New effort to increase understanding between police and minorities

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Mar 10, 2015 4:00 AM

Photo by Ben Allen/witf

The group, led by the YWCA of Greater Harrisburg, says more training is scheduled for both March and April.

(Harrisburg) -- A midstate non-profit is working with the U.S. Justice Department and police departments to try to increase understanding of diverse communities, and they hope the effort spreads statewide.

The YWCA of Greater Harrisburg put together the collection of experts for the two-day training sessions available to officers in Cumberland and Dauphin counties.

All have police training experience, and come from either federal and local levels.

So far, about 70 officers have participated, with another batch attending this month's presentation.

Officers get legal background for their jobs, but also learn about different cultures.

Swatara Township Police Chief Jason Umberger says his education included non-verbal communication by natives of the South Asian country of Bhutan.

"And if you were an American, raised the way I was, in the community I was raised in, I would deduce one thing when they were trying to communicate the exact opposite," he says.

Umberger says the program still needs to be refined, as officers have given it a mixed response.

Day one of the training is about creating a higher level of cultural awareness, while officers get educated about legal issues on day two.

Ann Van Dyke is worked as an investigator for the state Human Rights Commission and is now chair of a volunteer group involved in the effort

She says she wants it to expand state-wide.

"It's really becoming a necessity of having trusting communications and connections particularly between the police and all those different demographic groups," says Van Dyke.

Chief Umberger says police departments can fix many problems by simply hiring more minorities. 

However, he notes it can often be hard to recruit qualified candidates.

He also says talking with diverse communities on a regular basis is key.

Published in News

back to top