Tacoma to develop bias-free police training

Following a successful series of Project PEACE conversations designed to build trust, relationships and understanding between community members and Tacoma Police Department officers, the City of Tacoma is taking proactive steps to further these efforts. Tuesday night, the City Council approved Ordinance 28370, a mid-biennial budget adjustment of $250,000 for use toward the development of a locally relevant, bias-free training program for police officers.

The planned training will cover fair and impartial policing, which is based on the scientific study of human bias, to include training on implicit bias and additional training on de-escalation skills. This is one of five action items identified through the Project PEACE initiative which include youth engagement, community relations and outreach, crisis intervention, transparency and accountability.

Designated as one of the Tacoma Police Department’s most important action items, a five-week youth citizens’ academy held in partnership with the Safe Streets Youth Leading Change program will be offered in October 2016 to help increase levels of high school youth engagement. This academy is designed to create opportunities for local youth to be informed about police operations, build relationships with police officers, and also consider law enforcement as a career option.

“We look forward to launching the youth citizens’ academy,” said Tacoma Police Department Chief Don Ramsdell. “We believe it is vital to invest in and actively engage with our local youth.”

Additionally, the Tacoma Police and Fire departments are partnering with the Boys and Girls Club of South Puget Sound to offer a Public Safety Youth Academy wherein a group of up to 20 middle school children will attend sessions hosted at the Henry T. Schatz Branch of the Boys and Girls Club starting in September 2016, for an insight into how the two departments work and the possibilities of a career in public safety.

The Tacoma Police Department has also been informally participating with the downtown YMCA to provide mentorship to youth participating in its late night programs.

With the goal of improving community relations and outreach, which were also ranked as highly important by Project PEACE participants, Tacoma Police Department officers continue to attend functions at Tacoma Public Schools, and community and neighborhood-based events.

“Our officers are, and have always been, a part of our local fabric,” said Ramsdell. “By continuing to immerse ourselves in local community functions and events, we get to hear first-hand what the people we serve care about, what their concerns are and if there are any emerging issues that should proactively be addressed. What we’ve learned over the years is that many community members are very interested in the work that we do, and how we do it, so we look forward to rolling out another Citizens’ Academy.”

This will be the Tacoma Police Department’s 48th Citizens’ Academy.  It will highlight the Tacoma Police Department’s community-oriented policing philosophy, which strengthens the bond between community members and police officers as they proactively work together to solve community issues of varying levels of complexity. The goal of the academy is to create a growing core of well-informed community members who are proud of their police department, and who can serve as ambassadors that share their experiences and knowledge about law enforcement with other community members.

A Crisis Intervention Team has been formed, and is currently comprised of 16 Tacoma Police Department officers who have gone through advanced training on issues surrounding mental illness, treatment resources and de-escalation techniques. Another 16 officers are slated to go through this training in September 2016. The training will focus on dealing with individuals who are verbally non-compliant or hostile, and provide techniques on how to diffuse the situation. In 2017-18, officers will go through the de-escalation training to deal with individuals with mental illness.

A recently convened team of Tacoma Police Department personnel is also beginning its research on the operational and administrative aspects of body worn cameras, and plans to be in alignment with the Washington State Body Worn Camera Task Force’s recommendations in 2018.

– City of Tacoma

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