Crime & Safety

Race relations training for Chatham County police

Unconventional training for cops in Savannah's civil rights museum

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) - The newest recruits with the newest police force in Chatham County did not begin their training with physical fitness, or even target practice.

Their first lessons are about finding common ground with the African American community.

The Chatham County Police Department (CCPD) continues to grow in numbers, and their chief, Jeff Hadley,  wants his officers to gain knowledge about the struggles blacks have gone through.

To achieve this, he's arranged a walk through the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum in Savannah.

"I think it's a great exercise in terms of socializing our officers into our profession and again, framing the context in which they'll work because there's a whole lot of history in this country around race and law enforcement...and we can't ignore it," Hadley said.

The chief believes turning a blind eye to the history will lead to repeats of the violent clashes between cops and people of color. 

He wants to avoid riots, like the unrest the world witnessed in Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore, Maryland, and even in Los Angeles after the Rodney King verdict in the 1990s.

Much of that mistrust and anger was born out of the civil right's struggles in the 1960s when images of police brutalizing peaceful protesters were broadcast to the world. 

"What I think people fail to recognize is that there are people living today that were there and those images, those experiences, that they have in that time frame, don't go away," Hadley explained. "You don't forget those, those are burned on your hard drive and so those are folks we're gonna encounter out here doing our work."

Chief Hadley says the goal of the tour through the museum is for his law enforcement officers to learn a little bit more about the African American experience in Savannah. But CCPD is not the only one who has taken the tour at the civil right's museum.

Diane Green is part of the administration team for the museum. 

"The following week, the Savannah Police Department sent their recruits in also," said Green, adding the tour can be eye-opening for officers. "I think they really walked away knowing so much more about this area and the civil rights era when it pertains to Savannah."

Chief Hadley says he doesn't expect the museum tour to work miracles overnight.

"I'm under no illusion that just because we sent 19 people through the civil rights museum within the first two weeks of their employment that all is good. Right? I mean that's just one piece of it, I mean it's an ongoing process," said Hadley. 

Other unconventional training stops for new recruits with CCPD include homeless camps and the animal shelter.

It's designed to give them a well-rounded look at the people they'll come face to face with on the job.

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