SAN ANTONIO – The encounter between a Black jogger and San Antonio police officers could have been handled differently, according to the co-founder of Racial Intelligence Training and Engagement Academy.
“You (police) need to understand that there’s a heightened sense right now and we need to do a better job of slowing things down,” said Linda Webb. “We need to lower our voices. We need to get to understand the person that we’re detaining.”
Mathias Ometu was arrested last week after police said he matched the description of a suspect in a family assault case. Ultimately, it was determined Ometu was not the suspect.
After a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri fatally shot unarmed teenager Michael Brown in 2014, Webb decided to look into the issue of excessive force.
Webb spent more than three decades in law enforcement before she and co-founder, Randy Friedman, founded RITE Academy in 2015.
Prior to the academy, Friedman was a mental coach for professional athletes who taught them how to control their emotions in order to be successful.
According to their website, emotional intelligence is “learning to become aware of our emotions, and to acknowledge that emotions drive behavior that can impact others."
Webb says emotional intelligence training is not just for athletes, it works for law enforcement officers, too.
“We are taught in the police academy that you get on the red line, shoulders back and you no longer have any emotions, so you’re told to check your emotions at the door. And the problem with that is emotions are in play in every engagement with the public,” said Webb.
Webb reviewed the body-worn camera footage that was released of Ometu’s arrest. She says the police officer failed to show empathy, which she says is crucial when interacting with members of the community.
“I mean, why not just slow it down a little bit? You know, why not get to know him a little bit? Why not treat him a little bit more like a human being,” Webb asked.
Webb said she knows that police officers have a job to do, but believes that everyone in law enforcement would benefit from learning about emotional and racial intelligence. She says racial intelligence is about treating everyone fairly and equally.
“I think there’s a heightened sense on both sides right now and both sides have to be willing to come to the table,” Webb said.
Sgt. Fred Jones of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office in Florida handles officer complaints and is also a RITE trainer.
Jones, who has been with law enforcement for 23 years, has spoken openly about his own encounter with police when he was 17.
Jones said he was on an 8-mile run when officers told him he matched the description of someone who broke into a house. They put Jones in the patrol car and took him to the scene to confirm whether he was the suspect. The homeowner confirmed he was not the suspect and Jones was released.
“As a 17 year old, especially, I was angry and I remember that last two miles going home, tears streaming down my face,” Jones recounted.
Jones says his encounter along with being in law enforcement allows him to see both sides of what happened between Ometu and SAPD officers.
“And so even though you as a citizen know who you are, me as a cop, I don’t know who you are. And what I want from you, is for you to alleviate my concerns by just identifying yourself and let me run you through the system,” he explained.
Jones says he understands it can be a “tough situation” for officers.
“You don’t want to violate anyone’s rights, but by the same token, you don’t want to let a violent person stay on the streets if it is that person.”
Webb says their training program provides several tools for law enforcement members to use on a daily basis once the training is over, including what’s called the “emotional ladder.” Officers are encouraged to use that tool to identify their emotional state before responding to a call.
”The bottom line is this. If I roll out of that patrol car, pissed off, angry, frustrated, it’s a recipe for disaster,” she said.
Law enforcement officers are also taught how to identify block-out syndrome.
“Block-out syndrome is when you’re in such a fit of rage. You hear nothing. You see nothing,” said Webb.
Jones and Webb say that training is critical for law enforcement.
“That’s why this training, I think, is so important, because it teaches you to take that two to five seconds that it takes to go from the emotional brain to the logical brain,” Jones said. “And, so emotional intelligence, lets us take that deep breath so that we don’t get that tunnel vision."
Webb says their training program is different than diversity cultural classes law enforcement officers take.
“We go over in class, what are your hot buttons? What are your implicit biases? What are things that piss you off? What makes you mad on the street,” she said.
Webb says about 550 agencies across the country have taken the training.
“And what I’m proud about is that since our class has been rolled out to every agency, we have not had one unnecessary, excessive use of force since they’ve rolled this program out.”
According to information on the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office training academy, “officers are trained in De-escalation Training, Communications, Crisis Intervention Training and Cultural Diversity Training.”
The SAPD Training Academy website does not state any specifics on training about emotional intelligence.