Gus Morrison

Exemplary Policing Program

1. Briefly describe the structure of your program.

Due to technology, economics and politics, the world and country boundaries are becoming more and more fluid. With the influx of a variety of cultures into developed countries, police departments are facing cultural issues never before experienced in such volume. The Fremont Police Department has embarked on a philosophy of valuing the diversity in the community and the department. An individual component to support the overall plan is a new training class which is now being implemented in the department. This class is called Common Ground. The goal of this program is to promote a higher level of understanding and appreciation for diversity in the police department and community.

The department has facilitated sixteen classes since February 1996. Common Ground is a 40-hour class presented to all police department employees. The training examines the internal issues of diversity within the department, and most important, the external wants and needs of the community. The curriculum consists of panel discussions, group exercises, contemporary films dealing with cultural issues, and other interactive teaching methods. The class is 15 to 18 in size and looks at diversity on a more personal level. The primary focus is on seven panels representing ethnicities and life style choice in the city. The classes and the panels are made up of police employees and community members. The class members discuss their heritage in group discussions and hear on a personal level the personal stories of panel members and how their ethnicity or lifestyle choice has affected their life and families.

2. When was the program created and why?

In order to appreciate where we are today, it is important to examine some of the steps which have contributed to the origin of this class. Fremont is a growing community rich in diversity and home to approximately 200,000 people. The ethnic breakdown reported by the 1990 census was 65 percent white and 35 percent minority. The rate of change indicates that by the year 2006 the white population will be approximately 49 percent, with 51 percent of the population a mix of Asian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, African-American and other respectively. To better serve the changing public, the police department felt it was important to plan and facilitate the changing needs as opposed to solving problems of culture clash as they arise.

In 1993, the department conducted a survey of the department to determine employee attitudes about diversity. In 1994, the department hired an independent marketing survey company to conduct a survey about community attitudes on diversity and the police department. A number of issues surfaced as a result of the surveys.

In 1995, the department formed a Diversity Team which consisted of a Diversity Coordinator and ten additional members. The group was tasked to develop a cohesive plan to focus on the issues. The purpose of this team was to examine the data from the surveys and work with a consultant to develop a 40-hour course on cultural diversity which specifically met the needs of Fremont. The outgrowth of the team’s work was a course of instruction called Common Ground. The ten members of the team became in-house facilitators for the course in 1996.

3. How do you measure the program’s effectiveness?

In 1994, Dr. Steven Ugbah of the Marketing Department of Cal-State Hayward conducted a baseline survey of the community. The survey was entitled, "Community Perceptions of Fremont Police Officers’ Cultural Sensitivity." The department is currently scheduling a second survey of the citizenry in 1999 by Dr. Ugbah to measure changes in community attitudes.

Internally, the department has seen definite changes in attitude. What was once not discussed regarding diversity issues is now discussed more openly. Briefing dialogue has improved and employees appear to be more conscious of not making insensitive comments in their effort to be humorous.

One of the department’s goals was to change behavior, not necessarily attitudes; but it appears to have affected people both ways, which is an added benefit. During the last year, the department has had three members "come out" regarding their lifestyle choice. All three said this would not have occurred without the forum the diversity classes provided.

4. How is the program financed?

The curriculum was submitted to the California Peace Officers Standards and Training (P.O.S.T.) and was certified by the state prior to the first class. The officers and employees are placed on a training schedule so it does not cost the department any money to send employees nor pay facilitators. The cost incurred on occasion is from back filling an officer on patrol to meet minimum staffing levels. An additional minor cost is that of binders and photocopying of workbooks for each class participant.

5. How is the community involved in the program, if at all? How has the community responded to the program?

Community members who have participated on the panels are very positive about the personal experience of sharing their story and are very proud of the opportunity to improve relationships between their community and the police. The classes have also provided a non-threatening forum for discussions with community members about not only acts but perceptions of bias.

6. What are the major lessons learned that would be helpful for others trying to implement a similar program?

California has seen a significant influx of immigrants, both legal and illegal, which have impacted service delivery and services that are necessary in a changing environment.

Issues raised by a culturally diverse community affect all aspects of police work and have a great impact on the decision-making process in all areas.

There has been a shift in paradigms in countries with international societies in the last few decades. In the past, many immigrant groups came on a gradual basis primarily for economic or political reasons and were slowly absorbed into the new culture. This was the "melting pot" theory. Recently, immigrant groups have come from all over the world to developing nations for various reasons including politics and economics and many are wishing to preserve their culture and heritage. The quantity and variety of immigrants has increased and their need to identify with their ethnic group has created conflicts when cultural values differ. An initial goal and later a significant lesson was that in order to serve the changing public better the police department felt it was better to plan and facilitate the changing needs as opposed to solving problems of culture clash as they arise.

Police departments are a microcosm of the society which they serve, and society in general is struggling with the issues of diversity. Initially, the idea of changing behaviors and possibly attitudes that are intangible and have developed over a lifetime of nurturing through society seemed an insurmountable task. The lesson learned internally at the police department is that it is possible because the department is seeing the positive results of the effort daily within the department and in the employees’ contacts with the community. It is simply necessary to create the right environment for this or any kind of change to flourish.

On a more basic level, it is important to use department employees as facilitators and a majority of your panel members. This seems to personalize the interaction and discussions because in many instances participants are talking to people they have known for years but are discussing issues that are sometimes uncomfortable and so normally avoided.

7. What specific advice do you have for mayors interested in replicating a program such as yours?

The single most important issue is to have strong leadership and buy-in at the top of the organization for this to succeed. The Police Chief must provide verbal and monetary support for the effort. The support must be sincere and never wavering. Without support, it will be perceived as a sham and the "flavor of the month" program. A program usually has a beginning and an end, so instead it must be part of the philosophy of doing business and ingrained in the values supported by the organization.

Secondly, it is important for the Police Chief to select someone to coordinate the training who has the same belief system and recognizes the importance and necessity of the task.

Additionally, the coordinator must select facilitators who believe in what they are about to undertake and have the tenacity and skills to complete the process.

For more information, please contact:

Lt. Jan Gove
Fremont Police Department
2000 Stevenson Blvd.
Fremont, California 94538
Telephone: (510) 790-6763

Home Search

The United States Conference of Mayors

J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
1620 Eye Street, NW, Washington, DC 20006
Telephone (202) 293-7330, FAX (202) 293-2352

Copyright ©2000, U.S. Conference of Mayors, All rights reserved.