Cops in class and coffee shops

Photo by M.J. Galbraith
The public is invited to Cops and Coffee from 2 to 3 p.m. April 30 at Starbucks, 22155 Michigan Ave., in downtown west Dearborn.

Citizens, professors, police officers join together in Dearborn

By M.J. GALBRAITH
Metromode Media

In the wake of Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter movements, the Dearborn community is proactively taking steps to strengthen relations between police and the people they serve and protect. The community is facilitating conversations between residents and police and educating police about non-violence and diversity.

Long-time Dearborn resident Peggy Richard has made a career out of throwing events and bringing people together, be it in her former role as director of events for Dearborn Area Chamber of Commerce, or her current role as PR director for DFCU Financial. But for 2017, Richard wanted to do something different; she wanted to get involved on a personal level and do something on her own. So much so, that she made it her New Year’s resolution to do just that.

And after just four months, Richard will have made good on that resolution. On April 30, members of the community are invited to an informal sitdown with Dearborn Police Chief Ronald Haddad for a coffee chat at the Starbucks, 22155 Michigan Ave., in downtown west Dearborn. It’s an opportunity for residents to ask questions or have a simple conversation with the chief. The event is called Cops and Coffee and runs from 2 to 3 p.m.

Richard organized the event to help facilitate conversation between the community and its police force.

“We don’t want anyone to be intimidated to speak,” says Richard. “It’s just sitting around a coffee shop like people do all the time and having a conversation.”

Richard has lived in Dearborn for over two decades, and both she and her husband have spent most of their careers here, she says. Rather than send their child to private school, the Richard family sent their daughter to the city’s public schools to expose her to the city’s great diversity of people, which is something Richard loves about Dearborn.

It was a conversation between mother and daughter that helped spur the Cops and Coffee event. Richard had been speaking a lot with her daughter about the Black Lives Matter movement, and they together had participated in the demonstrations at Detroit Metro Airport following President Trump’s first immigration ban. But Richard wants people to appreciate police officers, too. She says she believes there’s potential understanding from simply talking with one another.

“I want people to feel safe in this community,” says Richard. “We have so many great things in common.”

Fostering safety and understanding isn’t just falling on the shoulders of Richard, however. A new course at University of Michigan-Dearborn has been created to help police officers in their interactions with the public.

Created by Criminology and Criminal Justice Director Don Shelton and Associate Professor Juliette Roddy, the Alternatives to Violent Force program is a series of seven three-hour workshops designed to re-enforce the role of officers as public guardians. The course teaches threat de-escalation techniques as well as diversity training, helping officers to interact with cultures different from their own.

“We’re trying to get officers to re-think the use of force and how they approach people. People often respond in the way that you approach them,” says Shelton. “We try to suggest alternatives to what they learn in training, something other than the use of a warrior voice to establish dominance and control.”

In December 2015 and January 2016, two separate incidents resulted in the fatal shooting of two people by Dearborn police officers.

The Alternatives to Violent Force program utilizes a group of instructors that vary in backgrounds, from the former head of the Detroit office of the FBI to an attorney for the ACLU. Former police officers also make up the group of instructors, which is an important distinction for the students.

“It’s not just university professors lecturing at the officers, but people that have actually worked the streets,” says Shelton.

“Our instructors really are the strength of our programming,” says Roddy. “We went out of our way to get the best instructors.”

As the third round of the course nears its closing, 62 police officers will have finished Alternatives to Violent Force. While the majority of officers come from the Dearborn Police Department, other communities have enrolled officers, including Ferndale, Pleasant Ridge, Huntington Woods, Oak Park, and Hazel Park. Both the Michigan State Police and Wayne County Sheriffs have expressed interest, as well.

Ultimately, Shelton and Roddy believe that this training will not only benefit the safety of the public but of the police officers themselves. And safety, after all, is what it’s all about.

“We want to help officers do their job and keep people safe,” says Shelton. “If we save one human life, no matter who that is, we’re a success.”

(This story was reprinted from Metromode Media. It also is available at: www.secondwavemedia.com/metromode/devnews/DearbornPoliceCoffeeClass.aspx.)