Friday, April 20, 2012

Rehoboth Beach: Seasonal Police Get Sensitivity Training

This is from the front page of one of our local weekly papers. I'm really proud of what our community has done over the past 2 decades and happy to know that today it appears to be news-worthy. Steve (image at left) is a friend as well as the executive director of CAMP Rehoboth.
From the April 18, 2012 edition of the Delaware Coast Press:
REHOBOTH BEACH -- May 16, 1993. Five males -- three juveniles and two adults, Miles Cuffee and Fernando Harris -- approached three gay males after midnight on the Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk and beat them with champagne bottles and an aluminum baseball bat.
One of the victims suffered brain damage, the other two were hospitalized with lacerations.
The incident spurred then-Police Chief Creig Doyle to put his foot down. He teamed with the recently founded CAMP Rehoboth, a gay and lesbian community center, to start a training program with summer police officers on how to appropriately handle minorities in the city.
Fast forward to last Saturday, when CAMP Rehoboth's executive director, Steve Elkins, conducted his 20th training seminar for the seasonal officers. The sessions have changed over the years, but the message remains the same.
"It's just to talk to them to remind them that the gay and lesbian community is the largest minority community that they will encounter in Rehoboth," Elkins said. "We're not looking for special treatment. It's reminding them of non-discrimination laws in Delaware. It's not illegal for two men or two women to hold hands walking down the boardwalk."
This year, 23 officers took the training, according to Police Chief Keith Banks, which is a crucial component to maintaining peace and safety in the city.
"What makes Rehoboth so great is we have a very diverse community," he said. "We hire seasonal officers from all over the Eastern Shore and Pennsylvania, and they may not come from an area that has as much diversity. We want to make sure they understand how important it is to us."
Donald Hickman, a 21-year-old student at the University of Delaware who hails from Georgetown, will start his second year as a summer officer, and so he's been through the training twice. He said it's helped him be more comfortable handling life in Rehoboth on the force.
"It's useful," Hickman said. "Being from Georgetown, people say things about Rehoboth. Not a whole lot of people have a lot of experience with the Rehoboth community. (The training) just increases our comfort, it informs us to be better prepared for situations we could see."
Every year, Elkins asks participants to raise their hands if they know someone who is gay. At first, Banks said, only a few would raise their hands. Now, it's rare if someone doesn't.
Elkins said he can still tell occasionally if "someone doesn't want to be there," but he said frequently when a participant makes an anti-gay comment, or something along those lines, another participant will step in and defend the gay community.
"When we first started CAMP Rehoboth, there was a lot of police harassment," Elkins said. "The relationship has changed 180 degrees. As we developed CAMP Rehoboth we wanted to make sure that we listened to other people's concerns as well."
A substantial portion of the police's job is educating the public, Banks said, which includes explaining the difference between a hate crime and each citizen's First Amendment rights. The issues are complex and emotional, so an educated police force can go a long way to settling disputes.
While there are occasional flare-ups from these young guys who feel that the uniform and badge are cool and give them license to be a little nasty, for the most part they are all pretty cool. My hat is off for Steve, Chief Doyle, Chief Banks, and the City of Rehoboth for continuing this program. We should all be proud of the results. This helps make Rehoboth Beach the unique town that it is.

And so it goes.
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