Nashville's Police Department Makes Diversifying A Priority
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
In many police departments around the country, the majority of officers are white. In Nashville, they've been trying to change that, especially after a high-profile killing of a black driver by a white police officer back in February. As part of that effort, 45 black teenage boys got a behind-the-scenes look at the training academy this summer. Amy Eskind of member station WPLN in Nashville reports.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Over loudspeaker) It's the Metro Police. Can you hear it?
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Yeah.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Over loudspeaker) This is the Metro Police Department.
AMY ESKIND, BYLINE: A group of boys jogs backward from the police SWAT truck.
UNIDENTIFIED BOY #1: Whoa. That's loud.
UNIDENTIFIED BOY #2: Why is that so loud?
ESKIND: The teens stick their heads out of the turret, and the questions fly at Sergeant Ryan Lockwood.
UNIDENTIFIED BOY #3: What's the worst experience with SWAT?
RYAN LOCKWOOD: So basically the worst thing that we have to see is just what other people will do to each other. Does that make sense?
ESKIND: He wants these students to know policing is not a game. Bringing them here to the police academy was Lieutenant Dwayne Greene’s idea. He's a cop and a member of 100 Black Men, a nonprofit dedicated to help black boys succeed. Greene says black youth commit a disproportionate share of teen crime, and he'd rather spark ambitions in law enforcement.
DWAYNE GREENE: Many times, people fear what they don't understand. We have bad press, bad media or incidents that occur that may just end up being bad incidents. It puts a stigma on the profession of police. And it's unfortunate that it's happened, but we have to take a stance and say, we need you. We want you.
ESKIND: The police chief even sat down with the boys for a closed-door Q&A session. Building rapport is crucial, Greene says, and the officers seemed to enjoy showing the teenagers around the training academy. Officer Rodney Clark demonstrates crowd control from high up on the saddle of his horse, Bear.
RODNEY CLARK: As you can see, this is a large animal. If he starts walking towards you, you're going to move, right?
ESKIND: The boys check out the police helicopter and watch canine tricks, including a successful hunt for a hidden fugitive.
UNIDENTIFIED BOY #4: I'm going to train my dog like that.
ESKIND: Next, they role-play as cops. They pack pistols loaded with blanks and take turns pulling over a speeding SUV. Mock drivers shout at them and pull guns or look like they're going to. As Jace Locke, a high school senior, approaches a car, someone runs off. Locke draws his weapon.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUN SHOTS, WHISTLE)
ESKIND: Captain Keith Stephens, the police training instructor, calls the students over.
KEITH STEPHENS: Do you feel like you could sit on the stand and raise your right hand to say that you had to do that to protect the life of yourself, your partner, Frank, or the citizens of Nashville?
JACE LOCKE: They disobeyed my order.
STEPHENS: You cannot shoot just because they run. You can't shoot them in the leg. You can't shoot at all. So let's do that one again, how you say?
ESKIND: The boys learn the perspective of the police, and it's different to the views they had just a few minutes before. By the end of the day, Locke is convinced the police are the good guys.
JACE: They're here to protect us. The majority of them actually do care for us.
ESKIND: Police work isn't for everyone, but encouragement ruled the day - for the boy who said he can't ride a horse because he's black, for the teen who wondered how hard it is to fly a helicopter, for the student who didn't know there's no tuition bill for the training academy - they pay you. With minorities representing just 1 in 5 trainees this year, Nashville Police hope to break tensions and inspire more non-whites to join the blue. For NPR News, I'm Amy Eskind.
(SOUNDBITE OF NOMAK'S "RISE UP") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.