Jewish Journal

Teaching Cops Tolerance

The ADL and the Wiesenthal Center share a tough turf

by David Evanier

Posted on Dec. 14, 2000 at 7:00 pm

There's enough work to go around for everyone in teaching tolerance and diversity to law enforcement in California, according to the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

The ADL's A World of Difference program, which targets law enforcement personnel, among others, has existed for 15 years. When the Simon Wiesenthal Center announced plans to construct an $8.7 million center for its 5-year-old diversity training program, Tools for Tolerance, for law enforcement personnel in Manhattan, the New York-based newspaper The Forward wrote that the center's plans to expand eastward raised the eyebrows of the leadership of the ADL. The newspaper suggested that the two groups were adept at teaching tolerance but not that skilled at practicing it toward each other.

Leaders of the two groups spoke to the Journal, and each group in Los Angeles -- at least for the record -- praises the other's work and denies anything but a friendly rivalry in service of a good cause.

"We've been doing law enforcement training in California for over 15 years," David Lehrer, L.A.-based regional director of the ADL, told the Journal. "We feel our work has had an impact on thousands of law enforcement officers. There is much work still to be done, and all efforts in this area are welcome."

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, echoed Lehrer's sentiments. "We don't see this as a turf issue," he said. "The Tools for Tolerance program here reaches thousands of people. We've been able to harness technology in the service of human rights, and we've shown we have something to contribute to the mix. We have a great deal of respect for others who do the same."

Cooper stressed the reality-based component of the center's work and the need to transcend petty organizational rivalries. "When you take a cop off the beat, there better be a good reason for it," he said. "That time better be well spent. I remember at one law enforcement training session, someone's beeper went off. And six police officers who were visitors that day flew out of the room because one of their partners had been shot.

"Look, politics and turf battles are always going to be around," Cooper continued. "But this stuff is way too serious to be played out that way. This is not one minus one. For us the ADL is another shoulder to the wheel. And I haven't met anybody from the Big Apple who has told us, 'We don't need any more help.' " The two groups have similar objectives but differ in their formats, strategies and techniques of training. The ADL has conducted more than a hundred law enforcement group training sessions in California during the past few years. Anti-bias and diversity training sessions are conducted by ADL attorney Tamara Galatzan or Sue Stengel, with a focus on hate crimes, extremist groups and individuals, and hate on the Internet. Each curriculum is geared to the specific needs of the law enforcement department.

Galatzan praises the commitment of law enforcement agencies here and says that Los Angeles is on the cutting edge of both hate crime prevention and response.

"Both the LAPD and the L.A. County Sheriff's Department are doing great things in this arena," she said. "They seek us out. They get community groups involved and reach out to them before something terrible happens. And both agencies sit on local hate crime task forces. They work very closely with prosecutors to make sure the strongest case possible is filed against perpetrators of hate. It's a real collaboration between community groups and community members, law enforcement and other government agencies. "

The ADL official notes that some of the most effective moments in sessions come in the interaction between officers, when individuals feel freer to communicate their own feelings and experiences.

"Police officers will talk about a hate crime victim they remember, how it's haunted them," Galatzan said. "When law enforcement folks hear that from other colleagues, it's very powerful, because it personalizes it."

Galatzan recalled a statewide training session of law enforcement officers when she played an ADL video called "Crimes of Hate." In the middle of the video, which showed the perpetrator of a gay bashing, she recalled, a police officer jumped up and said, "That was my collar! I arrested that guy!" The officer remembered every detail of the incident, which had occurred ten years before. "He recalled everything: the impact on the victim and the community response," Galatzan said, "and he shared that with the other police officers in the room."

Galatzan stresses that these sessions need to go beyond PC platitudes and niceties and provide solid information in order to make a real impact on law enforcement officers.

"No one wants to hold hands and sing 'Kumbaya,' you know?" she said. "They deal with some of the most horrible events on a daily basis. They want real tools that will help them do their jobs and catch the bad guys. Touchy-feely programs that talk about love, they don't want to hear that. Our training delivers the real stuff."

The ADL, she points out, customizes its sessions to the needs of each group. "In a lot of rural communities, they have the militia groups, the anti-tax groups, the anti-government types. For those from northern California, we talk about extremist groups that are active there. We pull Web site examples and meeting notices of groups active in communities where those officers patrol."

Liebe Geft, director of the Museum of Tolerance and all its educational programs, stresses the importance of utilizing the museum to address the issues of bigotry and racism.

The Wiesenthal Center training program, Tools for Tolerance, is concentrated in an eight-hour, all-day training session which includes a tour of the museum and a 90-minute interactive workshop led by both a civilian facilitator and a law enforcement official. The program has trained more than 34,000 law enforcement officers on the West Coast. At present, 7,000 police professionals go through the program each year.

Geft notes that the museum itself is the program's most powerful teaching tool. "The program reiterates over and over again the power of words, the issues of personal responsibility and individual choice," she says. "These themes are inherent in all of the interactive exhibits of the museum, whether local issues in the 'point of view diner,' global issues in the new millennial machine, civil rights, other genocides in our own time, or most importantly, the Holocaust, which serves as the critical case study for all these types of issues."

The police officers then engage in discussion of these subjects and hear personal testimony, often from a Holocaust survivor, to personalize the perspective of the victim. Also providing testimony is E.J. Leyden, a former Nazi skinhead who works in the program.

Joe Levy, a lieutenant with the Long Beach Police Department, has been associated with the program for five years and has served as a facilitator most of that time.

"In order for diversity training to be effective," he says, "it has to be hands-on and experiential. You don't bring somebody in and lecture to them, a talking-head type thing. The whole day is structured to facilitate discussion."

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