KALAMAZOO, Mich. — A handful of police officers were at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts Wednesday morning. They were in full uniform but wearing name tags instead of badges and discussing some of the artwork on the walls.
“What we have going on now is something that we’ve been doing the last few years, Cultural Awareness with the new recruits,” said Victor Ledbetter, captain of the Training Division with Kalamazoo Public Safety.
The recruits looked at a photographs and paintings as part of the program. They discussed what the imagery meant to them and what it might mean to others.
“It’s a chance for them to sit down in a safe environment to really have dialogue,” said Capt. Ledbetter during an interview at the KIA. “That’s what we want.”
The recruits looked at artwork for hours and then applied what they learned out on the field during a scavenger hunt. From the county courthouse to different ethnic cultural centers, they drove around town to get to know the communities and certain offices.
“We just try to get them immersed into different cultures in the city, especially in light of what’s going on in the world today,” said Capt. Ledbetter. “It’s very important that people have a foundation.”
Everyone’s talking about what happened in Charlottesvilles, he said. Even the confederate statues coming down in Durham, N.C. in recent days is popping up in conversations. The program couldn’t have been more timely.
“It’s very imperative at this point that people get this dialogue together in a safe space to say you know what ‘I understand where you see it from, you understand where I see it from' and then just respect each others cultures,” said Capt. Ledbetter.
Thursday is Day Two of the program with the recruits actually meeting with different community leaders at the KIA’s auditorium. That day they’ll interact with the citizens and have conversations about what they’ve been learning. The goal, Capt. Ledbetter said, is that those talks extend past their training.
“We don’t want it to end here,” said Capt. Ledbetter. “We want them to maybe next week [say] ‘Hey lets go get coffee. Lets finish this conversation and develop those relationships.”