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Nationally Recognized Expert on Police-Community Relations Passionate about Making a Difference
Lorenzo Boyd is creating a new model for professional development and training for police departments as the director of the University of New Haven's Center for Advanced Policing.
November 5, 2019
By Jackie Hennessey, contributing writer
There's a story about race and policing that Lorenzo M. Boyd, Ph.D., director of the University of New Haven's Center for Advanced Policing, always shares with his students and the police leaders and officers he trains. It is about a day when he was working in a county jail as a Suffolk, Mass., county sheriff.
"I was looking around and noticed that everyone in the cell block was pretty much from my neighborhood," he recalls. "I knew some of them; I knew their family members.
"And it dawned on me that I was trying to be part of the solution," he continues. "But if my job is simply locking people up, then I'm not part of solution. I'm perpetuating the problem."
He left work that day "with lots of questions I needed answered" about the social issues around criminal justice, about race and crime, and procedural justice. He decided to pursue his master's degree in applied sociology and delved further into his questions through a Ph.D. program in sociology at Northeastern University.
"I came to see that in the criminal justice system, we wait for people to violate crimes and then we ‘bring them to justice,'" he says. "What if we could identify the things in communities that make people likely to commit crimes and deal with those issues? Crime is symptomatic of bigger problems in society. If we deal with the underlying issues, the policing becomes a lot easier."
Dr. Boyd soon had the chance to do just that. When he was an associate professor and graduate coordinator of criminal justice at Fayetteville State University, the Fayetteville, N.C., police chief asked him to create a community-policing program.
After observing the community, Dr. Boyd saw high rates of unemployment and drug abuse, a transient population, and a community that distrusted its police department and had long complained about racial profiling.
"I told him we needed to make the community well first," Dr. Boyd says.
He began working with city agencies and together they initiated neighborhood improvements and held community-police forums where residents and police officers shared their stories.
"That's where the empathy started," he says. "The officers said I didn't know we had families in our city who were going for days without eating, and that's why they are on edge,'" he says.
"Crime is symptomatic of bigger problems in society. If we deal with the underlying issues, the policing becomes a lot easier."Lorenzo M. Boyd, Ph.D.
Community members in turn said they had new insights into the realities of police work. "It's easy to say ‘I hate the police.' It's a lot harder to say ‘I hate Officer Lorenzo,'" he says. "Things changed when the community members and the police got to know each other."
"Positive police-community relations are essential and at the very core of resolving much of the discord that our country is now – and has been for some time – experiencing," Dr. Gaboury says. "Police are the most obvious face of our government in the community, and there is a seismic shift occurring as policing continues to evolve."
Dr. Gaboury says the Center will become a national model, "bringing the best experts in the field together with concerned citizens and decision makers to foster changes to improve public safety for all and bringing police and the communities they serve together as mutually respected and mutually supportive partners."
He says Dr. Boyd is just the person to lead the Center.
"Dr. Boyd brings a remarkable wealth of experience and knowledge," Dr. Gaboury says. "He has been a police officer and an academic in several excellent criminal justice programs, and he is also the go-to expert for numerous cities across the country that wish to improve their police-community relationships."
A former president of the Academy of Criminal Justice Science and a lifetime member of the National Organization for Black Law Enforcement Executives, Dr. Boyd has appeared on local, regional, and national media outlets to discuss policing in the aftermath of high-profile cases, including shootings in Baton Rouge, Dallas, and Ferguson, Missouri.
"Positive police-community relations are essential and at the very core of resolving much of the discord that our country is now – and has been for some time – experiencing."Mario Gaboury, J.D., Ph.D.
Within week of starting his new position, Dr. Boyd reached out to police leaders throughout the region and beyond. He is shaping a program whose central focus is building empathy and cultural competence into all aspects of police professional development and training.
"Whenever I go into agencies, they consistently tell me their policies have been deemed non-biased, yet there is a still a disconnect between policing and communities of color," Dr. Boyd says. "So maybe it's not about policies but about how people do their jobs. If we can build levels of empathy, cultural competence, and an understanding of why people are the way they are, this will cut away from the us-versus-them mentality."
Dr. Boyd says he had long known about the Henry C. Lee College's stellar reputation, but it was what he experienced during his interview, talking with Dr. Gaboury, Dr. DeCarlo, faculty members, and students, that cemented his decision to join the University.
"I saw how passionate everyone is about what they do and about wanting to make a difference in the community," Dr. Boyd says. "So when I moved here, it already felt like home."