Officers get bias, de-escalation training

Chief announces progress toward accreditation

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published August 7, 2020

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STERLING HEIGHTS — In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, the Sterling Heights Police Department says it has been following through with its goals to update its policies and procedures.

In June, Sterling Heights Police Chief Dale Dwojakowski told the Sterling Heights City Council that his department planned to get statewide accreditation while freshly training officers in bias and de-escalation strategies.

Recently, Dwojakowski told the Sentry about some of the progress toward those goals. He said the department started the bias and de-escalation training July 6, and it planned to continue the program’s rollout throughout July and August for all 152 police officers.

“We talked about implicit and explicit bias and de-escalation strategies,” he said. “As part of this training, we covered our use-of-force policies, and we’re currently revising and updating our use-of-force policies because of the accreditation process that we’re going through.”

The training is being conducted externally by Darnell Blackburn, CEO of PRAT LLC Training and Consulting Services. PRAT stands for Protecting Resources through Awareness and Training.

Blackburn said he has been teaching the police implicit bias and de-escalation training course for around five or six years, and he was an active police officer around 17 years ago. He said the demand for his police training course has “increased tremendously” since the public re-examination of police practices and race relations arose this year.

“These issues are kind of cyclical,” he said. “It was never this bad for me as an officer, but it’s always been around, the issue of race relations and community policing and bias and those kinds of things.”

Blackburn said the Sterling Heights officers are getting some training that normally isn’t done in the academy setting or in other training settings.

“What they’re getting from me is to understand, to recognize their biases, and operate in empathy,” he said.

Blackburn said one of the biggest components of his course is helping officers to understand and work on empathy, to understand their biases and to recognize that bias. And he explained that starts with a definition of what bias is.

“One of the challenges with officers is they go through this kind of training — it’s automatically equated with ‘racist,’” he said. “Bias doesn’t automatically mean racist because we all have biases. Bias is normal, but (it’s) when you move into treating people different because they won’t believe like you do.”

He said the training is done in a classroom setting, and much of it is hands-on or involves watching videos or slideshow presentations. He said the officers do a “plethora of exercises to see their own personal biases identifying people and recognizing what their thoughts may be around specific people or the way people dress or talk.”

Blackburn also shared what he hears regarding the effectiveness of bias and de-escalation training and whether the lessons remain with officers in the field.

“I have not heard anything concrete or tangible,” he said. “I have had communications with chiefs regarding the training — those have been pretty favorable with regard to those aspects.”

Besides the training, Dwojakowski explained that his department has also made progress on getting accredited through the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police’s accreditation program. He said the department is about 70% through the accreditation process, and it hopes to complete the process by the year’s end. He said it is fulfilling the accreditation process in-house.

“We’re incorporating some national best practices, like prohibiting strangleholds and chokeholds and the duty to report when an officer is doing something wrong,” he said.

“For the accreditation, it’s hundreds of policies and procedures that have to be used and updated. We’re using the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police accreditation program. They give you an entire book of accreditation standards that have to be met. Every single general order has to meet the standards. ... We’re actually reviewed and tested prior to being awarded our accreditation.”

In addition, Dwojakowski said, the city will be moving forward with acquiring body cameras, as it had to finalize budget and purchasing details. He said the process was complicated due to “a lot of moving pieces,” such as the need for server and storage space. The goal is to start a pilot program with 20 cameras within the next few months, he added.

Amid a season of social change and protest, Dwojakowski said, the department is making sure that it’s doing all it can to ensure residents trust it and feel that they’re part of the community.

“The story here is that Sterling Heights listened. Sterling Heights has adapted. Sterling Heights has done the training that the community wanted,” he said. “We’re more transparent. We’re updating our use-of-force policies to national best standards.”

Find out more about Sterling Heights by visiting www.sterling-heights.net or by calling (586) 446-2489. Learn more about PRAT LLC Training and Consulting Services by visiting www.pratllc.org.

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