Police & University Team Up to Build Public Trust

How Cleveland State University, working with police, brings together stake-holders for positive growth

By Kyle Znamenak & Lt. Mike Hutson  |   Sep 12, 2016
Photo Courtesy St. Louis Police Foundation

There is a growing tension in many part of the the country between many communities and the police departments that serve them. According to a recent Gallup poll, only 25% of Americans say they have a great deal of confidence in police officers. There is even less confidence in the police among African Americans. A Pew Research poll measuring the confidence in local police treating White Americans and African Americans equally, only 36% African Americans expressed confidence in police versus 71% of White Americans.

Police officers have, in the past, attended mandatory “sensitivity training” to improve their interactions with the public. These trainings too often ignore officer experiences and use outdated training methods while reinforcing community stereotypes such as the “us-vs.-them” perception. Sensitivity training is a failed practice. It’s time for a change.

University Steps In 

Universities becoming more engaged with their surrounding communities is one positive we’ve seen in recent years. It’s widely acknowledged that public universities undertake transformational projects that contribute to the public good, conduct research that creates new knowledge, bring people together and undertake public service programs that benefit our communities and neighborhoods. Colleges and universities can easily and naturally take on this role by directly engaging community partners collaboratively and objectively.

Cleveland State University, Cleveland’s public, four-year institution, has embraced this facilitator role and developed a training program titled, “Building Mutual Respect and Community Trust.” This program was designed for law enforcement officers with the goal of improving relationships between the police and the communities they serve.

The program was developed by a diverse team of professionals from Cleveland State in collaboration with local law enforcement from the greater Cleveland community. While in the pilot stage, the program was presented to community leaders and organizations including the LGBT Center of Cleveland, OpenNEO (an organization that advocates for open data), the Urban League of Cleveland, the local ACLU chapter, the Organization of Chinese Americans-Greater Cleveland Chapter, and an expert on race, class, and social work. Valuable feedback from these organizations was incorporated into the final program.

Creating this training within the Cleveland State University community underscores its foundation in science and research while integrating psychology, adult education, and criminology. Instructors utilize an interactive agenda to help law enforcement officers improve their communications with the people they serve by helping them to gain compliance, calm difficult situations, and keep all parties safe. A theme of the training that is reinforced by the instructors is that each interaction with a citizen is an opportunity to build an ally.

The “Building Mutual Respect and Community Trust” program has proven to be a success as demonstrated by the evaluations collected from over 100 officers from more than 17 Northeast Ohio Police Departments who have participated in the program since January 2016. Ninety-one percent (91%) of the participants believed that “the learning experience was worth the time away from their job” and 86% said they would “recommend the program to other officers.”

One common concern expressed in officer feedback was that the training would be similar to “sensitivity training,” where they would be “bashed” by a critical public. Instead, officers commented that they found this training much more applicable to their jobs than they had anticipated, such that 91% of the participants said they would apply the training to their jobs.

The following comment is representative of many received: “I kind of felt a little apprehensive coming into the class. I just kind of thought that this is going to be one of those—where we, as officers—are going to get attacked again and everything is going to be blamed on the police department. And that was not the case at all. They started talking about police officer and community perceptions … Everything was right on point.”

Cleveland State University reached out to the community and local law enforcement in an effort to move the conversation forward relative to improving mutual respect and trust for both members of the public and police1 officers.


The launch of the “Building Mutual Respect and Community Trust” program at Cleveland State University, with input from law enforcement experts and members of the community, has demonstrated how critical community relationships can be rebuilt. The results are clear: The training is having a positive impact on our local enforcement officers and is enriching their interactions with the many diverse communities they serve.

The Building Mutual Respect and Community Trust program has been certified by the State of Ohio Attorney General’s Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission for Continuing Professional Training credit and program cost is eligible for reimbursement by the State of Ohio. For more information about this Cleveland State University program, contact Mike Hutson at [email protected].