Police officers in the District will take a course on race theory and visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) as part of a new training program announced by Mayor Muriel Bowser Friday, April 13, outside of the museum.
Through the program — developed via a partnership between Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and the University of the District of Columbia Community College (UDC-CC) — all sworn and civilian members at MPD will participate in a training course that provides insight into the African-American experience in D.C. and the history of the city’s neighborhoods.
“When residents and officers trust each other and understand each other, we are all safer,” Bowser said. “This partnership is a tremendous opportunity for our community and one small but important way we can provide our offices at MPD with the tools and knowledge they need to be successful.”
The program comes in the wake of nationwide and local concern about biased policing and use of force by officers in communities of color.
Weeks ago, alongside a coalition of organizations including Black Lives Matter-D.C., ACLU-D.C. threatened to sue the mayor’s office for data regarding stop-and-frisks performed by MPD. Last week, MPD officer also testified to shooting unarmed Black motorcyclist Terrance Sterling in 2016 while petitioning for his job after being place on paid administrative leave.
The city paid a $3.5 million settlement to Sterling’s family after a MPD internal review board found the shooting to be unjustified under the department’s policy. That same week, the family of Timothy Lionel Williams filed a $50 million wrongful death lawsuit against the District related to Williams’ February 2017 shooting death near the Trinidad neighborhood.
Bowser said the members of her administration are committed to accountability and building stronger bonds between the police and the communities they serve.
“We have equipped all of our patrol officers with body-worn cameras, we’ve invested $3.6 million in MPD’s police cadet training program, we’ve ensured that nearly 200 new recruits received a $1,000 housing allowance, we’ve launched a public safety academy at Anacostia Senior High School and today,” the mayor said.
Bowser noted that the city has seen a 23 percent drop in violent crimes, including at 27 percent reduction in robberies and 17 percent fewer homicides.
The training program began when members of MPD’s Command Staff toured the NMAAHC in June and the official training began for the entire staff in January. The course will be taught by UDC-CC professors and will expand on MPD’s existing training that focuses on interactions between law enforcement and minority communities, implicit bias and cultural sensitivity.
Police Chief Peter Newsham said the museum’s exhibits force officers to confront ugly moments in the history of policing.
“People who were supposed to serve and protect had played in the discriminatory, racist and unjust policies in the Jim Crow era through the struggle for equal rights,” Newsham said. “I think that there are some that would like to ignore that troubling history of law enforcement in our country, but we believe it’s critically important to remain a part of our education.”
Since January, between 60 and 80 officers have been trained each week. MPD hopes to have all 3,800 sworn officers and 660 civilian members trained by the end of the year.
Facilitators of the program hope to provide officers with insight into the Black experience in the District.
“[Officers] get an understanding of the diversity and the culture of the folks that we are servicing,” said Master Police Officer Curtis Coleman, who trains cadets at the D.C. Police Academy. “I always say to the class, at the opening remarks, that we are no better than the people we’re are serving.”