Volume 3—The ‘Clothing’ of Effective Policing: Cultural Competency, Spirituality and Ethics continues my discussion about the humanity of policing. For this writing, I give attention to the spiritual, intellectual, and emotional dimensions of humankind.
I use clothing metaphorically to describe more than something to cover body parts. Clothing refers to preparation of the heart, soul, and mind for tasks associated with policing.
I came up with the idea while studying scripture, substituting the word clothing for armor, both words understood to refer to protecting the body and mind-set. In the Bible, clothing and colors were symbolic.
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In the work world, employees demonstrate competencies in several areas relating to their job position and are measured based on competency standards developed by the organization. Competencies and skills in some aspects are dissimilar. Skills can be improved through training. Employees receiving lower ratings are asked to attend training in hopes of improving the rating on the next scheduled performance review.
Competencies speak to innate talent or ability that a person may have to perform a skill for another or for themselves. Some people have the talent for conflict resolution. While other people should avoid working in a customer complaint center or as a hostage negotiator at all cost.
From the policing perspective, we view competencies through job tasks and trainability. Trainers, adult education practitioners strive to improve upon and strengthen the skills, knowledge, and abilities a person brings to the policing environment.
Taking it one step further, trainability is an attribute employers look for when reviewing piles of résumés and interviewing job candidates.
Cultural competency is a performance, organizational, and job standard; it is not an employment criteria.
Cultural competency encompasses three assessment guidelines, i.e. knowledge, skills and abilities. Let's look deeper and interrogate the literature to see if researchers (Sperry, 2012; O'Neill, 2016) agree on how to define cultural competency and even further, how they suggest cultural competency should occur.
Cultural competency means that a person has the knowledge, understanding and skills to embrace diversity and to work with people from diverse backgrounds. It implies that discrimination is not tolerated, that people are accepted and valued because of their differences, instead of being seen as inferior or superior.
We can describe cultural competency through three key attributes, understanding, acceptance and value. The definition incorporates essentials for effective policing and spotlights why policing can also be ineffective when people disregard these essentials.
This does not seem complicated. Why are we engaged in this discussion? It is complicated because conscious and unconscious, or implicit and explicit bias can affect our thinking about how we perceive others and make relating to people who are different problematic. We are all guilty and have possibly displayed one of these behaviors at some point in our life. Whittaker (2011) reminds us that we have the "proclivity to stereotype."
Acknowledging the need and importance of three key attributes or behaviors in policing the community can mean the difference between calm and chaos. A culturally competent person remains open-minded, accepting, values diversity even in the midst of confusion.
I would like to ask one question. Is cultural blindness the same as cultural competency? Cultural blindness is a step; however, even though blindness to racial, religious, or value differences suggests that a person acknowledges, understands and values diversity, blindness anesthetizes a person to the reality that the needs a particular community may be experiencing or awaiting to change may be different than other communities.
Writers (Bonilla-Silva, 1998; Leeca, et al, 1998) suggest that cultural blindness may parallel institutional and/or cultural racism. Lecca, et al explain that the culturally blind "ignore cultural strengths, blame the victim for his or her problems, and encourage assimilation".
I call cultural blindness, systemic antitheocentric disregard (S.A.D).
Cultural blindness is prevalent in the literature when speaking about equal quality education to students regardless of race and dedicating funding to lower performing schools. However, looking more specifically at policing, cultural blindness might influence how we provide service to the elderly, to members of the LGBT community, and to low income residents, irrespective of race, in densely populated neighborhoods.
Two questions; first, have you noticed prior to this point, I have not defined culture? Every person needs to interact with another person at some time; every person interprets reality differently. Every person behaves differently and displays behavior based on learned values and norms taken away from the family structure. By understanding this integration of an individual interpretation of reality along with how a person behaves or interprets someone else's behavior you have a clear definition of culture.
Second question, if we want a complete definition and therefore a thorough understanding of cultural differences so we can claim cultural competency, what makes me (the author) different from you (the reader)?
Cultural competence requires that we understand how a combination of variables might influence our accepting, understanding and valuing differences.
d. Gender identity
e. National origin
f. Religion (faith)
g. Sexual orientation
h. Socioeconomic status"
As the researcher I understand and want to interpret the list in the context of my current conversation. Cultural competency is the dependent variable we are studying. Demographic characteristics such as age, beliefs, etc. are independent variables. Independent variables influence the ability to accept, understand and value differences. Researchers conducting this study hypothesized to what extent demographics (independent variables that are subject to change, e.g. age, belief, faith, language, experience, socioeconomic status) influence achievement of cultural competency. Within the context of our review and for their connection to police-community relations, I emphasize the relevancy and influence of age, belief, socioeconomic status, faith, gender, gender identity, language spoken through national origin and experience. Therefore, based on the likelihood of change in some characteristics (independent variables), cultural competency is more likely or less likely to occur.
We include race and ethnicity to more meticulously define differences in how people identify with the values and norms they practice or have practiced through generational descent. However, I caution you against generalizing behavior of a group based on the behavior of one. Generalizations invite trouble, confusion, and hostility.
There are numerous phrases researchers and authors identify on this subject further illuminating why cultural competency is a necessity for policing. Regardless of the terminology, cultural competency encompasses all and remains a priority for effective policing.
Cross (2010) introduced and in some cases gave renewed emphasis to phrases.
1. Cultural knowledge
2. Cultural intelligence
3. Cultural sensitivity
4. Cultural awareness
Cultural competency is not a new century buzzword or is it acquired overnight.
People appreciate cultural competency when they recognize how fear might interfere when confronted with opportunities to learn new information compelling them to change behavior and mindset. Some people are reluctant to change if they cannot grasp the immediate benefit for changing what they believe has always worked.
Researchers Rodenborg and Boisen (2013) considered the intersection of Intergroup Contact theory and culture competence, suggesting that people in some instances need help to overcome prejudices they harbor and the fear of interacting with groups outside their own group. Even though researchers mentioned here are speaking more about students and professionals in the field of social work, there is no empirical evidence to suggest otherwise that the concerns for social workers is similarly applicable to the practice of policing.
The most effective method to combat some fears is to devise a method to safely confront the fear. Confronting the fear begins with recognition. A teaching strategy to assist with recognizing the fear incorporates a self-assessment tool.
There are several assessment methods available online developed to be used independently. Exercise 1 at the beginning of this book is an assessment tool I developed for policing use.
Another strategy is to incorporate group discussion as a learning tool, allowing people to interact with people from groups other than their own to remove the barrier keeping them from fully understanding and acknowledging similarities as well as differences.
If you want people to cease applying a broad brush stroke to understanding, don't be concerned about the canvas. Instead, destroy the flawed understanding existing within the man-made bristles comprising the brush.
Spirituality and Ethics
Is God in policing??????????????
Special Agent Feemster (instructor in the Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI Academy) concluded, "just as DNA is the building block of human existence, spirituality is the DNA of law enforcement practice".
When reading Agent Feemster's analogy of DNA, aren't you left asking, isn't everyone's DNA different? DNA is what makes me different from you, the reader. DNA can identify familial relationships between people. Because our DNA is the genetic code differentiating and also relating people to each other, some might consider spirituality the genetic code that differentiates effective policing practices from practices tainted by bias-based thinking and policing behaviors rendering policing less than effective. Another interpretation of Feemster might imply relationships. There are several interpretations.
In this section, I combine my discussion on spirituality and ethics, because the latter results from a person's own interpretation and understanding of how one fulfills the requirements of the other.
Every human being has a physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual dimension. How does spirituality and faith intersect with policing? The integrity of policing, the code of ethics policing requires, executing arrests based on fact and circumstances presented not motivated by race, appeal primarily to the spiritual dimension.
Feemster (2009) in the statement I used wanted readers to understand that canons of justice in this country were founded on spiritual principles. These principles remain the core (the DNA) of policing and law enforcement and to help us respect the humanity of policing.
I believe spirituality connects with policing because spirituality and policing require interaction or having a relationship with another. There are various levels of relationship. In policing, relationship can refer to an arresting officer to offender, responding officer to victim or complainant, citizen to police. Relationship behaviors define spirituality. What is spirituality?
I am confident there is a formal, more acceptable definition for spirituality. However, I believe the feeling that accompanies spirituality is what makes seeking understanding about something that is experienced more personally more meaningful. One definition for spirituality is, "the personal beliefs by which an individual relates".
More personally I define spirituality from the perspective that people identify who they are, their purpose for being, and the values taught to them by man using God and the Bible as sources for validation. Even though spirituality means different things to different people, spirituality still speaks to values and how people identify themselves through their value system when relating with other people.
In 2004, Dr. Ginger Charles (Arvada Police Department, Colorado) disseminated a questionnaire to law enforcement officers from various departments across the United States as part of exploratory research to ascertain what effect spirituality has on an officer's ability to police society. The question always asked is what is spirituality. In the interest of ensuring inclusiveness, she proposed a definition, "what a person believes is sacred", hoping to not restrict participation because people follow different spiritual paths to their beliefs.
There were eight standard questions. I want to share three of those questions.
1. Has your spirituality influenced your work as an officer?
2. How have you changed as an officer? How has your spirituality helped?
3. How do you cope with the human destructiveness and suffering in police work? What is your support system when you are overwhelmed?
Emerging from her research was participants' understanding of human nature and the importance of human relationships, both considered key elements when defining policing. Additionally, having a connection with God's plan gave them more confidence and confirmation about their decision to enter a police career for the difference they would make.
There were key terms and phrases she identified.
1. "Moral compass
2. Humanity at its core
3. Spiritual integrity
4. Ethics and character
5. Moral principles
6. Spiritual beliefs
8. Health" (p.25)
This is a critical finding. Police officers in most cases are the first to see the carnage of criminal and antisocial behavior. They experience the best and witness the worst mankind offers to society. Policing goes beyond being a profession; it is a vocation.
Authors (Feemster and Charles) define vocation "an expression of who and what the person is."
Feemster added, "in a law enforcement context, individuals who voluntarily place themselves between innocence and danger to protect others clearly demonstrate their calling to a vocation that gives voice and vitality to meaningful inspirational values".
In the past, people hesitated and avoided talking about spirituality, faith and religion with someone who may not have shared their position. People were concerned about offending because a conversation about spirituality eventually drifts to a discussion about God, religion and faith. I am still trying to understand how one can be discussed without the other.
However, in the aftermath of police shootings, diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder suffered after incidents not related to military engagement, attempted attacks, increase in suicides (attempted and successful) researchers, counselors and sociologists are considering more closely how spirituality links to effective policing.
Conversations about spirituality are no longer danced around or walked away from. Because there is a human side to policing, people are more receptive to opportunities to freely discuss spirituality prior and subsequent to major events. Spirituality may be the only tangible thing those in policing can embrace for survival and hope.
Counselors, clergy, police officers, those involved in community-policing efforts readily agree that spirituality plays a role in emotional wellness necessitating space for open dialogue about spirituality, faith and religion. Therefore, it is not shocking that research findings would identify health, relationships with humanity as it core, creating links to spirituality in policing. What is the solution; what method is best?
I am not suggesting that experiencing emotional wellness is the definitive answer; nonetheless, emotional wellness is an overlooked concern for policing atmospheres creative opportunities for open dialogue. Creating an atmosphere for emotional wellness requires awareness, learning and space. Awareness includes self-awareness and organizational awareness to the triggers that heighten the need to assess for emotional wellness.
Individuals concerned about emotional wellness need a safe space, where there is no judgement, to talk. There must be an opportunity to learn where socially, the environment is open to honest, free flowing dialog about spirituality, religion, faith, prayer and God.
Excerpted from "Social Change through Training and Education"
Copyright © 2017 Dr. E. Beverly Young.
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