As a person of Afro-Caribbean descent, growing up in pre-gentrified, Park Slope, I was that someone who would go to FDNY for help rather than approach a New York City police officer. In my ‘hood, once a place to escape but now a place where most want to live, for me the presence of cops was not a good thing. I treated the NYPD with caution since my experience was that interactions became confrontations, with no guarantee of my own safety.
Years later, when I joined the organization I currently work for, I came with a suitcase of administrative skills; but in the side pocket of that suitcase was also my distrust of the NYPD. I shared these feelings with colleagues and our former CEO, in response invited me to observe one of the NYPD mediation trainings.
After going over our curriculum in preparation, the CEO informed me that I was not only going to observe, but I would be co-training segments as well! Through his encouragement, I was able to demonstrate mediation techniques to the officers. The officers were not just receptive to my instruction, but to my surprise, they shared another side of who they are.
While demonstrating de-escalation skills used by mediators, the conversation naturally shifted to how officers feel they are seen by the public. I felt privileged to hear from them about their challenges in meeting difficult objectives in a difficult environment, and responding to a public that distrusts their blue uniform. As one officer stated, “Civilians don’t trust us and see us in a bad way”along with another officer’s experience as being called ‘a killer’ when responding to 311 calls are some of the stories I heard, and still hear. During breaks and lunches, the officers and myself shared personal stories of a New York City going through many political, racial and economic changes. We also shared family photos and compared tattoos.
Over time, rather than seeing the antagonism I experienced from officers in the past, I saw hardworking, dedicated men and women who care about their work and communities! To me, they were no longer officers behind a uniform, but people with families, going through life, experiencing ups and downs as we all do. Essentially, they could be my next door neighbor, the boyfriend of a friend, the person I joke with on the check-out line—in other words, a regular person.
Police officers are required to attend the trainings provided by the place I work for and usually show up reserved, unhappy about the morning commute, the disruption to their schedules, and unsure how mediation training will help them through a tour. The officers accumulate mediation skills to fill their own suitcase of knowledge. At the end of four days of training, officers are better equipped to mediate conflicts before they escalate, defuse charged interactions, and build relationships and repair trust with their communities. They also learn to appreciate that when we slow down escalated interactions, we begin seeing others more three dimensionally, something we also teach our mediators.
What I didn’t expect was that I would be the one learning to see police officers more three dimensionally.
I am honored beyond all measure to train and coach NYPD officers of various backgrounds and have come to appreciate what they do to keep us safe. Thank you, NYPD, for your dedication towards the job and most of all, thank you for doing what you do!