The university’s Justice and Society Studies Department is leading bias training for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and some of the area’s residents.
BY ANDREAS BUTLER
Tragic incidents of young Black males being killed by police as well as law enforcement clashing with protestors during riots and demonstrations often have the nation divided and on edge.
Bethune-Cookman University’s Justice and Society Studies Department has teamed up with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and the Center for Law and Social Justice to provide bias training for officers and area residents to help improve community relations.
The university is leading the sessions that started this week, which are focusing on safety, accountability and trust. The training wraps up on Feb. 16.
Weeks of training
Training is taking place at Edward Waters College, a historically Black institution in Jacksonville, and the Northeast Florida Criminal Justice Training and Education Center, which is the Jacksonville police academy.
It includes sessions over the next few weeks of 135 sheriff’s office personnel and 120 community members at a cost of approximately $27,000 to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
According to the sheriff’s office, the training sessions “will equip our members with expanded strategies to establish positive relationships with the diverse community we serve, as well as minimize cultural misunderstandings and negative interactions.’’
Discussions between the sheriff’s office and Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU) began last summer.
Jacksonville sheriff Mike Williams called it a highly effective way to spend funds that were allocated for agency training.
There are multiple training sessions scheduled this week for law enforcement and residents. On Feb. 16, officers and a select group from the community will have a joint training.
“The event is going very well and has been very well received. Usually when you’re talking about community engagement and law enforcement a big part of it is an unpleasant conversation. You’re talking about both positive and negative interaction between law enforcement and the community,” Dr. Randy Nelson, chair and associate professor for Criminal Justice at B-CU told the Daytona Times.
Working on trust
Nelson said the training is about two-way accountability.
“When you talk about how law enforcement perceives the community and the history of why current perceptions exist, there are a lot of factors,” he related.
“The relationship between law enforcement and the community is like a marriage. You have two-way accountability, trust and mutual respect. In most communities, particular those with trouble, there is a heighten level of mistrust between the law and community.’’
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office states that the training is detrimental for them to provide the public service they are meant to provide.
“We are a public service and we deal with different communities daily. It’s important to build that relationship with the community that we serve,” said Tony David, director of Police Services for the sheriff’s office.
“If we’re going to be effective in performing our duties, we must be engaged in the community and build relationships to tear down misconceptions and mistrusts. We need ongoing dialogue so we have to build ongoing relationships,’’ he added.
Dealing with racism
When it comes to law enforcement and the Black community, there is a history of racism, inequality, injustice and discrimination that can’t be ignored, Nelson emphasized.
“It is grounded into race and hate in a historical context just as everything else in American society, including education, the judicial system and more. Racism and discrimination was founded and grounded in American institutions, but I don’t think it’s any more prevalent in law enforcement than any other profession.”
‘We want change’
Law enforcement also sees the need to build better relations to combat that history even in the Black community.
“We want positive change in all communities. In the Black community, relations have always been tense, but these issues plague our community together. It’s very important that we come together to address these issues in a fair and transparent way,” Davis added.
Nelson doesn’t think training will eliminate unarmed killings of Blacks. He also doesn’t think the training will end officers being gunned down in the line of duty.
“I don’t think it will end. … I think it can reduce it on both sides. We want to reduce unarmed men being killed as well as the officers who are killed in the line of duty. I think it’s both. If you have a relationship with someone, you are less likely to hurt someone,” said Nelson.
Impact of HBCUs
The training also is a way that historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are impacting the justice system, law enforcement and other career fields. Many, including Bethune-Cookman, Florida A&M, University, Edward Waters College, and Florida Memorial University – all Florida HBCUs – are partnering with law enforcement and criminal justice agencies.
“Bethune-Cookman has some partnerships. We have partnered with the Florida Sheriffs Association. It’s about changing the perception of the community and law enforcement, Nelson explained. “When a majority minority community sees more minorities in law enforcement on a regular basis, then the relationship grows. Also, at HBCUs, one of the largest degree programs is criminal justice.”
The next generation
HBCUs play a critical role in getting African-Americans into criminal justice and similar career fields.
Nelson told the Times, “I came here three years ago when B-CU started the master’s degree program in criminal justice. I had developed a lot of this training before I was at Bethune. My desire is to build a base.
“I see this building the next generation of law enforcement professionals. We just need to bring in faculty that have experience in law enforcement, corrections and justice system that are able to relate this experience. B-CU and our other HBCUs are qualified,’’ he added.