Training Academy Adapts Trooper Recruit School Training to Include Cultural Awareness and Diverse Speaker Series

Recruits sitting in class at the Training Academy

June 16, 2021

Understanding and respecting each other is as crucial now as it has ever been. For law enforcement, it is a career requirement. 

To properly prepare future Michigan State Police (MSP) troopers to work in today's multicultural and diverse world, Cultural Awareness and Diversity training has been added to a curriculum that already included blocks of instruction on Ethics in Policing, Managing Mental Health Crisis and Patrol Response, and Interpersonal Skills, among many other topics. 

"This was an intentional addition to our training because we see the value in making sure our prospective troopers understand and have exposure to various cultures," said. Capt. James Grady, commander of the MSP Training Division. "We pay very close attention to what our communities say they need from us. Policing as a profession has changed and we are adapting to better prepare the next generation of troopers."

The 138th Trooper Recruit School, which graduated in March 2021, was the first class to experience the added Cultural Awareness and Diversity classes, which in total include roughly 16 hours of instruction, but perhaps more importantly, are structured to include candid and honest conversations.

Speakers were chosen to mirror the racial, religious and cultural backgrounds that make up the communities in Michigan including individuals who are Black, Jewish, Native American, LGBTQ+, Indian/Hindu, Hispanic, Arab/Muslim and Asian and Pacific Islander.

"When I'm talking about my Hispanic and Latinx cultures, I start with an overview, especially within the Midwest region," said Cecilia Olivera, a Native American and Mexican American woman raised in Saginaw who spoke with recruits recently. "I want to encourage those participating to reflect on personal experiences and create an environment where questions can be answered. We covered police relations, immigration and racial disparities, as well as the impact of poverty with hopes of debunking some of the biases and misconceptions of rural and urban communities."

For Tpr. Vincent Coakley, a member of the 138th Trooper Recruit School now assigned to the Lansing Post, learning basic nuances of a variety of cultures has been beneficial.

"It allows me to think about potential conversation ice breakers and common phrases in different languages," Trooper Coakley said. "How can I get someone to be more at ease with me? How can I be respectful to their culture? In some situations, a joke or even very direct eye contact may not be appropriate." 

As a Black man, Trooper Coakley is aware he has the potential to make a positive impact with other Black men in the community.  

"I had a traffic stop and one of the men was so scared he was shaking," said Trooper Coakley. "Once we spoke and he calmed down, he told me he would have been less worked up if he'd realized initially that I'm Black. He saw there was someone who looked like him, and it made a difference." 

The recruits of the 139th Trooper Recruit School are in the 15th week of 24 weeks of training. They will graduate and become troopers on Aug. 20, 2021.

The Training Division has plans to expand its speaker series to include more religions, as well as sexual orientation and gender-related topics.

"Every human deserves respect and understanding, and it starts with awareness and a desire to learn more about others," said Grady.