A $700,000 federal grant to University of Illinois Springfield will be used to help central Illinois cops arrest their biases when dealing with people of different cultures and races.
The grant to the university's Alliance for Experiential Problem-Based Learning will be used to develop tolerance, diversity and anti-bias training for law enforcement.
The funding was awarded by the U.S. Department of Justice with support from U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois.
"This investment will help law enforcement better understand and empathize with individuals from diverse backgrounds, identify and address biases, and navigate traumatic experiences, ultimately enhancing their ability to serve their communities," Durbin said in a prepared statement.
Part of the training will involve simulating high-stress situations, such as domestic disturbances, in which officers are likely to encounter people from a variety of backgrounds, said Betsy Goulet, director of the UIS Alliance for Experiential Problem-Based Learning.
"This training will reinforce officers' existing knowledge of cultural differences within their communities and emphasize the importance of accepting and empathizing with citizens from various backgrounds," she said.
The alliance will develop instructor-led training and scenario-based tabletop exercises intended to improve officers' decision-making, reduce unfavorable police encounters among underrepresented populations and strengthen police and community relations.
She said they hope to use the grant to begin training 1,500 police officers both in virtual and on-site settings as soon as October 2024.
The eight-hour instructor-led training will emphasize how personal experiences can shape officers' attitudes, beliefs, biases and tolerance for others.
Josh Friedman, a law enforcement specialist for the Alliance and a veteran police officer, said, "A lot of officers look the same, have similar backgrounds, and that limits our understanding and our ability to accept people who are dissimilar from us. And until agencies are really more representative of the populations that they serve, we as police officers are going to have to work harder to understand and identify with those that we serve and that are different from us and live different lives."
The Alliance plans to work with several community partners, including the Community Health Roundtable, the Illinois Chiefs of Police, the Faith Coalition for the Common Good, the Illinois Innocence Project and the Springfield chapter of the NAACP, in developing the training.
"Diversity is important for the community when it comes to law enforcement reflecting what the community looks like, as well as understanding the problems, issues and also what could be possible solutions," said Tyshianna Bankhead, executive director of the Faith Coalition for the Common Good.
Vanessa Knox, co-chair of the Transformational Justice Task Force for the Faith Coalition, said the Springfield Police Department needs to become more diverse. A recent Illinois Times report found that the biggest recruitment pool that the department draws from is white men from small towns.
"Some people are raised in rural areas; they don't have a lot of interaction with other cultures, other races, and so it can (make) people uncomfortable," she said. "And their perceived ideas sometimes come from television and what other people say. They need to be able to have good one-on-one relationships with people who don't look like them, don't worship the same way as they do or have the same culture. That's very important, because you can be scared of people that you've never had any interaction with."
Scott Reeder, a staff writer for Illinois Times, can be reached at [email protected].