Grand Strand law enforcement officials were told during a two-day U.S. Department of Justice training this week to make sure the natural biases everyone develops through life experiences does not negatively impact their police work.
Grand Strand officials say the training is important to have not only going into Memorial Day weekend, but to use year-round.
“For our jurisdiction, we have diversity training yearly and we’ll continue having it,” said Myrtle Beach police Capt. Kevin Heins.
This week’s training is part of a comprehensive plan to ready officers for Memorial Day weekend, when tens of thousands of people come to the area for Atlantic Beach Bikefest, Memorial Day events or to take advantage of a three-day holiday weekend.
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The Department of Justice Community Relations Service participated in a law enforcement summit in September sharing best practices for policing large special events similar to Bikefest and offered to return to provide this training.
“As you work Memorial Day weekend, you have to gather yourself together mentally,” Walter Atkinson, senior conciliation specialist with CRS, told the officers Wednesday. “You’re going to have these challenges and based on the directive you’re given by the police chief or the department, you have people who are coming in from other jurisdictions, so you may have to educate them and let them know, ‘this is how we do it here.’”
Some residents have said they fear that this Memorial Day could result in a situation similar to ones in Ferguson, Mo., or Staten Island, N.Y., where police killed unarmed black men. Grand juries determined neither officer should be charged in the deaths of Michael Brown in Missouri or Eric Garner in New York.
“If Michael Brown had just gotten out of the street like the police officer asked, it would not have led to the loss of his life,” Atkinson said.
The CRS is mandated by U.S. Congress to provide services to communities that are in conflict, or have the potential to be in conflict, due to the perception of discrimination based on race, color or national origin.
Several hundred officers from Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach, Horry County and Conway attended the two-day training at the Alabama Theatre in North Myrtle Beach.
Myrtle Beach Lt. Joey Crosby said the presentations were filmed and copies will be made available to local officers who could not attend the training Tuesday or Wednesday, as well as to officers from jurisdictions across the state who will provide services on the Grand Strand during Memorial Day.
Heins said even though Myrtle Beach officers were required to attend one of the three four-hour training sessions, he believes city police are well trained and do what they’re supposed to do.
“In Ferguson, we learned later that the department already had a bad reputation with the community,” Heins said. “We don’t have that here. We don’t have a bad reputation with our residents.”
Heins said even as someone who’s participated in similar training during his 23 years in law enforcement, it’s always a good refresher.
“I always take something new from [the trainings],” he said.
Officers attended one of three training sessions on cultural professionalism, working with minority communities and responding to allegations of racial profiling/building trust between police and the community.
On Wednesday, Atkinson told officers that racial profiling is when “race is the only factor for stopping, detaining, interdicting or searching any individual.” Race, he said, is almost always included in a suspect description, but it has to be one of several indicators that cause an officer to stop someone.
Atkinson said that if officers work to enhance trust between the police and the community there will be fewer allegations of racial profiling.
“Building trust is accomplished by helping [all involved] parties,” he said. “Understand the different perspectives each group has about racial profiling. Identify the common goals shared by law enforcement and community members and encourage all parties to shift the focus from blaming [each other] to addressing facts.”