Column: Hartford police need increased cultural competency training

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The police officer in Hartford who believes that Donald Trump will make America great again has gone far beyond failing to remain politically neutral. He has revealed a level of bias that renders him unable to serve the minority community he patrols.

It was revealed through a citizen’s Facebook post that a Hartford police officer displayed the sticker on his Hartford Police Department laptop that is mounted on the dashboard in his police cruiser.

In response, Hartford Deputy Chief Brian Foley said in a statement released March 13, “I am, and we are, embarrassed and sorry for this lack of professionalism and judgement. The officer was counseled on the critical importance of remaining neutral and impartial.”  The Hartford police union later expressed concern with this statement. Sgt. Richard Holton released a statement on March 14that criticized the police department for making the officer in question feel “belittled and vilified."

What is being missed by both the union and the department is that the concern with a Hartford police officer displaying Trump paraphernalia in his cruiser should go far beyond policies about remaining politically neutral.

The race or ethnicity of the officer in question, whose identity will not be released, remains unknown. We do know, however, no matter who the officer is, the violence and bigotry promoted by the Trump campaign raise a significant concern for Hartford residents of color. What’s more, is that Hartford has failed to employ a police force that is an accurate representation of its residents.

According to the Connecticut Mirror, Hartford’s population is 43.4 percent Hispanic, 38.7 percent black, and  15.5 percent white. In comparison, the police force is 20% Hispanic, 12% black, and 66% white. This information would not be nearly as troubling if all officers were culturally competent.

A police department that sends an officer out into a minority community while he or she openly supports a candidate who calls Mexicans drug traffickers, criminals and rapists, and Black Lives Matter protesters thugs, has much bigger problems than political correctness. Not only has Trump disparaged minority communities, he has shamelessly mocked the disabled, vilified Syrian refugees and made baseless claims that “Islam hates America.”

In the national context of increased conversation surrounding discriminatory policing practices and mass incarceration, cultural incompetence in our police departments raises more concern than ever. How could Hartford’s minorities, the vast majority of the population, ever feel protected or served by a force that does so little to educate its officers?

Many have questioned whether the outrage over the sticker would amount to the same if the officer had displayed Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders paraphernalia. The fact of the matter, however, is that while officers should be reprimanded for using equipment to reveal any political bias, the rhetoric offered by Trump is unmatched in this election cycle.

No other candidate has openly supported violence at their rallies; while Trump has even gone so far as to promise to cover any legal fees accrued by his supporters roughing up protesters at his events. This issue is not about party allegiance, a culture of supposed politically correctness, or freedom of speech. What it is about is a community of brown and black bodies who are patrolled by officers who hold and support prejudiced views.

The police union got one thing right. The Hartford Police Department should not be vilifying any officers. If we allow the conversation to begin and end with the discipline of this officer, we will be doing the community of Hartford a great disservice. When incidents like this arise, it is an outgrowth of a greater internal culture of prejudice that needs to be addressed.

It is irresponsible for our police departments to look nothing like the communities they serve. It is reprehensible for there to be so little vetting or education on issues of cultural competence that officers revealing this level of bias patrol these communities. This is an important moment that requires a particular response; increased diversity education throughout the police force rather than the singling out of one particular officer and disregard of the deeper issue.

“As if removing the sticker will remove the bias from his chest, from who he really is. Just be careful and let’s look out for one another,” one commenter wrote on the original Facebook post. The community is asking for more than a symbolic act of political correctness. It is on city and police force leadership to deliver."


Haddiyyah Ali is a contributor to The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at haddiyyah.ali@uconn.edu.