Sensitivity and diversity sessions held for police
[Cumberland, R.I.]

Joanne Marciano; Journal Staff Writer
February 27, 2001, Tuesday, Blackstone Valley Edition
Copyright 2001 The Providence Journal Company
The Providence Journal-Bulletin
February 27, 2001, Tuesday, Blackstone Valley Edition

(CUMBERLAND, R.I.) -- The best way for people to get over their acceptance of stereotypes is to interact with people who are different than they are, Police Chief Anthony J. Silva said yesterday.

But members of Cumberland's all-white Police Department don't have that opportunity when they walk into the police station to start their shifts.

As a result, Cumberland police officers usually only come into contact with minorities when they are in some kind of trouble, Silva said. And that interaction reinforces stereotypes, he said.

There's no question my job imparts on me indifferences toward a race, Silva said.

Recognizing those indifferences and prejudices is important so officers can get around those and act accordingly, he said.

The Cumberland Police Department took a step toward overcoming its prejudices during a four-hour cultural diversity and sensitivity training program attended yesterday by almost 30 police officers at the Edward J. Hayden Memorial Library.

The seminar, presented by corporate trainer Michael Goldstein, of Lincoln, was the same as one offered to the rest of the town's 46-member police force last week.

During the training, Goldstein asked officers to take a look at the way they view the world by talking about the traditions they were raised with, the values they have and the way they interpret situations dealing with race.

It's important to be aware of all the subtle differences they may not be aware of when they encounter people on the street and people they work with every day, Goldstein said.

Cumberland's diversity and sensitivity training comes at a time when police departments across the state are dealing with the racial tensions that were exacerbated by the shooting death of Providence Police Sgt. Cornel Young Jr. Young, a black officer who was shot by two white officers during an incident outside a city diner on Jan. 28 last year.

The aftermath of Young's death resulted in the formation of the Rhode Island Select Commission on Race and Police-Community Relations, charged by Governor Almond with finding ways to improve relationships between the police and minority communities across the state.

In Cumberland, a predominantly white community, Mayor Daniel J. McKee said it is especially important that police work to embrace diversity.

The more awareness the Police Department has on it, McKee said, the better the community will be served.

Prejudgment is an interesting thing where we all think we don't have it but we do, McKee told the officers at yesterday's seminar. Being aware of our prejudices is important.

The sensitivity training should not end with the Police Department, McKee said. He wants to bring what the police learn about diversity into the town's schools.

We should help kids understand that they should celebrate their differences, McKee said.

As a start toward that transition, Cheryl Vaughn, principal of Community Elementary School, and Paula Maloney, a guidance counselor in several of the town's elementary schools, attended the seminar held in the community room at the library.

Cumberland is one of about six or seven communities in the state to hold cultural diversity and sensitivity training in recent months, according to Silva, who is president of the Rhode Island Association of Police Chiefs.

The training is something Silva said he would like to see mandated throughout the state. After all, understanding stereotypes helps overcome them, Silva said.

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