YWCA partners with local police for diversity training

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Sgt. Ronald Soutner has been patrolling Swatara Township roads for nearly 15 years. He makes it a point to know those he protects.

“I grew up in this community so it’s important to me,” Soutner said. “I think it’s important for us as officers to get to know the different cultures and different types of people who live here.”

Soutner took part in the YWCA’s “Protect and Serve in the 21st Century: Building Bridges with Diverse Communities” two-day police training in February. He learned lessons like how to handle racial profiling to understanding civil rights laws.

Sountner is one of 70 officers from Dauphin and Cumberland Counties who attended the program.

“I gave the course an eight. It really opened our eyes to different ideas opinion values and cultures. I think we learned the most about the Muslim community,” Soutner said.

Born out of its “Let’s Talk: A Conversation about Race” program last March, the YWCA partnered with a community group and Susquehanna Township Safety Director Rob Martin as well as Swatara Township Police Chief Jason Umberger to get this training to officers.

“Overall, our goal is to increase officer safety and effectiveness while cultivating strong relationships with the communities they will protect and serve,” Tina Nixon, executive director for the YWCA, said at a news conference Monday.

“This training underscores the strengths that have always been traits of good police officers: impartialness, respectfulness and fairness,” Martin said.

Umberger recalls how communities have changed when it comes to diversity.

“When I started there 25 years ago – it’s changed and continues to change. All of that lends to ongoing training for officers,” Umberger said.

Training Soutner says will help him do his job and keep the community safe.

“It helps to have more empathy – sometimes be more sympathetic to what people are going through – when you have a background in their culture,” Soutner said.

The YWCA says 60 more officers have signed up for the second class in April.

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