Blake Wood
Publish Date

The University of Illinois Springfield Alliance for Experiential Problem-Based Learning has been awarded a $699,190 federal grant to develop tolerance, diversity and anti-bias training for law enforcement. The funding was awarded by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) with support from U.S. Senator Dick Durbin.

“This investment will help law enforcement better understand and empathize with individuals from diverse backgrounds, identify and address biases, and navigate traumatic experiences, ultimately enhancing their ability to serve their communities,” Durbin said. “I’ve been an advocate for the University of Illinois Springfield’s efforts to strengthen police and community relations, and I look forward to witnessing the positive impact this funding and training will have across the region.”

The Alliance will develop instructor-led training and scenario-based tabletop exercises intended to improve officers’ decision-making, reduce unfavorable police encounters among underrepresented populations and strengthen police and community relations.

“This training will reinforce officers’ existing knowledge of cultural differences within their communities and emphasize the importance of accepting and empathizing with citizens from various backgrounds,” said Betsy Goulet, director of the UIS Alliance for Experiential Problem-Based Learning. “Participants will learn to identify bias, how our experiences shape our individual biases and how bias can influence our decision-making processes.”

Participating officers will receive instruction on Problem-Based Learning (PBL) and then apply the PBL cycle to multiple simulation-based scenarios to demonstrate how PBL can limit the impact of bias on assessments, decisions and actions. Additionally, the proposed program will be implemented with a trauma-informed lens. Participants will learn about trauma, how it impacts each person differently and how traumatic experiences can influence decisions and actions.

“The Alliance anticipates that officers participating in this training will be better equipped to interact with a broader scope of populations within our increasingly diverse communities,” Goulet said.

The eight-hour instructor-led training will emphasize how personal experiences can shape officer’s attitudes, beliefs, biases and tolerance for others.

“The training will stress the necessity of individual and community resilience in our law enforcement population due to the stressful nature of the career,” said Josh Friedman, a law enforcement specialist for the UIS Alliance for Experiential Problem-Based Learning and veteran police officer. “Police work is ultimately a caring profession where most officers will note they joined the profession to help others.”

Once the program pilot design is complete, the Alliance hopes to train 1,500 officers from central Illinois at UIS as early as October 2024. Feedback from the officers in the pilot program will be used to complete the final training product by the end of 2025. The Alliance will then train contractual subject matter experts to teach the course at 60 training sites nationwide.

Locally, the Alliance plans to work with several community partners including, the Community Health Roundtable, the Illinois Chiefs of Police, the Faith Coalition for the Common Good, the Illinois Innocence Project and the Springfield chapter of the NAACP, in developing the training.

About the UIS Alliance for Experiential Problem-Based Learning:

The University of Illinois Springfield Alliance for Experiential Problem-Based Learning brings together academic programs and community professionals to develop simulation training around challenging social justice issues. These simulations include the use of problem-based learning, a framework for critical decision-making in child well-being, law enforcement, healthcare and teacher education.

About the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office):

The COPS Office is the federal component of the Department of Justice responsible for advancing community policing nationwide. The only Department of Justice agency with policing in its name, the COPS Office was established in 1994 and has been the cornerstone of the nation’s crime-fighting strategy with grants, a variety of knowledge resource products and training and technical assistance.