Five months after the shooting of Michael Brown and the riots in Ferguson, MO, South Miami is being proactive in a move to train its police department in cultural diversity.
The South Miami Commission, at its Jan. 6 meeting, approved a resolution to spend $6,000 to “provide staff with a greater understanding of how to deal with different ethnic and racial groups as well as providing diversity and sensitivity awareness.”
“Police Chief Rene Landa suggested this as something he thought might be beneficial for our department so that our cops were more aware of cultural differences and have better empathy with some of the people they were policing who are culturally different than themselves,” said South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard. “He doesn’t want any Ferguson in South Miami.”
Of the 50 staff members in the South Miami police department, 54 percent are Hispanic, 30 percent are white (non-Hispanic), and 12 percent are black or African American.
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“We are always trying to create harmony between the police department and the neighborhoods they service,” Stoddard said.
The training will consist of five four-hour workshops in the last two weeks of January at South Miami Police Department. Training will be provided by Dr. Richard Holton & Associates, P.A. Holton is a retired lieutenant and a 30-year veteran of the Miami-Dade Police Department.
“It’s very important, for all of us especially in law enforcement, when we deal with people in Miami, with so many religions, cultures and ethnicities,” Landa said. “We should be aware and have all our officers go through the training, because of people’s needs, cultures and everything else.”
The course goals include: providing “analytical skills that can be used when supervising a diverse pool of employees and community members, help in minimizing and preventing collective negative attitudes and misconceptions as a public employee toward the community,” and being “helpful in providing skills to assist in leadership, and understanding diversity in the public arena.”
According to the most recent census data, 17 percent of South Miami residents are black or African American, 35 percent are white, and 43 percent are Hispanic or Latino.
“We saw what was going on with Ferguson and other areas and there is just a lot of issues related to police work and we wanted to make sure our officers had a proper perspective as they went out in the streets,” Alexander said. “The more time goes on, the more timely this seems to be.”
One of the objectives of the course is “to allow participants to examine how cultural diversity and effective leadership enhances the work place and the community, while demanding some behavioral changes, as well as cognitive understanding, on how this will translate into a more productive workforce/community/instructional environment, and higher level of professional service.”
Landa said he could see as many as 100 people participate in the training, including members of the police department, citizens, and clergy.
“(SMPD Officers) understand the importance of it,” Landa said. “This generation is a lot more understanding and have grown up with different cultures and everything else. I think what I have seen is that they are very open to it. They realize that it can help them communicate. In South Miami, we are very involved with our community. It’s all of us together, so they are very open to it.”
Landa said that the training could raise awareness around the community.
“When I saw (Ferguson) go on and the development with what went on with the NYPD and started seeing that development as it was going across the country, you kind of start seeing people bad talking about the police department or whatever,” Landa said.
“But we work so hard to work together with the community that I think its really important right now to have all these different types of training to open everybody’s eyes and let us know what we have, especially in our community.”