Thursday, June 12, 2008


Imagine you are a police officer. You're a stout intimidating guy, who works with violent criminals in a place most folks don't like to even imagine. You are as manly as all get out. Now imagine the county, la-de-da, wants you to take "cultural sensitivity training." Why? Maybe they think you're an ignorant cretin, right? You're not coddling the criminals enough? You're an evil white guy holding down everyone else, and you need "training"...

To be honest, I might think "f*beep*k that!", and show up with a chip on my shoulder, in no mood to become "sensitive."

I attended such training a couple days ago for my county's Sheriff's Department as a representative of the broader county government. There were about 50 officers and administration personnel in the session.

I entered and sat down next to three men, and broke in with some small talk. I could tell there was some resentment to having to be there, as one should anticipate. Thankfully, only the people in charge knew why I was there, and the training offered by the sheriff's office was conducted in a very diplomatic and respectful manner right from the start; no finger pointing.

Of course, the very first exercise, I was outed by my friend. She comes in her headscarf and it's clear which minority group she represents, but I, admittedly, was kind of hoping to be as unnoticeable as possible, just observe. That's why I left my hot pants at home, after all. Eh, but I love her for her openness.

It didn't seem to be an issue, though. You know how when you're outed in a crowd you'll always get a couple people who'll immediately come up to you and just say something, any little bit of small talk, to convey they are still okay with you? I do very much appreciate that friendly gesture, straight people of the world, and a couple officers did so.

I'll not go into the whole 4 hours of it. One funny thing though. In one part of the training we split into groups and were given a paper with a group name on it (e.g. Hispanics, Asians, etc.) and we were to list all the positive and negative traits of that group, stereotype or no. I was in the "Females" group with about 8 male officers. On our list, women were good because of, well, a slang word for mammary glands, and bad for often faking headaches... It was clear, I assume after being outed :-), that those weren't my contributions to the list. The whole session was conducted with light mood and focussed on building camaraderie between different groups, and I think those conducting it (who were also officer) did a great job.

A little lesson I've learned from the last couple years of politicking: the most important stuff happens after the event; never leave early. If you, say, catch your representative in the elevator after the convention, you can get more done than you would with hours at their booth during. Same goes with this event. Afterward we stayed and talked to a bunch of officers and got some good contacts and useful information.

Importantly we cleared up some misconceptions. It seems we were viewed with some suspicion when we got permission to attend. You know, we were the ultra-liberal culturally sensitive representatives of the county, there to judge their programs. And I can see why they'd think that and why that would be far from productive; I think this arena is best for those out of their element and more politically neutral. A lot more can get done when you're there to humbly help, to be a resource for them, not a bureaucratic annoyance. I made clear our purpose. They made clear that a gay inmate is just as dangerous as any other, and I agreed. I wasn't there to get special treatment for my clan; I'm aiming here for equal treatment and beyond that to help the officers better deal with inmates and their families, when those inmates fall into categories on which I may have some insight.

I did, though, find out the county is not where the problem first relayed to me is the greatest. I guess the average stay in their jail is about a month; the long terms being lived out in the state prison. So, in the county, there's not much time for relationships and pecking orders to develop. (Never thought I'd ever be learning about incarcerated culture...) It seems the state prison is where I most need to go.

Nevertheless, we will be getting more involved with the county on this issue. Though it's not a huge area for the glbt community, there are still things to be tackled. What's more, there's a lot to be done to improve relations with other groups, such as the Muslim and refugee communities. There should be a comfortable line between community leaders and the sheriff's office, to the benefit of both sides, and this administration is thankfully open to do what it can to make those connections.

I should soon take a tour of the county jail and we'll go from there. Now though, the state... Politics being what they are here, I've not a lot of pull in the state, but I'll find a way :-).

Anyway, a couple other miscellaneous things I learned:

-In Utah, state or counties, there are no conjugal visits allowed for anyone, married or no. And I thought that was standard in any prison. Curse your misinformation, television.

-Policy is, in fact, no sex should occur in prison at all. I can certainly see the reason behind that and have no problem supporting that policy. Nevertheless, sex does happen while incarcerated and I've yet to find out how far they go to try to make it as safe as possible.

-A step that is taken in the county, though, is a rape prevention task force. It's unfortunate that it's a problem in need of a task force, but I'm glad to know it's being taken very seriously. I hope to get in touch with them to learn more on the measures being implemented.

-Finally, police officers are much less intimidating when they aren't pulling you over for speeding (for the record, last time I got a ticket, I was a teen). They were a nice group to spend a morning with.


MoHoHawaii said...


Java said...

How very informative, for both sides. It's good you were able to attend. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience.

Scot said...

Thank you Java and MHH (if that "wow" isn't "wow, you are approaching this issue all wrong", or "wow, long post" :-)).