadets, who will be sworn in as Chattanooga police officers on Tuesday, are the first class to go through the Community Immersion Project, which was developed by Chief Fred Fletcher.

"[The project] teaches about diversity, but more importantly, [it] engages the community," Fletcher said.

The project is designed to immerse future officers in specific cultures in Chattanooga, so that they may better understand and police those communities.

For the past four months, cadets have formed groups that engaged with black, LGBT or Hispanic cultures.

On Thursday, each group presented its findings to about 150 people -- some officers, some civilians -- all interested to hear what they learned and how it will influence the way they do their jobs.

Each group used videos and PowerPoint slides to represent what it learned. Cadets interviewed community members and leaders, asking them what the police department does well, what can be improved upon, and the expectations that each community has for the department.

Police cadet Michael Ampthor joins other members of Chattanooga's Police Academy as they give presentations Thursday at the Humanities Auditorium at Chattanooga State Community College. The cadets talked about their results from a new community immersion project that required them to research the African-American, Hispanic and lesbian/gay/bi-gender/transgender communities.

Police cadet Michael Ampthor joins other members of...

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

Blake Ketron, a cadet who moved to Chattanooga from Johnson City, Tenn., for the job, said the project was extremely worthwhile.

He said the 50 hours spent with the African-American community could have easily been increased 70 to 80 hours.

"I've personally gained better insight into a community that I had limited interaction with previous to this project," he said. "I have gained a broader understanding of the African-American community that I will be able to carry with me the rest of my career."

Cadet Trevor Creighton, from Naples, Fla., and his group studied the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. He said the project gave him a unique opportunity to be involved in a specific part of Chattanooga culture.

He said a project like this breeds tolerance, and that it is important to him that everyone be policed the same way and feel safe -- regardless of what community they come from.

Coincidentally, the local NAACP released a statement Thursday specifically asking the police department to increase diversity and sensitivity training.

The NAACP pointed to protests and unrest nationwide after the grand jury decisions in Ferguson, Mo., and in the Eric Garner case in New York, as well as the police killing of a 12-year-old in Ohio. The statement said police "must understand the citizens and communities that they serve."

Fletcher believes the immersion project does just that, and he plans for future cadets to participate in the program and for all officers to engage with the community in a meaningful way.

At the presentations, Mayor Andy Berke commended the work of the cadets and Fletcher.

"In the long run," Berke said, "what matters is that we build these relationships and bonds between our community and officers, not just because it is the right thing to do, but it yields better results."

Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at kendi.anderson@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6592.


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