A group of 46 police officers fresh out of the San Jose, CA, academy reported to a classroom on the San Jose State University campus this spring for an unusual lesson in recent American history. The topic: the police use-of-force incidents that have stirred controversy and fueled national debate, especially those involving minority suspects.

In the first program of its kind in the Bay Area, the San Jose Police Department and San Jose State have joined together in a novel project to make young police officers more sensitive to how they might be perceived in the community — why the reception they get might not always be so welcoming. The course, “Policing in the Current Political and Social Climate,” consisted of six sessions and was required for all students in the police academy class that graduated in April. This year’s course was a pilot, but the department plans to continue it.

Much of the course material was presented by Greg Woods, a lecturer in the university’s Justice Studies department, who zig-zagged from the Enlightenment to slavery to the Zoot Suit Riots to the present, the Mercury News reports.

“Everything that came before you sets the stage for everything you’re going to encounter,” Woods said.

Police Chief Eddie Garcia said the class, which he had been planning for about three years, also is meant to reinforce to the officers that they operate in a national police landscape. He believes that the curriculum, or some version of it, should eventually be standardized for police training, saying that even a 27-year law-enforcement veteran like himself did not have a full grasp of how much American and world history informed current police culture.

 

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