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Police Chief Fred Fletcher talks May 6 about theft prevention at police headquarters in Chattanooga.

After spending four months listening to Chattanooga's black community, future police officer Jeremiah Niver feels like he understands a little better what black people want from cops.

"They want to be seen as assets instead of liabilities," he said. "They want to be seen as individuals instead of stereotypes."

If you go

* What: Community Immersion Program Presentation

* When: 12-5 p.m. Thursday

* Where: Chattanooga State, Humanities Auditorium

* Cost: Free

Source: Chattanooga Police Department

Niver and 32 other police cadets spent the last four months participating in the department's "community immersion" training — when cadets study and interact with a particular group in Chattanooga in order to better understand the populations they will soon police.

Chattanooga Police Department Chief Fred Fletcher started the training program last year and requires each new cadet to complete it as they work to become officers, he said. This year, the cadets focused on the black, Hispanic and mental health communities, as well as the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.

The cadets interviewed members of each community, attended events and spoke with leaders. Each cadet was required to spend 50 hours on the project — a number Niver guesses he doubled — and produce a college-level paper about their findings, Fletcher said.

The program is designed so officers can interact directly with the public and learn what each community expects from police, Fletcher said.

"Other parts [of the job] — driving, shooting, fighting — is balanced with interacting with the community and learning what the community expects from police officers," Fletcher said.

The cadets will present their discoveries at a public meeting Thursday, with each group giving a 50-minute presentation. Fletcher said people are welcome to attend one or more sessions.

Carl Greene, minister at St. Marks Church, will be there. He worked with cadets as a representative of Chattanooga's LGBT community and said he believes the program is worthwhile.

"Chattanooga is a growing city," he said. "The more we realize, celebrate and affirm diversity — however that plays out within our city — that makes for a stronger city. From a business, cultural and spiritual angle."

This class of cadets will complete the department's 22-week police academy next week and be sworn in as officers. Niver said he hopes to continue the relationships he's built during the immersion program as he transitions during the next few months into working full time as an officer.

"[This program] encompasses the broad spectrum of our sworn duties, not just the letter of the law stuff," he said. "We're in the business of people. Unless we interact with people, we can't be trained to work with people."

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com with tips or story ideas.

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