Twenty-three police cadets just finished 50 hours of "community immersion" as part of their training and presented their findings before a crowd of people Thursday evening.
Eight classes have now been through the program, which was developed by former Chattanooga Chief Fred Fletcher in 2014. The program is designed to immerse future officers in specific minority cultures across Chattanooga so that they're able to understand and police those communities.
The cadets, who will graduate on Feb. 7, spent the past few months engaging with several minority groups in Chattanooga, talking and asking them about their experiences with police and how the police department can do a better job serving them.
Several cadets said they came out of the program with a new-found sense of empathy and understanding for each group's culture and their specific hardships.
Cadet Mark Livesay was part of the group that spent time with people in the LGBT community. He said he was very skeptical of the program at first, but realized how important it is to not only the officers, but the people in the community as well.
"We all bleed red," Livesay said. " For me personally, I grew up in a very religious setting, so I didn't have much interaction with people in this group until we did this project. And I've come out of this as yeah, we do really all bleed red. It's important for us as police officers to not show any partiality one way or the other to anybody."
Livesay said immersing themselves in the communities and getting to know the people really helps show that police officers really do care and hope to be more diverse. And that helps ease the tensions or misconceptions about police that are perpetuated by social media.
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke was among the roughly 120 people who were in attendance. He commended the cadets and their work, and reminded them of how important it is. "How do we improve people's lives beyond just dealing with the crimes that we see?" Berke asked. "You walk into a home. Somebody has committed a crime and somebody has been the victim. They arrest the person who committed the crime, you walk out, then what happens?"
He asked about the person who is left behind, after everything is said and done. Is that person living the life they want?
"You go to a neighborhood, and somebody has just shot into a house 12 times and driven off," he said. "Are the people who live around them who heard those gunshots that night, are they living the life they want in our city? Even if we solve that crime, and we walk out of there with somebody in handcuffs, that's not the end of the story in terms of fulfilling our mission."
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