In November and December 2011, approximately 140 officers from the Santa Barbara Police Department took part in a five-hour training session to increase their effectiveness in working with LGBT individuals and communities. The impetus for this training was a study conducted by Dr. Tania Israel, from UCSB’s Department of Counseling, Clinical, and School Psychology (CCSP) and Dr. Laury Oaks from UCSB’s Department of Feminist Studies in collaboration with David Selberg, Executive Director of the Pacific Pride Foundation and community members. Selberg approached Chief of Police Cam Sanchez, with the results of this study that identified safety from harassment and violence as the #1 priority for local LGBT communities. Chief Sanchez agreed that this was an important issue and made the training a priority for SBPD staff. Just Communities designed and facilitated the training, in consultation with Israel, Selberg, and SBPD staff members. A grant from the Fund for Santa Barbara provided support for the training.
According to Israel, a review of the literature and media nationwide identified few police departments that have provided training on LGBT issues, and no research on the effectiveness of such trainings could be located. “The remarkable thing about this training was the opportunity to do something proactive rather than waiting to respond to a crisis,” Israel says. “Applying my research skills to help law enforcement be more responsive to the needs of LGBT communities has been extremely rewarding.”
Research conducted by Israel and her graduate students in CCSP preceded the training sessions. A survey measured LGBT community members’ perceptions of and experiences with local law enforcement, as well as feelings of safety. The results reflected largely neutral to positive feeling towards law enforcement, although practices that could be improved were identified, as well. This research informed the design and content of the training to be relevant locally and to inform the attendees about local LGBT perspectives.
In order for law enforcement to do its job of protecting and serving the public, it has to know the public. nd it has to have the trust of the public,” Jarrod Schwartz, Executive Director of Just Communities, reflects. “This series of trainings was an important step in the SBPD’s efforts to truly know the perspectives, experiences, and needs of LGBTQ members of our community and is an essential step in earning their trust.”
“Protecting all of our communities within our great city is paramount,” SBPD Chief of Police, Cam Sanchez says. “Building trust among our various constituents is critical to solving crime and the fear of crime. The training was a great collaborative and set the tone for a long partnership as we all work toward a safe Santa Barbara for everyone.”
Based on a pre- and post-test evaluation of the training, knowledge of LGBT issues and confidence in working with LGBT people increased significantly for the training participants. This is particularly encouraging in light of the anti-gay hate crime that took place in Santa Barbara on New Year’s Eve. According to Selberg: “The investigating officers for the recent hate crime shared with me how relevant the training was with their ongoing investigation.”
The Gevirtz School, the Santa Barbara Police Department, Pacific Pride Foundation, and Just Communities are exploring ways to expand these successful training sessions to other areas in California and beyond.