Penn Police get streetwise

In some communities, residents view the police as a hostile presence.

As for the cops, they wonder why the people they protect resent them.

Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush wants to make sure that never happens in University City. So this summer, she called on Elijah Anderson to run a series of workshops so Penn Police could avoid some of the things that rub citizens the wrong way.

Anderson, the Charles and William L. Day Professor of the Social Sciences, led day-long seminars this past July in which groups of 25 police officers discussed issues of race, class and gender as they relate to their jobs. The discussions also touched on sensitive subjects like racial profiling and affirmative action.

“I hoped they would gain some perspective on their jobs, gain a little insight, and that [the workshop] would work to their benefit,” he said. “We paid a lot of attention to their roles as policemen, how they see others and how others see them, and why people would react a certain way.”

Penn Police Chief Thomas Rambo said that the workshops achieved their goal. “Anderson was able to get participation from people without their feeling threatened.”

Officer Perdetha Watson, who lives in University City, agreed. About the subject of the seminar, she said, “I think the officers were very receptive. By having that diversity training, it made other officers sensitive to what black people go through.”

Rush got the idea of having Anderson lead the workshops after taking his course Managing Diversity in the Workplace as part of her master’s degree program in organizational dynamics.

“I thought he had a good understanding of street-level activity,” she said. “I also thought it would be a good follow-up to last year’s department-wide activity.” The workshops built on a department-wide training session that took place the previous summer on workplace diversity. “This time, we wanted to focus more on the cop on the beat,” Rush said.

Rambo said that the workshops were another example of the department’s proactive approach to community safety. “We don’t want to have a crisis and then have these trainings,” he said. “That would be counterproductive.”

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Originally published on September 13, 2001