Las Vegas Sun

March 25, 2019

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Diversity training set for police officers

Metro Police officers will undergo diversity training this fall as a result of a statewide racial profiling study that indicated Metro officers handcuffed blacks at a higher rate than other motorists.

Mujahid Ramadan, an imam with the American Muslim Society, will serve as a diversity consultant for Metro. The department's fiscal affairs committee approved a contract with Ramadan on Monday. Metro officials were unavailable to provide the amount of the contract this morning.

Undersheriff Doug Gillespie said Monday that Sheriff Bill Young "felt (diversity training) should be a priority" after receiving the results of Assembly Bill 500 earlier this year. Young could not be reached for comment because he is on vacation this week.

AB 500, passed in 2001, authorized the attorney general's office to conduct a statistical analysis of traffic stops conducted by police statewide to determine the level of Nevada's racial profiling problem.

The results, released in January by the attorney general's office, showed that Metro officers handcuffed blacks 5 percent of the time during routine traffic stops and Hispanics 3.5 percent, compared with 2.5 percent for whites.

This led to a change earlier this year in Metro's policy on handcuffing. Officers now have a list of conditions under which handcuffs can be used, including situations in which they have probable cause that a crime has been committed or if they are dealing with a violent or suicidal person.

The results of the study also convinced Metro authorities that officers needed to undergo training on how to best interact with people of different races and cultures.

"We want to give our police officers the tools they need" in dealing with a citizenry that consists of a wide range of cultures and ethnicities, Gillespie said.

Officers get diversity training in the police academy, but this training is designed for officers who joined the force within the past three to four years, before it was included in the academy curriculum, he said.

About 1,100 officers will undergo the four-to-six-hour training, which will start in about two months.

Ramadan is a member of the county's ethics task force. He was the executive director for several years of Nevada Partners, a North Las Vegas-based agency that prepares people for jobs.

"We'll look at different cultural and ethnic groups -- how to deal with the Hispanic population who has English as a second language, how to deal with the Asian community, how to deal with the long-simmering interactions between police officers and the African-American community," Ramadan said.

Officers will also learn about the gay and lesbian community and how to best relate to those groups.

Ramadan's training will seek not only to educate officers on how to interact with citizens of diverse backgrounds, it will also teach them how to deal with each other. Metro is becoming more culturally and ethnically diverse, although Ramadan said it could be better.

Today, the department is taking a step toward accommodating the county's growing Spanish-speaking population by accepting applications for part-time Spanish interpreters.

The fiscal affairs committee on Monday accepted a grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance for $496,750, which will to go toward hiring, training and paying interpreters.

Metro employs bilingual officers and civilian employees, but this is the first time they are seeking to hire people whose sole duty is to interpret Spanish, Gillespie said.

The interpreters can be dispatched to crime scenes help officers communicate with victims or witnesses who speak Spanish, field phone calls and translate documents written in Spanish, he said.

Metro personnel director Doug Spring said the department is looking for at least 20 interpreters. The pay is $15 per hour and applications will be accepted until Sept. 23.

Young has also instituted a multicultural advisory council that brings together people of different ethnicities to discuss how Metro can improve relations with these groups. The committee meets once a month.

"Sheriff Young and I have been there for each meeting," Gillespie said. Participants weigh in on different issues, and officers "educate them on our policies and procedures."

"There's a real need," Ramadan said. "The sheriff has really taken steps to address issues before they become problems."

Metro's police union couldn't be reached for comment this morning.

Gary Peck, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said he commends the department "for paying attention to the results of AB 500, taking those results seriously and implementing programs designed to eliminate racial profiling and bias-based policing."

He added: "I hope that prior to the next legislative session, the sheriff will follow through with his informal commitment to gather additional data on stop and post-stop practices in order to determine how effective their programs have been."