Police to work on racial sensitivity

By Kierra Frazier

DeKALB — Increased training could be coming to the DeKalb and NIU Police Departments this month to teach officers how racial and emotional intelligence can serve the community. 

Interim Police Chief John Petragallo said there needs to be continuous Racial Intelligence Training and Engagement during a Student Association town hall Oct. 15. 

RITE is a program based in Orlando that teaches law enforcement and other public service officials how to create a bias-free, harassment-free workplace, according to the RITE website. 

Residents also suggested the department engage in more sensitivity training at a Sept. 4 community meeting. The meeting was held after a video of a DeKalb police officer was shown using force during the arrest of Elonte McDowell went viral. 

RITE cofounder Randy Friedman said emotional intelligence is to focus on what officers are feeling when they respond, and social intelligence is a person’s implicit bias toward a situation based on factors such as religion or class.

In a training session, officers learn how to use emotional and social de-escalation and accountability tools that could improve officer wellness and build community trust, according to the RITE website. 

Friedman said the training walks officers through recognizing and understanding the bias and emotions that may surface while on duty. It’s designed to help them understand what might be influencing their decisions, she said. 

She said RITE training works under an equation: emotional intelligence + social intelligence = racial intelligence.

Friedman said that racial intelligence means using your emotional intelligence, social intelligence and the right tools provided from the RITE Toolkit to treat ourselves and others fairly. 

“Racial intelligence is first knowing what makes me tick emotionally and understand my own biases because we all have them,” Friedman said. “Once I understand my own biases I can then take care of myself better, and which in turn, I will treat others better because of that.”

The RITE Toolkit, along with emotional and social intelligence skills, are included in RITE training sessions. The toolkit includes tools such as the Emotional Energy Ladder, which shows a ladder of emotions, positive ones at the top and negative ones at the bottom. 

Trainers ask officers where they may be on the ladder, and this helps acknowledge their emotions to keep officers in check if they’re at the bottom during high-pressure situations, according to the RITE website. 

RITE Training in DeKalb

NIU Police Chief Tom Phillips held a RITE session in 2018 called Train-the-Trainer. Phillips asked RITE trainers from Florida to teach a class of officers how to train their colleagues regarding racial and emotional intelligence.

He said the training shouldn’t be a one-time session and invites the DeKalb Police Department, the DeKalb Sheriff’s Office and the State’s Attorney Office to a mass meeting in December. 

“I hope to have another training, especially one for my new officers, in December during winter break and then another one in May after commencement,” Phillips said.

Phillips said he prefers having the programs when school isn’t in session so the officers can focus on the training. 

“The RITE training is great, and it goes beyond cultural competency training,” Phillips said. “The training also ensures the officers have good mental health.”

NIU Police Officer Shaunda Wilson said RITE training teaches officers while discussing their biases and talking about the type of community they’re serving. 

“We talk about what they need and the tools they need for their department to be able to handle and engage with their community,” Wilson said. 

Wilson said every new officer in the NIU Police Department gets RITE training, and there is annual training for all officers in the department. Wilson said the annual training revolves around current police news.

“If there was a situation where there was a police-related shooting, the annual training would talk about those types of incidents — how it makes officers feel,” Wilson said.  “We talked about how we could do things differently and how we can make sure those types of things that don’t happen in our community.”

Petragallo said the DeKalb Police Department doesn’t host RITE events, but he attended the program in August 2018 with City Manager Bill Nicklas and four other commanders in the DeKalb Police Department. 

The DeKalb Police Department does monthly web-based training that includes different core competencies and civil rights, Petragallo said in a September interview. He said in addition to online training, there needs to be more on-going in-person training like the annual training the NIU Police Department does.

Petragallo said he hopes the department can attend a mass training session that Phillips is planning on hosting in December. 

“I was impressed by the last [RITE] training session, and I hope to get some more officers through it again,” Petragallo said.