The director of the Rio Hondo College Police Academy said Friday that more frank discussions between law enforcement and community members will be needed to move forward and to train “guardians, not warriors” to enforce the law.
“It’s critical, now more than ever, that we stand up for the tenets of a training system that values the personal relationships police officers should forge with members of diverse communities, guards the sanctity of life and upholds the constitutional rights of all,” Academy Director Walter Allen III said. “At Rio Hondo College, we train guardians, not warriors.”
Allen, who has led the Rio Hondo College Police Academy since 2014, said he was “disgusted, I was upset, and being a black man, I was just in shock” after seeing the video of George Floyd pinned at the neck by the knee of a Minneapolis police officer now charged with his murder.
“We do not teach those type of tactics in California, we do not condone that type of behavior, those type of tactics. And those other officers stood there and watched, and all of law enforcement received a black eye that day,” Allen told City News Service.
The current class of Rio Hondo cadets consists of recruits sponsored by more than 20 local law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties, as well as cadets who opt to go through the program on their own in hopes of later obtaining a job. Roughly 20 police chiefs currently serving in the Southland have graduated from the program, according to the school, which started training officers in 1964.
The six-month academy program is based on guidelines set by the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, on which Allen served. Cadets receive several hours of training on implicit bias, hate crimes, investigative profiling versus racial profiling, as well as modules on dealing with mentally ill individuals.
Despite statewide guidelines, protesters spurred by Floyd’s death have posted video footage this week of officers hitting people with batons, beating a man who seemed not to be resisting, and firing rubber bullets on journalists who said they made clear they were just doing their job, among other incidents.
Allen declined to comment on specific incidents of alleged brutality beyond Floyd’s death, but he did say that recruiting the right officers is critical.
Eighty percent of Rio Hondo’s current class of 58 recruits are members of minority groups and 16 are women.
“It’s important that we have people of color that can work with communities of color,” he said.
Rio Hondo also provides additional training on procedural justice that goes beyond the POST guidelines, Allen said, before explaining the concept.
“Let’s say you stop a citizen for a traffic citation, the person’s not going to be happy … you’re going to listen, you’re going to give that person a voice,” he said. “There has to be humanistic approach when police officers are dealing with the public … you have to be respectful and provide respectful treatment to the people you contact as a police officer.”
Cadets learn constitutional law, criminal law, domestic violence, traffic enforcement, emergency vehicle operations, tactical first aid and CPR, mental health, lifetime fitness, firearms, among other subjects mandated by POST. They also learn techniques for de-escalation and use-of-force options.
Recruits visit the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles during training, and when graduation nears, the school convenes a diverse panel of community members. An imam spoke about cultural basis during the most recent panel.
Many of the Rio Hondo academy instructors are also people of color who have “experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly in the law enforcement arena,” Allen said.
He said more conversations will be required for society to advance from where things stand now.
“One of the ways that we’re going to be able to move forward is law enforcement sitting down with community members and having frank discussions about how we can improve relationships and trust and transparency with the community.”
The school’s dean said teaching “principled policing” means recognizing how implicit bias can influence decisions. Rio Hondo is committed to doing even more work in this regard, according to Allen and Public Safety Dean Mark Yokoyama.
“We are committed to improving our curriculum to incorporate a better understanding of systemic racism and its relation to policing and will be seeking other opportunities to advance the academy curriculum,” Yokoyama said.
California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley has called for a review of police training across the 115-college system, which provides training to about 80% of the state’s police.
“We welcome the chance to demonstrate the progressive and principled approach pioneered by the Rio Hondo Police Academy in hopes of providing a model for others as we forge a path together for a stronger, more unified community,” Rio Hondo Superintendent and President Arturo Reyes said.
The latest class is set to graduate Nov. 5.
Asked how the recruits are feeling given the recent unrest, Allen said he checked in with one female cadet Friday who told him, “Sir, we’re determined to move forward and make a difference.”
Allen and Reyes both expressed confidence in the class.
“Our graduating cadets represent the best of the best,” Reyes said. “We put our cadets through a rigorous program, because we know the incredible responsibility they will shoulder on our behalf.”
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