Police reforms begin with training

Students at Palomar College's Police Academy. (Photo: Palomar College)

Community colleges hold a central piece in law enforcement training, their curricula often based on mandates from state law enforcement boards. They had been gradually increasing their focus of these training programs on issues related to diversity, equity and racial profiling, and that focus has intensified in the wake of George Floyd’s death last spring. 

This brighter spotlight has led to changes (or potential changes) in areas like professional development for law enforcement instructors, efforts to recruit differently and diversify both faculty and students, updates to policies and procedures, and changes to advisory boards, which have played out somewhat differently across states and local areas. 

Focus on equity at ‘ground zero’ 

In Minnesota, which has had the unfortunate distinction of being ground zero for the recent ferment over the need for police reform as the location of Floyd’s suffocation, the system of public universities and community colleges, which educates about 86% of the state’s police officers through 22 programs, is critically examining curricula and policies from an equity perspective in partnership with the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST).

This article is an excerpt from the current issue of Community College Journal, which is published by the American Association of Community Colleges.

The resulting 30-member Taskforce on Law Enforcement Education Reform, which includes members from the POST board, University of Minnesota, K-12 districts, police departments, and community and citizen groups, plans to examine and provide recommendations to system leadership on re-gearing programs and priorities to ensure an antiracist perspective. 

Satasha Green-Stephen, associate vice chancellor of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, says the new task force represents just the latest in a multipronged approach that the system already had in place, and in some cases has accelerated since the Floyd incident, rolled up into an initiative called Equity 2030. 

“That’s the organizing principle for all of our work, and our operational structures: an inclusive, anti-racial ethos,” she says. “We’re seeking to eliminate educational equity gaps across all of our campuses by 2030 and review academic programs through an equity lens. That review is critical for law enforcement and criminal justice.” 

Other prongs beyond the new taskforce include a systemwide program review for enforcement and criminal justice that goes beyond college training to look at additional skills provided at local agencies, beefing up courses with diversity-related content, and recruiting and retaining faculty of color, particularly in law enforcement and criminal justice, Green-Stephen says.

Pushing for measurable competencies

North Hennepin Community College (NHCC), in the Twin Cities suburb of Brooklyn Park, is working to revamp its associate degree program in law enforcement and criminal justice as part of a consortium of metropolitan area colleges, in conjunction with the POST board, says Jesse Mason, college provost. As one example, students in that program take a psychology course called “Inequalities” that looks at the role of race, sex, religion, age and other factors in how they impact differences in policing and the criminal justice system.

“We’re placing George Floyd in that discussion and giving them data and an idea of how these factors interact,” he says. “From an academic perspective, we’ve offered more training and given all of our faculty access — in culturally responsive pedagogy, and inclusivity in the class.” 

The metro-area consortium and state task force are both pushing for measurable competencies, ensuring that the desired learning outcomes are observable in student behavior, Mason says. Those  measurements include “not only skills training, but social justice or an inclusive approach to policing, seeing themselves as members of the community, there to protect and serve,” he says. “Diversity is all about different perspectives. How do we live it out in a way that is humane and resolves the social inequities that our country is facing?”

NHCC President Rolando Garcia notes that diversifying faculty and staff is part of the college’s overall plan, not just in law enforcement, and that the college continues to recruit a diverse array of students despite already being one of the most multicultural colleges in the state system at 48% students of color. 

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” he says. “That is something we are committed to doing.” 

Mason adds that the college has increased faculty of color over the past few years and recruited those with sociological expertise as well as tactical training competencies. 

“That is part of our strategic plan, recruiting more faculty that represent and reflect the communities we serve,” he says. “That’s not only in recruitment but in getting individuals to stay. We have a problem getting them to stay past the two- to three-year period.” 

Read the full article in the current issue of Community College Journal.

About the Author

Ed Finkel
is an education writer based in Illinois.