Community colleges taking steps to overhaul police training programs

As activists across the nation protest systemic racism and police brutality against Black Americans, community college systems are re-evaluating how to train police officers and building strategies to advance racial equity, writes Inside Higher Ed. These investments come amid major state budget shortfalls precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Related: Confronting racism: President DeGioia, other college leaders speak out >

Improving police training programs

“George Floyd’s indefensible death, and the demonstrations it has inspired, demand more than thoughts and prayers. They demand action,” writes Glenn DuBois, chancellor of Virginia’s Community Colleges. The 23-college system, he says, is “one of Virginia’s largest providers of law enforcement personnel.” Dubois is creating a panel of community members and law enforcement officers to critique the curricula provided to aspiring police, 2,200 of whom enrolled last year.

Similarly, Eloy Oakley, chancellor of the California Community Colleges, has pledged to evaluate police- and first responder-training programs. California’s 115-college system trains “about 80 percent of the state’s police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians,” according to Inside Higher Ed.

“We need to take a hard look at what we are teaching our students, what that curriculum signals to our students, and how we can change that,” Oakley told CalMatters. He intends for courses to better reflect the experiences of people of color; challenge ethnic and racial biases; and ultimately improve policing, especially in communities of color. 

In North Carolina, the State Board of Community Colleges approved $100,000 in funds to train police officers on de-escalation, relationship-based policing, and community interaction, EducationNC reports. 

“Law enforcement officers have very difficult and often dangerous responsibilities,” Peter Hans, president of the North Carolina Community College System, which educates most of the state’s police officers, told the Richmond County Daily Journal. “They need the best training and tools available to de-escalate tense situations and successfully interact with all members of the community,” Hans said.

Committing to anti-racist work at the institutional level

Community college systems are also redoubling their efforts to advance racial equity.

In Virginia, DuBois has charged a task force with creating “goals and measurable strategies for increasing equity” as part of the system’s six-year strategic plan. He also intends to prioritize diversity in recruiting and hiring administrators, faculty, and staff. “We must do more to see the communities that we serve reflected within our employee ranks,” DuBois writes.

During a town hall for the California system, Oakley expressed his intention to have all California community colleges “become more inclusive and develop an anti-racist curriculum,” writes CalMatters. In May, Oakley presented to board members findings that California’s Black community college students are underinformed about financial aid programs, face feelings of isolation, and experience racial bias in the classroom.

Hans said that North Carolina’s community colleges seek to reduce racial disparities by providing affordable education, adding that the institutions “strive to tear down barriers, overcome historical inequities, and provide economic opportunity for all.”

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