Three members of the Durham Regional Police Service attended Laurier Brantford’s Race and Oppression class last Thursday to talk about diversity in their workforce.

“Have you witnessed any police injustice in your field?”

Acting sergeant and diversity training coordinator, Keith Richards gave a chuckle. “How much time do we have? I thought this was supposed to be a quick question.”

Staff sergeant, Jeff Haskins is the program leader of diversity, equity and inclusivity with the Durham Regional Police Service. Haskins said about 35 to 40 per cent of the population consists of racialized people, although only about 3 per cent racialized people are reflected in police forces.

Richards, Haskins and constable and diversity coordinator, Pam Devine, broke the students into groups and had them discuss one of many tricky scenarios officers are put in on a regular basis.

“The 9/11 police dispatch centre receives a call from an anonymous person. The caller reports a suspicious person [described only by their racial background, gender and type of clothing worn] walking around George Street. After giving the description, the call is disconnected.”

Whether that description was “a black male wearing casual clothing”; “a white female wearing business clothing”; “a middle eastern female wearing a hijab”; or “a male Aboriginal Canadian wearing scruffy clothing,” the class is asked how they would handle the situation.

Do the dispatch officers go to George Street even though there were no other descriptors given to support this person’s so-called “suspicious” behaviour?

If so, do they intercept this person?

If so, how do they deal with this allegedly “suspicious” person?

These are questions officers have to answer in their day-to-day routine, and how they handle situations like these will also affected how the alleged person in question reacts and responds.

As a child, a police officer was someone you looked up to, literally, but also metaphorically. Through a child’s eyes an officer is a hero, someone they want to be like when they grow up. Luckily, children do not read the news.

News One reported data compiled by the Malcolm Grassroots Movement, Black Left Unity Network, and U.S Human Rights Network. These organizations found that within the first three months of 2012 alone, 30 black Americans were killed by police officers in the United States; 20 of which were defined as unarmed, two were said to have “probably” been carrying firearms and eight were alleged to have been carrying non-lethal weapons. Only seven of these 30 were reported over 30-years-old and only two were women.

Mapping Police Violence is an organization that continues to collect data claimed to be from the “three largest, most comprehensive and impartial crowdsourced databases on police killings in the country.” The organization’s police violence map shows that “at least 336” black people were killed by police in 2015 across the United States. These statistics outline that American citizens categorized as black are three times more likely to be killed by police over American citizens that are categorized as white.

Devine said that their officers are given annual reinforcement training, one of which is called “Fair and Impartial Policing.” This training reflects a new perspective to bias policing. “It is based on the science of bias, which tells us that biased policing is not, as some contend, due to widespread racism in policing.  In fact, the science tells that even well-intentioned humans (and thus, officers) manifest biases that can impact on their perceptions and behavior.  These biases can manifest below consciousness.”

A student commented on the need for more training, and all three officers agreed. Haskin admitted that the biggest challenge for that is cost.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report published findings in 2006 on State and local law enforcement training academics in the United States. The report found that cultural diversity and human relations were included in 98 per cent of basic training of state and local law enforcement training academies in the United States. The medium number of hours this topic was instructed for was 11. Although, 70 per cent of the recruits in the United States training academies were categorized as white, while 13 per cent were categorized as black.

After reaching out to Laurier Brantford’s Special Constables to go over comparisons in training procedures, emails were left without response.

Looking back at 2004, the media scene was taken by storm when Jan. 24 brought the death of black teen Timothy Stansbury Jr. According to the New York Times, this high school student was just taking a shortcut after leaving a birthday party with a friend, both unarmed. No verbal exchanges were made before he was shot in the chest on the top of a Brooklyn housing project by Officer Richard Neri of the New York City Police Department.

The New York Times reported that officer Neri claims the shot was by accident, as they were just patrolling rooftops with their guns out already. He was suspended for 30 days without pay, and “also permanently stripped of his gun, has been reassigned to a property clerk’s office and could be fired during the next year for any infraction, according to Paul J. Browne, the Police Department spokesman.”

Zooming forward to 2014, the topic of police brutality against the black community was headlining international news for months.

One of the most controversial cases happened on Aug. 9, where an 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot six times by officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson Police Department. Specific details of the altercation differ between news outlets, as there is major controversy between each eyewitness as well as officer Wilson’s police report. What is concluded is that Brown and friend, Dorian Johnson that was with him at the time, were both unarmed walking from a convenience store.

According to BBC News officer Wilson stopped the boys because they were walking in the middle of the road.

During trial proceedings officer Wilson was suspended with pay, and finally in November the grand jury decided not to indict him.

In the midst of riots fighting for Brown’s justice, only two days after Brown’s killing, Ezell Ford was shot dead by the Los Angeles Police Department.

According to the Huffington Post, Officers Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas stopped Ford for questioning because he “appeared nervous and was walking away with his hands in his pockets.”

Ford was reported to suffer from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

The Los Angeles Times reported how quickly the alteration escalated: officer Sharlton firing two shots that missed Ford while trying to protect his partner, as Wampler claimed that Ford tackled him and attempted to grab his gun. Wampler then took out his backup weapon from beneath his uniform and fired a fatal shot into Ford’s back.

A possible witness of this altercation, 46-year-old Leroy Hill was gunned down three days before his deposition suit that claimed the Los Angeles officers shot Ford without justification, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Officer Wampler’s use of deadly force was found in violation of Los Angeles Police Department policy because he did not have justifiable reason to stop and detain Ford, although the consequences of this act were not made public.

Unity and Struggle is one of many organizations creating a forum of discussion for this topical issue. “We are not the vanguard, but just one part of what needs to be a movement of millions,” said their Facebook mission statement. And this powerful movement has swept over millions. Advance the Struggle, Out of the Flames of Ferguson and Hands up Don’t Shoot are few of many organizations posting articles of police injustice seen against the black community.

#BlackLivesMatter has spread across thousands of Twitter posts, and a Twitter handle with the name has over 101,000 followers.

Racial and Intelligence Training and Engagement (RITE) is a national certification program working to help better the American law enforcement profession. RITE is also the first cultural diversity officer wellness training to receive National Certification Training Seal at the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training Conference. RITE has a three-pronged approach: “Help the Officer: Tools for Resiliency and De-escalation; to use personally and professionally … Improve the Department: Recruiting, Improve morale, and Accountability … Build the Community Relations: Enhance public trust.”

Founder and president of the RITE academy, Randy Friedman explained on her website, “We live in a world that is racially diverse, and communities are speaking up louder than ever for positive change. With an increase in media attention, now is the right time for the RITE program. Racial Intelligence Training and Engagement (RITE), puts the Person First. When you improve the person, you improve the profession.”

United States President Barack Obama told USA Today, “‘The African-American community is not just making this up,’ he said. ‘It’s not something that’s just being politicized. It’s real. We as a society, particularly given our history, have to take this seriously.’”