Justice News

Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole Speaks to Cincinnati Police Department Officers Attending Community Relations Service Training Session
Cincinnati, OH
United States
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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

As prepared for delivery

Thank you, Mayor Mallory and Chief Craig, for the opportunity to address the officers of the Cincinnati Police Department today. It is always an honor to speak to men and women who serve and protect their fellow citizens. It is a special honor to speak to officers who are investing additional time in training to further improve their skills.

The training conducted by the Community Relations Service and community partners today is designed to provide tools to enhance your ability to build partnerships with community members and to work with your fellow citizens who share a commitment to public safety.

The CPD sought this training because it recognized that in order to maintain its deep commitment to community policing, it must keep seeking new opportunities to build community partnerships. As you know, the Attorney General came to Cincinnati last year to recognize this commitment and to announce that the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services had awarded the CPD over 6.8 million dollars to put more cops on the beat. With Chief Craig’s leadership, the CPD has embraced community problem oriented policing to allow officers and the community to work together to solve problems.

Cincinnati depends on you to keep the city safe. But you can’t do it alone. There are a thousand of you. But there are nearly 300,000 people who live in the city of Cincinnati. The vast majority of them have the same goal as you. They want their city to be safe. They want the law to be followed and enforced. Unlike you, they haven’t made a career out of this, and they probably don’t think of themselves as being part of law enforcement.

But they are. As you all know, the community isn’t just a collection of people who might one day commit a crime or become a victim of a crime. Instead, it’s a set of partners who we can work with to stop crimes before they happen. And when crimes occur, it’s a roster of teammates who can help us apprehend the perpetrators and help victims heal.

The police and the community share responsibility and accountability for public safety. Within every community there are business and professional groups, social service agencies, religious and civic organizations—all potential resources for dealing with many of the problems that confront the police. Many of these organizations are eager to donate time and effort and to give you the benefit of their experience and their insights.

There are parts of the world where everyone shares the same culture, the same religion, and the same language. But that’s not America. And it’s not Cincinnati. According to the Census Bureau, there are over 13,000 people in this city who were born outside of the United States. There are around 20,000 whose primary language isn’t English. And there are still more who follow customs and traditions that our own upbringing didn’t expose us to.

You are receiving training in two classes. One is Cultural Professionalism, which will teach you how to identify the perspectives of various cultures and communities, the impact of police culture on communities, and how communication can bridge cultural divides. The other class, today’s class, is Arab/Muslim/Sikh Cultural Awareness Training. This class is designed to foster mutual understanding and enhance law enforcement outreach capabilities to Arab, Muslim, and Sikh communities by addressing cultural behaviors and sensitivities, stereotypes, and expectations.

Unfortunately, one of the many tragic legacies of the attacks of September 11, 2001 has been an increase in prejudice, discrimination and hatred directed against persons of the Muslim and Sikh faiths and those who are, or who are mistakenly perceived to be, of Arab or South Asian descent. Soon after 9/11, President Bush made clear to the nation that these terrorist acts were committed by individuals who distort the peaceful religion of Islam, and that Arab-Americans and Muslim Americans suffered with all Americans when our nation was attacked.  Most Americans recognize this. Yet some have wrongly sought to blame the horror of 9/11 on Arab-American, Muslim American, Sikh-American and South Asian American communities. This has led to attacks against places of worship and other hate crimes, to job discrimination, and to the tragic harassment of children in our schools.  

And this has added an extra layer of complexity to law enforcement efforts to partner with these communities. The Department of Justice has therefore developed this training to help give you the tools to build mutual trust and respect with these communities.

Of course, at the end of the day, the basic principles of community policing apply without regard to race, religion, or national origin. Simply put, we can succeed at protecting our community only if we understand our community and only if our community understands us. When that happens, important information is more likely to be volunteered to authorities. Suspicious and unusual activity will be reported, and investigations can proceed. If you talk to the community, the community is more likely to talk to you. And if you listen to community, the community is more likely to listen to you.

By learning more about the diversity of the community that you serve, you gain an understanding that allows you to work more effectively. But this training also recognizes that in order to be effective partners, community members must learn more about you and the challenges that you confront every day.

We live in a time when there’s a lot of mistrust of government. And that makes our jobs harder. We live in a world where police officers themselves can be subject to stereotypes. People who have come to Cincinnati from countries or cities where they or their family members have had negative experiences with law enforcement are more likely to be wary of police officers and to assume the worst. So it’s not enough for us to know in our hearts that we enforce the law evenhandedly and fairly. We have to convince people that we do. We have to win their trust.

Trust is a key law enforcement tool. Gaining people’s trust helps compensate for misunderstandings. Nobody’s perfect. Officers sometimes have no choice but to make decisions and judgments without knowing all the relevant facts. Mistakes will happen. But when you are trusted, you will receive the benefit of the doubt. Your mistakes will be put into context rather than being seen as manifestations of disrespect. A door that opened once will open again.

This summer Cincinnati will be hosting the World Choir Games. I am told that this is the largest meeting in the history of Cincinnati, with 48 countries sending competitors, 200,000 anticipated spectators and an economic impact on the region of 73 million dollars. As far as visitors go, I would imagine that people who sing in choirs, and those who buy tickets to watch them, rank rather low on the threat spectrum. But adding 200,000 spectators to a city of 300,000 means that some people might bump elbows. And this is an opportunity for the CPD to display its professionalism and skills before an international audience. For many visitors, this will be their first time in America. Some may be coming from places where the police command fear rather than respect. And some may live in communities where those who look or act differently do not get a fair shake from law enforcement.

These visitors will take back stories of their time in Cincinnati and in America. You have a chance to be ambassadors for the United States, and to provide a model for others of how a police force can interact professionally with diverse populations. And maybe you will plant a seed in the minds of some visitors that will lead them to go home and work to improve their own law enforcement systems based upon what they saw in Cincinnati.

The World Choir Games will come and go, but it is my hope that the training you receive today will serve you well throughout your career in law enforcement. On behalf of the entire Department of Justice, I thank you for coming here today, and I thank you for your service to your community.