ELKHART — It's time to knock down walls built in the past, Elkhart Chief of Police Chris Snyder said at a Thursday evening community discussion about race relations in the city.

"Whether that community is dealing with youth, whether that is a Hispanic community, whether that's an African-American community, regardless of where that comes from, it's hard for us to break into some of those communities," said Snyder, to open a debate hosted by the League of Women Voters of Elkhart County at Ivy Tech Community College.

Some community members pointed out that police relations with minorities might improve if the Elkhart Police Department had more minority officers.

Out of the 137 officers employed by the Elkhart Police Department in 2018, 123 were men, and 116 of those men where white, while six were African-American and one was Middle Eastern. The 14 female officers were all white.

"We don't get a lot of minority applicants," said Snyder. "I don't know if that's fear, if that's 'I don't want to police the neighborhood I come from.' There's a lot of different things that we hear on that."

But among the steps that are being taken to increase enthusiasm for joining the force among minorities is going into communities and getting to know people better. Thursday night, Snyder said, EPD officers were in the Pierre Moran neighborhood recruiting and speaking with residents.

The chief said it can be difficult for the police department to break through, but one way to do it is to team up with local organizations that are trusted by minorities.

Darial Sterling, cultural and linguistic competence coordinator at The Source, said it's important to have conversations, even if they are unpleasant, about the traumatic things that have happened to African-American and Hispanic families.

"The fact that you are here tonight is a great thing," he told the mostly white audience.

Sterling said people need to practice cultural humility.

"You sit down and you have a conversation with somebody that is totally different from you, totally different background, totally different places," he said. "If we are in a position of power, we think we have the answer for other people. Well, cultural humility says, 'I don't have the answer for you. You're the best expert at who you are.'"

Tara Morris, who is the executive director of the Elkhart County Minority Health Coalition, said there has been some change for the better over the last few decades, but it's not enough.

"It's still here today," she said about what she called hidden racism.

Eventually, it shows itself, she said.

"We all have some type of prejudice that we have to deal with. Unless we come to an understanding of that prejudice, no matter what form it is, we don't really move forward," said Morris.

Connie Caiceros, former director of the Center for Community Justice current third-year law student at Western Michigan University, encouraged the audience to use a Harvard-created tool to help realize implicit biases.

The tool, called Project Implicit, can be found at www.implicit.harvard.edu and can help identify hidden biases concerning race, religion, gender and other subjects.

She said that, as a white person, it can be difficult to even realize if there is an issue with race relations or discrimination in your community.

"I personally feel like I get to navigate my community with a lot of privilege, and so my experiences overall, personally, are positive," she said.

But through relationships with people in the community who do not have the same privilege, Caiceros said, she knows her own experience doesn't tell the whole truth.

"They would not say the same thing or that they had had the same experience growing up here," she said.

Building those relationships with people who do not look like you can be inconvenient because, even today society, is somewhat segregated.

"We go where we go," said Caiceros.

A community member asked Snyder how much training police officers go through to better understand their own implicit biases. The chief said that is limited, but that meeting people in relation to the Thursday night discussion had started conversations on how that could be improved.

Toward the end of the discussion, Elkhart Board of Public Safety member Jean Mayes brought back the topic of how to get more minorities to join the police department.

"Now we have those children who run from police officers because they know all the bad stuff," she said. "How do we build that culture that will call young African-American children to say 'I want to be a policeman when I grow up?'"

Snyder said when children see officers doing the right thing in their community, that helps. One way to do that is to increase how much school resource officers interact with students.

During Snyder's term as police chief, which began in January, the department has increased its community policing, having more officers going to neighborhood association meetings and other community events.

He suggested that parents can also help by not teaching kids that police officers are scary by saying things like "If you don't behave, I'll have that officer arrest you."

But it's also necessary to teach officers to not be afraid, he said.

"A lot of times we get this fear that everybody is out to get the police department, and that's not true," said Snyder.

It's important for officers to be cautious when they go to a burglary call, he said, but officers need to be better at de-escalating when the call is over.

"That's one of the things that we want to start putting into our training," he said. "Once you get there, and you know you're OK, yeah you have to keep your guard up, but you can be human." 

Follow Rasmus S. Jorgensen on Twitter at @ReadRasmus

(11) comments

Seven

Indiana has a thirty five year old age limit to be hired as a police officer. Other states do not have any age limit. Perhaps the pool of applicants would be increased if there wasn’t an age limit.


fire111

Not many police candidates over 35 are wishing to be cops at that age! There are physical tests in most hiring depts. You also need to serve 20 years for a pension. A 55 + year old officer is less likely to complete his pension requirements! Some states allow service time to add on pension time! And more and more departments are moving towards fitness for duty testing. That may occur every year!


FlyNavy

Remember the beating of the handcuffed suspect that was video taped and the comments by the Assistant Chief Thayer? He is still on the force. That attitude is still in the leadership of the department. Removing that cancer may be a good start. Here are his comments for those who may have forgotten:







"Our department has been shamed by this, and to what purpose?" he said. "October last year we started getting public information requests from this reporter we'd never heard of, Christian Sheckler. Who is this guy?" "Everything is going good in Elkhart. Why are they coming over here into our back yard and trying to disrupt everything that we built?" Thayer said.


Joe King

I see Council Member Dwight Fish was there....were there any other Council Members present?


RasmusSJorgensen Staff
RasmusSJorgensen

He was the only one.


raindrop

Some higher education above the GED level might help with better quality officers. Going to community college to get your associate deg. and using your papers from high school just doesn't cut it. Low and behold there's a major called Criminology that would do some wonders for these officers. This education could potentially lead them to make better decisions for themselves and their community. It'd also be a great indirect vetting process :)


058604509

So the highly educated police is talking to the less-than-a-child developed person running around with a bb gun. And what will this person do? Not even listen and then wonder when police is protecting themselves. Education has to start at the general public. They bring it upon themselves.


Leeet

So.........the question is.......do you want to remain PART OF THE PROBLEM or will you take a step toward being PART OF THE SOLUTION ?


fire111

So "raindrop" , get your rear in some ride alongs. Get an idea what a cop does everyday. Try and keep up with the hours of running from call to call. Most times calls are mundane but still require computer work. Try and list those free minutes where that criminology degree apply. Wasted time and money on the street bub! Because no one,no one tells the truth! The only time that criminology degree does any good is when a cop wants to be a GOLD Badge! You better have the street savvy over a degree. The police academy will get you started. The FTOs will retrain you in a squad.


raindrop

Their savvy street smarts got them an national spotlight for corruption and brutality;) All cops should want that gold badge shouldn't they? Gosh wheres the motivation to "serve" because we they're not liable to protect....


fire111

Once again raindrop. Most gold badges come from actual experience. Not criminology degrees. Degrees mean nothing on the street. Dare I say this? Yep I will! This guy never got exactly what he deserved. A few punches weren't enough. He had already beat his wife...sending her to the E R! He already had fought with officers. He had already spit on them! So what I am most concerned with is the fact these cops knew they were being recorded and still beat this top citizen!


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