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ST. GEORGE — Officers from dozens of Utah agencies got a lesson Friday in how to reduce violence between police and the public.
The Utah Fraternal Order of Police hosted a training involving California-based non-profit Why'd You Stop Me? (http://www.wysm.org/), which focuses its training on different steps that lead to greater trust and respect between officers and the communities they serve.
"We need to humanize officers as people and we need to humanize community members as community members," Utah Fraternal Order of Police spokesman Ian Adams said.
WYSM founder and executive director Jason Lehman, a police officer from Long Beach, urged roughly 70 officers and leaders from various Utah agencies to be themselves, to be outgoing and to explain to concerned neighbors why police conduct particular police actions, including the execution of search warrants.
"There's nothing wrong with going over and explaining a few things so that later on down the line that person doesn't try to hurt us and understands why we're doing things, which in turn will hopefully reduce the personnel complaints that police officers are getting," Lehman said.
Lehman conducted scenarios with officers that put them in the shoes of community members.
"I want you to think about what the community across the street is thinking when a police officer is doing this," Lehman said the group of officers during one scenario, after supposedly using a force technique to remove a non-compliant driver from a vehicle. "What does the community think from across the street when they see all that? You're a jerk? Violent? Abusive?"
Lehman suggested sometimes the public may not understand the reason for what took place, or what the consequences might be of an alternative action.
"How do we de-escalate situations before, during and after?" Lehman asked the officers. "By never forgetting that somebody's watching."
We are not soft on crime. But that doesn't mean we can't treat people like people.
–Jason Lehman, WYSM founder and executive director
Lehman underscored that the training is not designed to be light on enforcement.
"We are not soft on crime," Lehman exclaimed at one point. "But that doesn't mean we can't treat people like people."
The principles of the "Why'd You Stop Me?" training include the equation, Event + Reaction = Outcome.
Organizers said that means "events" occur in life and how people choose to "react" to those events is what determines the "outcome" of given situations.
A positive reaction to any event should produce a positive outcome, they suggested.
The organization claims the training helped contribute to a 50-percent reduction in officer-involved shootings in Long Beach from 2013 to 2014.
"There are communities that deal with the trauma of seeing someone arrested — their mother, their father, their cousin, their sister, their brother — and it leaves a legacy on the future generations," explained Gregory Sanders, president of the Long Beach Ministers Alliance and a vice president on the Why'd You Stop Me? board of directors. "We found that it's really important to change the culture of engagement."
Lehman said all departments need a community liaison, which could be a sergeant, to respond to neighborhoods and address questions after police actions.
"Who is going to re-educate people who have been educated in a negative way?" Lehman asked the group. "You! Sorry. If you don't want to do it, quit your job. It's your new career."
Adams said the Utah Fraternal Order of Police hoped to bring WYSM? back before a larger group of officers in the Salt Lake Valley later in the year.