TEXAS TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The police academy at Kalamazoo Valley Community College launched a new diversity training this year that’s believed to be the first of its kind in the state.
“Law enforcement has a serious divide with communities of color,” said Victor Ledbetter, the director of the law enforcement training center at KVCC.
Ledbetter, a retired Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety captain, launched the one-day training event, called Expanding our Horizons: A Cultural Awareness Experience, in February to bridge the gap between police and the minority community. His wife Stacey Randolph, also a former KDPS captain, designed the training program that he implemented.
“I’m black and I’m blue,” Ledbetter told 24 Hour News 8.
His identity as a black man and his connection to the police community drove him to roll out the program that better prepares police cadets.
“There’s a thin line between ignorance and racism,” Ledbetter said. “A lot of cadets come from sterile backgrounds, so even though they may have gone to school with one black person or one person of color, they’ve never had a relationship with them.”
The first training event was held Feb. 1. It included racial healing circles where dozens of community members shared their police perspectives and encounters with KVCC cadets.
Director Ledbetter explained that understanding previous experiences often explains unseen trauma. That understanding could help how police interact with their community.
“Things like redlining, where certain people of the community had to live in a certain part of the city,” Ledbetter said. “That makes it different when police deal with communities of color and think that people love living together. No, it was a law by the government to regulate us there. So they learn things like that.”
He added that some of the lessons also included explaining how some black men are emotionally triggered when they’re referred to as “boy.”
“Back in the day, it was a term of disrespect. The slave owner called people 65 and 70 ‘boys’ to minimize their manhood. Some people don’t know that,” Ledbetter said.
Cadet Micah Charlick attended the inaugural diversity training.
“It was an eye-opening experience for me and most of the cadets that I’ve been talking to afterward,” he said.
It’s been two months since the event, but he’s still thinking about a story a black woman shared with his small group.
“Her parents had to look through the Green Book to see where they can go eat where they can stop and stuff and that just was a huge eye-opener for me because I didn’t even know that (Green Book) existed,” Charlick said.
The soon-graduating cadet told 24 Hour News 8 about meeting people who witnessed civil rights unrest firsthand. They told him how the police interactions that unfolded before their eyes stained their feelings towards law enforcement.
“It’s just hard for people to wrap their minds around that people went through this,” Charlick said.
He said that while it was a one-day event, he walked away with new understanding and sensitivity as a law enforcement hopeful.
“I’m sure you’ve had a conversation where you cannot get out of your head, where it’s just something that you remember forever,” Charlick said.
“You put people in a safe space so that they can talk and just communicate and see that they have more in common than they do against each other. That’s a great start,” Ledbetter added.
This year’s event also included community partners providing some historical context and cadets completed community service.
Ledbetter told 24 Hour News 8 that he hopes to expand the program. He said he also wants to hear from anyone interested in coming in for the next event. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.