Police Academy Remains at the Forefront of Diversity Education - Training Goes Virtual Due to COVID-19

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Kalamazoo Valley Community College’s Police Officer Training Academy continues to lead the way in innovative training – having recently taken its nationally recognized diversity training program virtual due to COVID-19.

“The world is seriously divided,” Ledbetter said. “This training creates a safe space where people of color, community members and cadets can be together and have open dialogue. The experience is very powerful.”

Kalamazoo Valley Community College’s Police Officer Training Academy continues to lead the way in innovative training – having recently taken its nationally recognized diversity training program virtual due to COVID-19.

The training, called Expanding Our Horizons: A Cultural Awareness Experience, was
developed in an effort to strengthen the relationships between law enforcement and community members, with an emphasis on communities of color due to polarizing racial issues occurring across the country. Victor Ledbetter, academy director, added the training to the curriculum in January of 2019. Kalamazoo Valley is the only police academy in the state to offer this type of training.

During the day-long experience, implemented in partnership with the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) Kalamazoo, the Council of Michigan Foundations, Bronson Community Health, Equity & Inclusion, the WMU Lewis Walker Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnic Relations, and Black & Blue Networking & Consulting, LLC, the community members and cadets participate together in Racial Healing Circles, which focus on entering into a process that, in part, requires listening deeply, acknowledging
mistakes, building accountability, and being respectful of other people’s experiences.

Based on prompts initiated by practitioners from TRHT Kalamazoo, a national and community-based process that focuses on eliminating the hierarchy of human value, advancing racial equity, and racial healing in the U.S, the Racial Healing Circles take place the first half of the day so participants can get to know one another. The afternoon is an interactive educational component about the history of the criminal justice system and other historical events in the United States.

“The world is seriously divided,” Ledbetter said. “This training creates a safe space where people of color, community members and cadets can be together and have open dialogue. The experience is very powerful.”

Due to COVID-19, the cadets in the 90th academy had to complete the training virtually.

“Obviously, I would have preferred to do it in person,” Ledbetter said. “But this is the state that we’re currently living in and we adapted.”

Using Zoom, the cadets and community members gathered together in Virtual Healing Experience break-out rooms and were able to connect from all over the state for discussion and reflection. Virtual Healing Experiences are the virtual version of Racial Healing Circles.

“Being able to open up and express ourselves to the community members was very special and I am beyond grateful,” said Cadet Victoria Anderson. “It was a great opening to a discussion that should be the focus of everyone in law enforcement.”

Ledbetter continues to expand the program’s diversity training - dedicating 50 hours to the subject during “Diversity Week Training” – double what is required by the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards (MCOLES). Training in de-escalation, ethics in policing, adverse childhood experiences syndrome, implicit bias and civil rights are covered. The Expanding our Horizons: A Cultural Awareness Experience is the culmination of the week-long training.

There is currently a state-wide shortage of certified and qualified police officers. The college’s next Police Officer Training Academy begins January 25, 2021, with applications being accepted through October 23, 2020. Visit http://www.kvcc.edu/police for more information.

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Erin Dominianni
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