COLUMBIA - Desk, projectors and lectures, that's how local police officers are trained on diversity relations at the Law Enforcement Training Institute. The institute is part of the University of Missouri Extension and trains people throughout the state to become police officers.
Adam Duncan, the academy coordinator said, "The first sections that we cover are the human behavior sections. That includes tactical communications, communication obstacles, cultural competence. We talk about cultural values and we define terms."
Every academy class visits the mosque in downtown Columbia. There is also an in class lecture on differences to expect among the Muslim community.
Nabihah Maqbool, the co-director of the Muslim Speakers Bureau of Columbia, helps Duncan give diversity lectures on working with Muslims. "I definitely know that there's a value in being able to interact with even one member of the population that you'll be policing," Maqbool said. "But just because they feel comfortable with one group of people doesn't pertain to all groups."
But not all of the community is convinced a classroom is the best way for officers to become comfortable with diversity and create a good relationship with Columbians.
Former police officer, Mike Hayes, is also a member of the mayor's task force on community violence. "When you get out on the road it's not like it was in training, where we're sitting talking about our experiences and reality just hits you in the face," Hayes said. "I think more of it is their life training."
"I would not disagree with that," Duncan said. "The additional piece of the training puzzle is the field training program."
Duncan said the Columbia Police Department does have a field-training program, but some feel there is still the gap in building a mutually respectful relationship with Columbia residents. And there are differing opinions on how to find a good balance.
"One thing we heard from the police department as to what they were doing to help with a mutually respectful relationship was the community police, the police officers that were at Douglass Park and building those community relations," said Cindy Garrett, a member of the mayor's task force on community violence.
Duncan responded that the community could also get involved. "If those folks that are concerned would volunteer their time to help train officers that would be very beneficial."