Berkeley's police diversity classes a first; mandatory training on gay issues
(BERKELEY, Calif.) -- Although diversity training has become commonplace at law enforcement agencies across the country, a program starting today in Berkeley appears to be the first of its kind to make it mandatory for all Police Department employees to take awareness classes on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues.
Each sworn officer, dispatcher and secretary in the 324-employee department will be required to sign up for the six-hour course -- two-thirds covering issues specific to transgender men and women, with the remainder devoted to gay, lesbian and bisexual issues.
San Francisco, New York and Washington, D.C., have cultural awareness training for new recruits in the police academy, covering everything from sexual harassment to race relations. The Metropolitan Police in Washington follow up with mandatory in-service course work on cultural awareness throughout an officer's career.
"I don't think any police department in the world is going back to people who have been with the department 20 years," said Berkeley Councilman Kriss Worthington, the city's first openly gay councilmember. "We're doing every department employee."
Worthington proposed the training last year after gays stormed Oakland police headquarters protesting the treatment a transgender woman received by officers after being assaulted.
"We shouldn't wait until there is a controversy, until there are hundreds of protesters at City Hall," he said.
The program, costing the city $30,000 this year, will be led by a consultant and a transgender San Francisco police officer. Worthington said he hoped to expand it to other departments but hadn't presented that idea to the council.
The course will cover everything from appropriate terminology and surgical procedures to how to house transgenders taken into police custody. The two-hour portion on gay issues will go into gay history as well as hate crime laws as they pertain to sexual orientation
"This training is overdue, but the timing is really right because visibility of transgender people has never been higher in the media," said Dion Manley, a female-to-male transgender who lives in Berkeley. "Unfortunately, more often than not we're still the butt of jokes similar to the way other minorities have been stereotyped in the past.
"My experience has been that knowledge is key," Manley added. "The more they can learn about us and see us as people, the better off everyone will be."
Randolph Files, president of the Berkeley Police Officers Association, said the association supports "the department's efforts in diversity" but declined to elaborate.
Sgt. Kelly Gordon, who has worked for the department 17 years and is the department's liaison to the gay community, said she hadn't heard much feedback on the sensitivity training, other than the need for it expressed by gay activists.
"I'm sure I'll start to hear an earful Monday, but so far nothing has come back to me that has been super-enthusiastic or super-negative," Gordon said.
"I think, for the most part, most of us in the Berkeley Police Department know somebody gay or lesbian. We've gotten beyond too much negativity around that. But there is still a lot to know about the transgender community."
Worthington said, "Since I was elected four years ago, we've had racial diversity training, disability awareness that have been mandatory for everyone," he said.
"We've established a pattern that Berkeley wants to have training in these areas for police. This is standard operating procedure."
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