With the law enforcement profession constantly changing and evolving, it’s important that new recruits stay current while reflecting on those that came before them. “We provide a vital service to our community; and as community members, we must remember that we rely on lessons from our history to help us create a better future,” said Capt. Colin Rooney, who oversees the training academies.
This past summer, the Henrico County Police Division sent two Basic Police Academies to Washington for the first time to help the recruits learn more about diversity and bring that knowledge to their careers as police officers.
In June, the 78th Basic Police Academy toured the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Since 2017, the museum has offered a curated tour to law enforcement agencies to “provide officers with insight into the African American experience in an effort to improve interactions between residents and officers.”
The “exhibitions include honest stories of the role policing has played in some of the injustices in history and may help officers to confront ugly moments in the history of policing,” says the Smithsonian Institution website on the program.
Dr. Sharita Jacobs Thompson and Dr. Bernard Demczuk, professors and scholars of African American history, guided the recruits and academy staff through hundreds of years of African American history from the slave trade through the Civil Rights era.
The experience was an eye-opening one.
“It’s an interesting perspective to the issues we still deal with today,” said a recruit. “It’s something we’ve been dealing with for a long time.”
The museum, which opened in 2016 as part of the Smithsonian, has more than 3,000 objects on display with roughly 40,000 artifacts in storage.
While the tour lasted roughly five hours, visitors could spend days reflecting on the exhibits. In 2022, the museum saw 1.2 million visitors, with more projected this year.
“I was amazed by the size of it,” another recruit said. “It’s really eye-opening, and I wish we had more time to go through it.”
The 78th Basic Police Academy graduated Oct. 26. Members are now in field training as police officers.
In August, the 79th Basic Police Academy visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for a tour and discussion of the role of police in Nazi Germany.
“With unique power and authenticity, the Museum teaches millions of people each year about the dangers of unchecked hatred and the need to prevent genocide,” the Museum says on its website. “And we encourage them to act, cultivating a sense of moral responsibility among our citizens so that they will respond to the monumental challenges that confront our world.”
During the tour, guides emphasized how the police became comfortable with the lifestyle that Nazi Germany afforded them, as Adolf Hitler had immediately worked to gain police trust after being appointed chancellor in 1933 – more than six years before the start of World War II.
Henrico’s police academy recruits talked about how jarring it was to see how law enforcement could be corrupted and how they must hold themselves to the highest standard. As part of each academy, the division emphasizes how Virginia law requires officers to intervene to stop unlawful action by fellow offers. This tour allowed an open discussion of how the corruption in Germany happened over the course of years instead of a single incident, encouraging the recruits to watch for the smaller steps as well as the large actions.
The 79th Basic Police Academy will graduate Feb. 15.
This summer was the first time in several years that Henrico’s academies have included an educational trip. While in Washington, the academies also visited the National Law Enforcement Memorial to allow the recruits to reflect on the sacrifices of officers who came before them.
After the success of these trips, Capt. Rooney and the rest of the training academy staff have decided to make these trips a standard to the training curriculum moving forward.
Capt. Rooney says these trips are important because “they not only serve to educate our newest police officers, but also challenge them to expand their horizons and think critically, as they will be serving the diverse community of Henrico County when they enter the Patrol Bureau upon graduation.”