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Buffalo Police partner with Shea's Performing Arts for unique rookie training program

Posted at 4:48 PM, Sep 01, 2020

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — The Buffalo Police Department is turning to a new, unique training method for their newly graduated recruits: acting classes.

BPD partnered with Shea’s Performing Arts center back in 2018 to begin this body language competency training program for officers.

“I just thought there was a way to use body language with law enforcement to increase connection with communities,” said Thembi Duncan, the Director of Arts Engagement and Education at Shea’s.

“Body language is really over 80% of what we pick up when we communicate with people.”

Police Commissioner Byron Lockwood signed on for the program which is now in its fifth cycle with his newest recruits.

Captain Steve Nichols oversees neighborhood engagement.

This is a service industry. We are here to serve people, that’s what we do,” he said to recruits before the training began.

He said he needs to make sure the City’s newest men and women in blue understood their role once they hit the streets.

“When you walk in with your uniform people are going to look at you a lot different than when you walk in with jeans and a t-shirt on,” he said. “People are going to be a little on edge, they don’t know what to expect. Maybe you don’t either.”

Learning to adjust the body language of anyone who is “on-edge” is what Duncan is hoping to accomplish.

“There needs to be cultural competency in body language,” she said. “You have to be aware, for a lot of people maybe they seem animated, maybe they seem hostile, but they’re just excited. If you don’t understand those things and if you’re not tapped into culture in that way — you might misread someone’s body language as ‘Oh, they’re coming at me’, when really it’s just a heightened emotional state.”

Even the newest rookies, like officer Niko Davis, said they understand the importance of learning these skills early.

“I think that one, communication is absolutely essential. If you can communicate with people, specifically people who are in distress you have your job right in the palm of your hands,” Davis said during the training exercises.

“You can say a lot prior to speaking. Your life will say a lot. Your interactions will say a lot before you open your mouth and say a single word,” he added.

Captain Nichols said the Department is working to add tools to officers tool-belt before they hit the streets because it’s easier to instill this training before they begin the job than have to retain later.

“If you talk to anybody in this world, everybody’s got a story about how they’ve been done wrong by a police officer. Everybody,” he told his officers. “And they will carry that with them for the rest of their life. Keep that in mind when you’re doing your job.”

The training involved a series of exercises that took officers through non-verbal communication tactics to help understand a person’s mood, energy, and how to best react.

“We’re going to teach them how to control their body language and take control of the situation in a way that can often de-escalate and prevent violence,” said workshop director Thembi Duncan.

“Nine times out of ten, if you call the police it’s your worst day ever,” said Officer Joseph Stojek. “If you’re showing that person that you’re relaxed and you’re approachable, I think it’s going to be easier for somebody from the community to approach you.”

Academy graduates will continue training for the next 12 weeks with a field training officer before receiving their assignments.