One participating police officer and one Nepalese refugee spoke to Next America about what they learned and whether it made an impact. The interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Seattle Police Detective Carrie McNally
[The program] sounded unique and interesting, and I knew that we would have many female officers engaged and wanting to be part of it. We are always looking for new ways to connect with communities to make sure they trust us, because if they don't call us, we don't know how to help them. We are a safe-haven city for immigrants, and people here speak more than 230 languages.
One issue that comes up is when officers respond to a call and everyone in the community comes outside. The situation gets heated; there are a lot of exchanges going on in several languages. We're trying to figure out what's going on, and it can get volatile.
I was part of the [Institute's] planning committee. So I invited probably 30 to 40 officers from a variety of different assignments. Right away, I filled up the 20 spots. We asked for information about the refugees' countries and the issues happening there. We don't necessarily know world history and why they have come to the United States and why they have legitimate reasons to be afraid of the police. We weren't even sure if the term "refugee" was offensive.
"We weren't even sure if the term "˜refugee' was offensive." —Seattle Police Detective Carrie McNally
In one of the sessions, we learned about customs. Simple things, like taking off your shoes when you are in someone's home, and that many refugees will invite everybody inside to have a meal together. Lots of women have tea just for women and talk just with women. Many of us have children, and we talked about that and how we take care of our homes. So it put us on a similar level. We purposely did not wear our uniforms and did not have our weapons for the first seven sessions because we wanted to build the relationship as we were, just as women. On the last day, we wore our uniforms, to show that we are still the same.
I was teaching the session on domestic violence, and when I was speaking, it became clear that this was an issue for them or someone they knew in their community. Some of them had experienced it, but we respected their privacy. We didn't want them to disclose things that they weren't comfortable disclosing, but we wanted to make sure they understood the laws in the United States. At first they were not clear about that.
One of the most surprising things happened while we were showing them the 911 call center. They said they were afraid to call 911. Some of them had heard that police would come to their homes and take away their children if they called them.
That, for us, was a pivotal moment. We would never have thought that would be an issue. We know better. It caused us to realize that we, as an agency, and we as a group, had not reached these communities at the most basic level. There is so much misinformation often reported by members of their own communities.