SAN ANTONIO – When UTSA Assistant Professor in Practice Stacy Speedlin Gonzalez watched Black Lives Matter events unfold following George Floyd’s death, she and colleague Chris Townsend felt compelled to take action and make a change.
Speedlin Gonzalez and a team of five graduate students began a study that would ask law enforcement officers across the state what they would like to see when it comes to diversity training. She said the current mandate called Cultural Diversity 3939 was formed in 1995 and updated in 2008.
Three hundred twenty-four current law enforcement officers across the state were asked about this training, and the results were surprising.
“Fifty-two percent hate the training. They found it highly unsatisfactory, and that doesn’t even include those who found it slightly unsatisfactory,” Speedlin Gonzalez said. “Some of the direct quotes that law enforcement officers stated was that they thought the training was a joke, that there was a lot of inconsistencies based on who was conducting the training.”
Speedlin Gonzalez said the study found the training was culturally encapsulating, had no true fidelity metrics and no standardized way to teach the training.
“The training consists of ‘This is what black people are like. This is what Hispanic people are like.’ And anyone who lives in the real world knows that that really is not consistent with our true lived experiences,” she said.
While the goal of police reform is well-intended, the study, which is one of a kind because it asks law enforcement about their experience, offers a different perspective.
Smith said he has trained officers in Bexar County thanks to a grant and 700 officers and community members in Baltimore. He says the training works.
“It blew everybody out of the park. They never believed that they would even work together at all,” he said. “We bring people from all walks of life, but we put them in -- we take them out of their environment and put them in an environment where they all have to work together.”
Smith says it’s about teaching police and communities to build relationships and a good rapport. The program should be fluid and adaptable to fit into the communities where officers work.
The findings, which are not yet published, were presented to state Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio). His office is currently working on a bill for this session to make the “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” training the new state-mandated program.
Menendez issued the following statement to KSAT:
“We are happy to work with Officer Smith, Dr. Speedlin Gonzalez and her team on this piece of legislation. It is imperative that we come together to create common sense criminal justice reform. Our police are a part of our community and this legislation will ensure that a strong bond is created between the two. When we all come together for the same purpose, we can create equality, and stop discrimination. I look forward to working across the aisle for this training to become mandatory.”
Speedlin Gonzalez says the program needs to be reviewed for its effectiveness every few years, and if it works, which she thinks it will, it should also be considered a mandate nationally.