D.C. police officers will take a course on critical race theory and visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture as part of a new training program, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced Friday morning outside the museum.
The program, developed through a partnership between D.C. police and the University of the District of Columbia Community College, comes in the wake of amid nationwide concern over biased policing and use of force by officers, particularly in communities of color.
“We are committed to accountability,” said Bowser, “to strengthen the bonds of trust between MPD and our residents.”
While Bowser did report say that crime has decreased in the District — the end of 2017 saw a 23 percent drop in violent crimes and 17 percent fewer homicides — negative interactions between officers and black residents remain an issue.
The program takes officers through a day of training, which includes a three-hour lecture on black history, a guided tour through the National Museum of African American History and Culture and a lesson on U Street, where officers examine police brutality.
The effort comes as departments throughout the country have increased efforts to recognize and counter bias. In a similar move, the Chicago Police Department last year announced recruits would tour the DuSable Museum of African American History and the Illinois Holocaust Museum as part of their mandatory training.
In the District, the program’s facilitators hope to provide officers with insight into the African American experience in the nation’s capital.
“If you’re going to be a police officer in Washington, you need to understand the history of the city, and race is a big part of that,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum. Wexler has studied a range of issues related to police conduct, from gun-violence prevention to the heroin epidemic.
Police Chief Peter Newsham said the museum’s exhibits force officers to confront ugly moments in the history of policing.
“People who were supposed to serve and protect had played in the enforcement of discriminatory, racist and unjust policies and laws,” Newsham said. “The museum includes very honest and poignant stories of the role that policing played in some of the historical injustices in our country.”
Between 60 and 80 officers have been trained each week since January, said Bernard Demczuk, who helped design the course’s curriculum. Newsham hopes to have all 3,800 sworn officers and 660 civilian members trained by the end of the year.
Master Police Officer Curtis Coleman hopes the program will improve interactions between people living in the District residents and officers, many of whom are not from the area.
“This is 2018, and I’m telling my new cadets and recruits, ‘You have to get out of the squad car, you have to interact with the community,’ ” Coleman said. “Don’t wait until something happens.”