WORCESTER, Mass. — The deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are just two of the cases that outraged many Americans and shook their faith in the police. The Worcester Police Department decided to tackle this issue of mistrust head-on.
Over the last couple of months, they’ve been running a citizen academy to give some residents a firsthand look at how they operate. The program incorporates life-like video scenarios simulating breaking situations, as well as role-playing situations, to highlight how quickly decisions must be made.
“We felt it was just good for us to show, with all the things going on with the police in the nation right now and all the bad news, to kind of accentuate some of the good things that we do,” explained Lt. John Bossolt. “We want to face the tough questions. We didn’t want a room of people nodding their heads.”
For the past couple of months, residents have come to police headquarters one night a week to get an inside look at how the department works.
“I saw a lot of things on social media about the police,” said Dylan Azari, one of the attendees. “I want to go in and learn about how things actually work and how they do certain protocols and how things are run.”
Police departments around the country have been under fire after a number of high-profile cases involving officers that left innocent or unarmed people dead.
The death of George Floyd left Latoya Lewis with many unanswered questions.
“I decided, based on my own beliefs and everything that I had in my perspective of police officers, that this would be beneficial to me to actually take a step in the world of the Worcester Police Department and get a better understanding of how things operate,” she said.
The students run thru a wide range of simulations such as an uncooperative man with a weapon in his car or an autistic man at a playground who is making some parents uncomfortable. Lt. Bossolt said this environment allows the police to create a dialogue with residents outside of responding to emergencies.
Nancy Stratman, another attendee, will tell her neighbors the academy is worth the time. All the social unrest prompted her to come.
“Information is power and whether or not you agree with something or disagree with something, you have to have your facts and you have to make your decision based on facts,” she said.
That’s just what the department is looking for in these turbulent times.
“There’s a lot of different people out there that we represent and a lot of different races and nationalities,” Lt. Bossolt said. “They all have the same questions, and the questions revolve around what the police can do for us and what we can do as a community.”
The program will wrap up on December 2 with a graduation ceremony. Another session hasn’t been scheduled yet. Notices about the application process will be posted on the department’s social media pages.
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