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New DPD program aims to build community relations

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DENVER (KDVR) – The Denver Police Department has a new partner in building relationships with the community, and they say it is more important now than ever before.

Months before protest groups started clashing with police, DPD started a new program to help its officers understand different community groups.

Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen has focused on community policing for a while. At the beginning of this year, he started a new training day for new officers, when they learn about emotional intelligence, social and emotional learning, and interacting with youth.

Lt. Wyatt said, “Chief Pazen heard about this program in San Jose, and he brought that program to Denver this year. We start with new recruits once they complete the academy, before they hit the streets. We provide them with a full day of training on different groups in the community.”

It is called “Historical Perspectives on Policing and Building Trust in the Communities We Serve.”

“It’s exposing officers to things they may not be aware of: cultural groups, religious groups, ethnic and racial groups, and things that make those groups unique and how to use serve those communities. Actually, be compassionate and understanding to someone else’s different perspectives,” Wyatt said.

A large portion of the day-long training is emotional intelligence and adolescent brain development, taught by Carlo Kriekels, co-founder and executive director of the YESS Institute. YESS stands for Youth Empowerment Support Services.

“The good part about emotional intelligence is that it’s not static, not something you have. It is something you can get smarter in. It’s something you can learn. It’s really about how to understand other people and get along with other people because we have to live and work with other people. And in order to do that, you have to take a step back and look at yourself. So what are the things that drive me, what things might upset me, these are some of the triggers I have, or motivates me. From there, we teach people skills (for) how they can show up on their best behavior,” Kriekels said.

Kriekels gives officers strategies and tools to use on the streets.

“One of the strategies we teach officers is connect before you direct. Before they direct youth to do something, it is very important they build some sense of safety and trust with that youth to connect with that person. Once you connect with that person, you have their attention. Now that part of their brain is shifting. They actually are listening to what you are saying. If you don’t connect first, they might not even hear you,” he said.

The goal for both organizations: making it safer for both the community and the officers.

“We want those to be positive interactions and any tools that we can use to make that a better interaction. It’s better for the person we are contacting as well as the police,” Wyatt said.

Kriekels said, “What I would like to say to youth is, there is a human behind the badge, so this is not a Robocop. This is someone like your uncle, dad, neighbor. Officers want to go home safely. They want you to go home. If we can create a deeper understanding between youth and police and they truly understand the position of the other people, that will improve relationship between police as well.”

The department has put 120 new officers through this training, once in January and once virtually in May because of the pandemic. Now, they are looking for ways to expand the training to include veteran officers as well.

For more information on the YESS institute, visit its website.

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