The University of New Haven’s Center for Advanced Policing, led by retired New Haven Police Department lieutenant Lisa Dadio, M.S., M.S.W., is at the forefront of offering programs that bring police officers close together, while building relationships between departments and the communities they serve.
October 20, 2021
It was one of the very first exercises in a new training program for members of the New Haven Police Department.
The command staff – the former chief, lieutenants and sergeants – were asked to fill in the blanks of the statement “I am _______ but I am not _________.”
“I remember vividly what I said, says Sergeant Shayna Kendall, the department’s Deputy Commander of Training, of the session presented by the University of New Haven’s Center for Advanced Policing. "'I am a strong, intelligent black woman but I am not angry.' That came from such a deep place when I said it, I didn’t even know the effect that it had on me.” She says that being confident and using her voice to speak out has often been interpreted as anger.
“It was liberating to speak the truth of what it is you feel,” she says, just as, she says, it was freeing to hear what her colleagues shared about who they are and often what they are presumed to be.
“We lose sight of each other, and every one of us is having a struggle or trying to overcome something. We talk about job, community; we talk about the next call. Rarely do we say 'tell me about you.'”
Sergeant Kendall recalls another member of the department saying, "I am a police officer, but I am a black man first," she says. “He started talking about how everything is seemingly good when he dons his uniform, but when he is outside his uniform, when he’s in gym clothes or a hooded sweatshirt, and he goes to certain towns, he’s reminded of just who he is.”
“You could almost feel his words vibrating in the room,” Kendall says.
‘We all have biases without realizing they’re biases’
Bridging gaps that exist among police department members and between the police department and the communities they serve is at the heart of the training program developed by David Schroeder, Ph.D., Acting Dean of the Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences, for the University’s Center for Advanced Policing. The Center works with law enforcement agencies across the state and the country helping to identify and provide guidance on new and better practices in policing.
“As a forward-thinking police department we’re always looking for ways in which we can have better relationships with our community, whether it’s officers from the city themselves holding community events or putting boots on the ground and having conversations with people, conversations that we need to have to promote the change we are consistently trying to cultivate in the department itself,” Sergeant Kendall says.
This training program homes in on “the ways you treat a person because of their traits, behaviors and values, and how we all have biases without realizing they’re biases,” says Lisa Dadio, M.S., M.S.W., director of the Center for Advanced Policing and a senior lecturer in the Forensic Science Department of the Lee College, who spent 16 years in the New Haven PD detective division, rising to the rank of lieutenant.
“Whether it’s the way a person dresses or an accent they have or the neighborhood they grew in we may automatically make assumptions. It’s about being aware of those assumptions and how they may impact how you interact with a community member and vice versa.”
‘You can forever change how a person feels about law enforcement’
Acting New Haven Police Chief Renee Dominguez ’01, ’20 M.S. said the training provided an important space for department members to talk frankly.
“Many times we don’t discuss, unpack, and have difficult conversations about biases,” she says. “These conversations allow for growth and self-reflection, both of which allow for better police-community relationships, but also better relationships within the police department.”
In the training, participants work on active listening and communication skills, thinking a lot about word choice and the weight even seemingly simple words can have, Dadio says. “Saying 'you' people instead of 'people’ changes a sentence” and can change the tone and dynamic of a conversation. When officers go out on a call, something bad has happened. It could be a car accident, or a house was broken into, or something worse. By showing compassion, by listening and showing respect, you can forever change how a person feels about law enforcement.”
‘A way to bring the gap with the community’
The training came about in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd when former New Haven Police Chief Otoniel Reyes ’14 MPA reached out to the Center to discuss a training program to build a better relationship between the department and the New Haven community, Dadio says.
The training gave officers time to have uninhibited conversations, explains Sergeant Kendall. “Not only is this a way to bridge the gap with the community, but it’s also a way for our colleagues to see 'Wow, this is my brother or sister in blue, and I didn’t know this affected them in the way that had,'" Kendall says. “Derek Chauvin (the police officer convicted in the death of George Floyd) left a stain on the police, and what he did left a stain on my life. I got to talk about how important that is to me as a black woman in law enforcement.”
Dadio, Dominguez and Kendall say the training was well received by the command staff and recruits, but they said that some field training officers, who work the streets training new officers, wanted the training to reflect more of what they “have to deal with on a day to day basis, how that affects them, and how they can navigate those feelings as they work with the community,” Kendall says.
‘I want you to hear me and to help me’
An updated and expanded training program will be offered to additional New Haven police officers in 2022, and the program will be replicated in other cities and towns in Connecticut.
Since taking over as director of the Center for Advanced Policing a year ago, Dadio has developed an array of training programs tailored to the needs of different law enforcement agencies.
In 2022, the Center will hold a week-long regional detective training with state’s attorneys, forensic lab staff, and other experts in the field “to update detectives on processes and how to make the process better,” Dadio explains. “My goal is to improve law enforcement one training program at a time.”
Sergeant Kendall says when officers go out on calls, they have to continually find ways to make connections in a fast-paced, highly complex and demanding job.
“People want to be heard and want to know you care,” she says. “It’s part of procedural justice. 'I’m having this issue, and I don’t want you to come and just handle it. I want you to hear me and to help me.' We can only do that when we self-reflect and correct things that prevent us from making those connections with people. I think the training program did a really good job of helping us do that.”