In July of 2016, the City of Long Beach, California, was awarded a $600,000 “Strengthening Law Enforcement and Community Relations” grant from the California Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC). These grant funds allow for collaborative efforts to improve, strengthen, and establish positive and meaningful relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve. These efforts are also in alignment with the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing which was created to strengthen community policing and trust among law enforcement and the communities they serve. In addition to funding several community-police dialogues and implicit bias awareness training for police officers, the BSCC grant provided funding for twelve Community Police Academy (CPA) sessions over a two-year period. The overarching goal of the CPA is to increase understanding and communication between police and community, focusing strongly on engaging with communities of color.
Many years ago, the Police Department hosted a 15-week Community Police Academy in partnership with the local community college. Each week focused on a different aspect of policing and provided a more in-depth look at each topic. The program was discontinued due to limited staffing and resources. Today, the program has evolved into a one- day training which focuses on the more significant and challenging issues in law enforcement such as laws of arrest, use of force options, and building public trust. Through a combination of classroom presentations and interactive scenarios, community members are able to walk in the shoes of an officer to gain insight on police training, policies and procedures, and some of the challenges facing officers in today’s complex social environment. To encourage participation from all areas of the community, translation services are also provided at no cost for non-English speaking participants.
In planning the training day, interactive exercises were included to create a more experiential learning environement than in the past where the lecture method was relied on heavily. The curriculum also gives participants a better explanation of the parameters a police officer operates from and how they often have to navigate in unclear situations. Factors such as the training police officers receive, the knowledge on the way investigations are completed, and internal processes for employee accountability are also included in the Academy curriculum for full transparency. A role-playing scenario, a mock traffic stop, and an opportunity to experience the Department’s new video-based training simulator, were all included to provide participants the opportunity to make split-second decisions similar to those made by police officers every day.
In light of current events across the nation, strengthening the relationship between police and the community has become more critical than ever. Through the Community Police Academy, the Long Beach Police Department can proactively reach out to individuals and community groups to provide them with an opportunity to gain first-hand knowledge about the Department, rather than relying on second-hand information obtained from television or social media enthusiasts. According to Administrator Karen Owens, who manages the Department’s Community Engagement Division, “Programs like the Community Police Academy not only allow participants to gain a greater understanding of the many facets of policing that are not always visible to the public, but also help the Department to build stronger, and more effective, partnerships with the community we serve.”
The program is open to anyone 18 years of age and older, provided they have no active warrants or recent felony convictions. Participants have included adults from a variety of neighborhoods and professions, as well as retirees, employees from other City departments, and young people interested in a career in law enforcement. To help measure the impacts of the program, faculty from California State University Long Beach, have been contracted to administer pre- and post-training surveys for all participants. Although the formal data is still being compiled, the feedback from both participants and staff has been positive. Everyone is also encouraged to share their experiences and comments about the day on various social media platforms with the hashtag #strengthenlbc.
For communities that want to replicate the success in Long Beach, here is the typical agenda for the Academy. Each component is designed to engage participants in a meaningful way and is presented by the Academy Training Staff and/or a subject-matter expert:
Laws of Arrest
- Patrol Operations and Use of Force
- Working Lunch
- Scenario Simulations
- Traffic Stop
- Shoot/Don’t Shoot Video Simulator
- Domestic Violence Investigation
Over the next two years, Long Beach hopes to continue to enroll community members into the program with a maximum of 30 people per class and a commitment to improving communications and trust within the Long Beach Community. Administrator Owens also mentioned that, “Although we are focused on strengthening our relationship with the Long Beach community, you do not need to be a resident of Long Beach to participate in the program.” The course flyer, CPA application and a short video about the program can be found on the Police Department’s website.
Do you want to create a similar academy in your community? Questions can be directed to Administrator Karen Owens, Community Engagement Division, Long Beach Police Department, at Karen.Owens@longbeach.gov.