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The Importance of Cultural Competency in Policing

The headline could be from any paper in any town, as findings like these echo throughout the nation:

Lansing, Mich. (W.L.N.S.) – An independent study commissioned by the Michigan State Police has found racial disparities in the frequency and outcomes of traffic stops conducted by MSP Troopers in 2020.

But these headlines only tell part of the story: that of numbers and statistics. Police officers are an integral part of the communities they serve. As such, they face challenges in understanding and interpreting the behaviors, actions, and attitudes of a diverse group of citizens who have needs far beyond what simple numbers and statistics can explain. Understanding, appreciating, and interacting with people from diverse cultures and belief systems that may differ from our own is necessary for policing in modern society.

The 5-part improvement plan issued by the Michigan State Police Department includes the standby solutions of hiring an independent consulting firm, promoting data transparency, and issuing body cameras. But the plan also focuses on conversation and education, including:

  • Launching a statewide listening and engagement effort, in partnership with the Bridges to B.L.U.E. Citizen Advisory Council, in order to “engage in open and honest conversation with leaders from communities of color, surfacing problems and finding solutions together.”
  • Creating the Professional Development Bureau will provide training and development for enforcement members on” new and emerging topics including mental health, wellness, de-escalation, cultural competency, decision-making, implicit bias and communication skills.”

 

Cultural competency is an emerging tool in the policing toolbox necessary in every town.

Scott Wilson, from HumanServicesEDU.org, explains:

Cultural competency describes the full set of attitudes, communication, and listening skills you need to effectively connect with people from other cultures, and it all builds on your natural sense of empathy and connectedness to others.”

There are four elements that go into developing cultural competency:

Awareness – Of your own view of the cultural world

Attitude – Toward difference between cultures

Knowledge – Of diverse cultural beliefs, views, and practices

Skills – In dealing with the differences between different cultures and with their interrelationships

Cultural competency is usually presented as an individual trait, but individual culturally competent officers can facilitate the competency of an entire agency. A “culturally competent” law enforcement agency knows who lives in the areas in which the department polices, and it understands how to interact with various cultures in the regulatory radius. The best officers and leaders in a culturally competent department work to listen to and grow with the communities they serve. They work with them to make their communities better and safer for everyone. They work to understand what the community wants and how it defines success. It’s about understanding, empathy, and the reading of motivations and human goals.

Police departments must reflect the communities they serve. Still, it’s not enough to be diverse: successful departments need to be culturally competent and understand each subgroup’s needs, beliefs, and motivations within the community as a whole. Understanding differing cultural needs, beliefs, and motivations allows police officers to be more effective and better prepared to engage with the communities they serve. A lack of understanding of the community leads to increased tension and misunderstandings, leaving everyone involved at a disadvantage. If police-community interactions can occur without the need for immediate de-escalation, safer outcomes can be had by all.

MILO training systems can provide the avenue and learning templates for police departments to move toward cultural competency. Beginning with language that focuses on words like “additional” and “more” and “including,” instead of words that are divisive or focus on differences, MILO training systems help move departments and agencies in a positive, unbiased, and inclusive direction.

 One advantage of the MILO simulator in pursuing cultural competency is that the racial demographics of the scenarios are varied and largely mirror the overall U.S. population. As officers engage in training, there are opportunities to practice communicating and effectively interacting with people across communities and cultures. MILO is constantly listening to our communities and developing progressive materials to help law enforcement agencies and individual officers build healthier and more inclusive ways of interacting with their communities.

Cultural competency is built through awareness and understanding—and MILO Range is the pre-eminent training option to facilitate the awareness, attitude, knowledge, and skills needed for safe, effective, and culturally competent community policing.