Quest for understanding: Tempe police chief, officers tour Black history sites
Goal is to understand unique mindsets, generational trauma
TEMPE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- “What we are doing in society right now isn’t working,” says former Tempe Police Cmdr. Mike Horn. He recently headed up a journey through four southern states alongside a group of his former colleges with the Tempe Police Department. He hopes this is the first trip of many to come. The intention is to shift mindsets and help police better relate to people in the communities they protect. “If you had told me 15 or 20 years ago, I would have laughed,” Horn said. “I probably wouldn’t have believed it.”
After retiring from the Tempe Police Department, Horn teamed up with several nonprofits to create this immersive expedition. “I’d like to see law enforcement agencies across the country go through this. That’s my vision, it’s a starting point,” he says. His hope is it’s a starting point to at least understanding the unique mindsets of the African American community. Several Arizona police agencies have been involved in high-profile cases in which Black men were killed during excessive-force arrests. The Tempe Police Department has seen its share of controversial incidents and has implemented changes to how they police. The cultural immersion trip is part of that change.
Tempe Police Chief Jeffrey Glover and nine of his officers visited the bayou outside New Orleans, Jackson, Mississippi, and Selma and Montgomery in Alabama. They documented every stop in areas rich with history, like the Whitney Plantation in New Orleans and a walk across the famous Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. “The bridge going to Selma, Edmund Pettus Bridge -- that was emotional,” Glover said. “You had a lot of people when approaching that bridge and understanding the historical perspective. You just can’t believe the atrocities that took place.”
The officers, all from different backgrounds, attended a church service together in Jackson, Mississippi. They spent time at the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, hearing stories from historians about the details of slavery and lynchings in America. “You start to really see the impact of how that has played into American society and how we are divided as a country ... and why we struggle,” Glover said.
“This is one of the highlights of my life,” Tempe Police Sgt. Hector Encinas said. “It’s allowed me to gain truth. It was very powerful, and I had people with me who helped me understand some of these things. I think that’s key when you are learning anything new or different is to have a resource to help walk you through and connect some of the dots.”
“I know there are a lot of people who don’t believe in generational trauma, but unfortunately, it is something that exists,” said Julio Chavez, a Tempe officer assigned to the State Gang Task Force. “It’s the cause of a lot of our issues and adding the systemic racism even though it’s not so in your face ... it’s very subtle.”
Everybody understands there is still a lot of work to do.
“I care about people,” Horn said. “I care about people in policing. I care about our communities. I’m just on the journey; I’m inviting people in. I don’t have it all figured out.”
“In the scheme of things -- of what we are looking at -- is how do we change hearts and minds, and how do we win over people?” Glover said. “Being able to have this experience gives everyone the opportunity of seeing it, tasting it, feeling it, touching it. So, that way, they have an understanding because it’s really about understanding other people’s perspectives.”
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