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Building bridges with police

The workshop aims to bring police and the people they serve closer.

There were some tense moments at St Philip's College Monday afternoon as police and neighbors squared off for what they hope will be life-saving training. The name of the program is “Walk A Mile In My Shoes.”

Organizer Troy Smith is a retired San Antonio Police officer, still serving the community by trying to build relationships between police and the public they serve.

During three days of often intense interactions, both sides have a chance to participate in role reversal training, which Smith said is an eye-opening experience for both groups. Smith said he hopes the seminars in the classroom will help save lives on our streets.

Smith said, "When you're wearing the other hat and you get treated a certain way, your reaction is going to be different."

“We don't hold any bars. We allow people to speak freely and that way they can vent and actually say what they feel. That way, the police officers can hear what the community is thinking and the community can hear what the police officer is thinking,” Smith said, adding the free exchange of ideas is vital to the project’s success.

Several said they came so their voices would be heard and so they do not have to live in fear of police.

Participant Jeremy Heath is a college student and he said he came because he is curious about law enforcement training.

Heath said, “What I've learned that has really interested me is that training is different in different police departments and so while I'm kind of encouraged about some of the things I've heard about San Antonio's police department, when I hear about national events, that's kind of discouraging and it makes me wonder what's going on with training in other departments.”

Heath said he was happy to work on solutions to such a serious issue.

“Part of what I can do is create a dialogue that shows a humanity between both police officers and citizens,” Heath said.

Terrick Bailey is also a college student, who says he is a member of the NAACP and the new age Black Panthers.

“I've been to open dialogue debates between police officers and civilians before and what I originally expected was exactly what is going on, we're hearing the point of view of the police officers,” Bailey said.

While Bailey said the training was useful, he said he would like to see more involvement from people in leadership positions.

“I think it would be more helpful if the people who run these organizations were here, instead of the lower people, because they should be present and should have to answer to the rules they have put in force,” Bailey said.

Smith said in addition to classroom training, his group also sponsors other events that help foster a spirit of community, like bowling outings where officers have a chance to interact with citizens in a friendly environment.

Here is a link with the group's other outreach activities, all aimed at building a safer community.

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