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Miami Heat to partner with Miami police department to improve police interactions with Black communities

The program is part of the Heat’s pledge to ‘not sit on the sideline’ in regard to systemic racism in the criminal justice system

The Miami Heat announced a new partnership Thursday with the Miami Police Department and a community police organization that will organize specialized training for officers to improve their interactions with Black and Latino communities in South Florida.

The training will consist of a pilot program for Miami officers administered by Dedication to Community (D2C), a nonprofit law enforcement and community training organization led by M. Quentin Williams, a former law enforcement official and NFL and NBA executive.

Williams, a former FBI agent and assistant U.S. attorney, has taught courses at the FBI training academy for chiefs of police and sheriffs, and also at the local level, including police departments in Charleston, South Carolina, and Jacksonville, Florida. He’s also partnered with professional (Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars) and collegiate (Harvard, Boston College, Georgia) sports programs.

This partnership is a component of the Heat’s pledge in June to “not sit on the sideline” in regard to racial bias and systemic racism in policing and the criminal justice system following the death of George Floyd, a Black man, while in police custody in Minnesota.

On Juneteenth, the Heat held a virtual town hall meeting where players and coaches within the organization spoke about their experiences with racism and police and what needs to be done to improve race relations in America. A month later, the team donated proceeds from the sale of Black Lives Matter-inspired shirts to three South Florida social justice organizations. The organization is still awaiting approval from the Miami-Dade County elections board to make AmericanAirlines Arena a voting site for November’s presidential election.

Michael McCullough, the Heat’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer, hopes the partnership, in which the team will provide financial resources, will change how Miami police interact with Black and Latino communities and identify their implicit biases about Black and Latino people.

“We have leadership [in the Miami Police Department] that is here willing to admit there is room for improvement in this area for them,” McCullough said. “They are raising their hand and they’re saying, ‘We are willing to acknowledge that we need to improve and we’re willing to take the steps to improve.’ ”

Police chief Jorge Colina, whose department has been dogged by accusations of racist remarks by officers and whose Black officers have complained about racism within the ranks, said the training will allow his officers to build on the relationships they’ve already established in South Florida and add much-needed transparency to the police profession.

Colina points to Miami’s history of race and policing — notably the beating death of Arthur McDuffie, a 33-year-old Black man, at the hands of four Miami police officers — as a reason to reassure the community about any concerns about the culture of his department.

“[The training] is another opportunity for growth and for understanding, and it’s another opportunity to communicate with the community we serve,” Colina said. “You can’t do enough reinforcing — we’re just people. We’re flawed.”

The training, according to a manual produced by D2C, seeks to “expose an audience of law enforcement officers to an expanded, comprehensive and creative methodology for serving communities.” The multiday course, which will begin Sept. 9, emphasizes community building among police and community leaders, reconciling past wrongs and improving the cultural understanding of the Black and Latino people the officers serve.

The methodology includes stressing anecdotal examples of negative police interactions and what can be learned by both the police and community members. For community members, the organization emphasizes personal stories of civilians failing to properly engage with officers. For police, the stories include examples of officers’ implicit or explicit racial biases against Black people. Williams has his own example of being an FBI agent in the early 1990s and being stopped and detained by Rhode Island police officers who did not believe he was a federal officer.

D2C presents itself as catering to both police and community members, with the end goal of connectivity, togetherness, harmony and reconciliation.

“We aim to open hearts while educating minds,” Williams said.

D2C provides guidance for police reform policy initiatives, including body cameras, de-escalation tactics and implicit biases, all of which are said to lead to better interactions between police and civilians. That being said, Black and brown communities have more than a century’s worth of experience with police violence and have heard countless times that training would be the remedy for such misconduct.

Which begs the question: Why should these groups trust that D2C’s training will change anything?

Williams said he’s witnessed “large-scale” cultural shifts at various agencies in the wake of his training. To fix long-held systemic issues in police departments, he emphasizes leaders calling out misconduct. There can be no “blue wall of silence” where officers turn a blind eye to their colleagues’ misdeeds. Transparency, whether through body cameras or expedited investigations of police complaints, is what builds trust within the community.

McCullough added: “What’s going to be different? I can’t guarantee, after these officers go through this training, that there’s never going to be another incident that is fueled by race and engagement between the police and community.

“What we’re trying to do is … provide an avenue where police officers in the Miami Police Department can be trained to recognize and acknowledge the biases that they have and the responsibility to learn from those biases and overcome them so in their dealings with the community they don’t fall into those habits that have existed before and currently exist.”

The success of police agencies, such as Miami’s, comes down to the adequate selection of officers, proper training and accountability-based discipline, Williams said.

“We want law enforcement officers to have an idea of how to serve better, not how to police better.”

Martenzie Johnson is a senior writer for Andscape. His favorite cinematic moment is when Django said, "Y'all want to see somethin?"