Through the university's Summer Orientation and Registration (SOAR) program, the department meets with international students before classes begin. Officers explain who they are, how to identify them, and what students can expect from the department. They distribute pamphlets — available in a variety of languages — that explain U.S. laws and how they may differ from their own country's laws. The documents also define the police department's role and the assistance it can provide.
According to Burke, police outreach efforts are extremely important. "I don't think you can sit back and wait for stuff to come to you. You've got to reach out. You've got to know your community, and the more outreach you provide, the better your community will know you."Training for diversity
Hiring open and approachable officers who are willing to listen is a good start, but Sanders maintains the next step is to ensure these officers are well trained. "You need people who can understand subtle differences in languages and cultures," he explains.
To foster further understanding of multicultural groups, UM — Flint first offered a seminar on "Understanding Culture" to all employees. The university's police and security officers then participated in two days of diversity training led by former Detroit Police Chief Dr. Isaiah McKinnon, best known for successfully reorganizing, restructuring and revitalizing the Detroit PD. Dr. Michael Witkowski, a nationally known security litigation expert, joined McKinnon on the podium as did FBI agent Henry Glaspie III. Sanders emphasizes the training covered "the topics no one wants to discuss," including racial discrimination, racial profiling and more. "I believe if you don't discuss the problem, then you sugarcoat it and sweep it under the rug," he says. "I'm the type of person who says 'here's the problem, let's attack it and see if we can get past this stuff.' "
The instruction continues, and plans are to cover community policing next, then circle back to racial profiling. "This program is designed to expand officer's horizons and views to get them used to dealing with people who don't look like them," Sanders says.
Sensitivity training such as the instruction found on Flint's campus, offers an excellent means of helping officers gain familiarity with the practices of other people, says Abraham, noting that CAIR has provided similar training to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, FBI officials and local police departments.
CAIR's 2-hour instruction primarily focuses on the beliefs and customs of the followers of Islam. For instance, the course discusses the reason Muslims may not look someone in the eye. A Muslim views having their eyes downcast from an authority figure as a sign of humility. However, many Americans regard this as suspicious. "We explain that they are just showing respect," Abraham says. "By looking an officer in the eye, they'd be placing themselves as his or her equal. They have been taught to be polite and look away."
The training also considers the head scarf donned by Muslim women. As Abraham says, not everyone realizes that requesting a Muslim woman to take off her head scarf is the equivalent of asking another woman to remove her blouse. Praying is discussed, and officers learn it is considered disrespectful to step in front of a praying Muslim.
The instruction, which has been offered for about three years, also covers misconceptions officers may have regarding Islam or the Muslim community. Abraham says common stereotypes often include beliefs that all Muslims are suspicious or terrorists, that Muslim men are oppressive of women, or that Muslim women are subservient. Muslim presenters are on hand to explain their culture and the beliefs they hold.
CAIR's program aims to help officers better understand this population. "Our training doesn't tell officers how to conduct themselves in an emergency; they are already trained how to do that," she says. "But if they don't know these things they can offend. When an officer offends the person he's dealing with, that individual loses trust, and as a result may not be as forthcoming with information."More than lip service
No matter what a department does to embrace diversity, whether it is community policing, a culturally diverse department or sensitivity training, Shuford says efforts must be sincere. If things are done half-heartedly or forced upon officers, he says they may not contribute to meaningful change.