By Mary Tan
Imagine being new to the United States. You’ve just arrived and you’re trying to figure out American culture, the language and your new neighbors. It can be an overwhelming and frustrating experience. Even tougher – trying to learn the laws and judicial system of a new country.
This week the Joint Community Police Partnership will be starting its annual New Americans Academy classes. The academy is a six-week course for immigrants and refugees who want to learn more about police procedures and the judicial system.
Since the program began in 2006, several hundred immigrants and refugees have graduated from the Academy. One of them is Seyon Nyanwleh, who arrived in Minnesota in 1999 from Liberia.
“I think the New Americans Academy was so worth my time,” sid Nyanwleh. “It gave me the opportunity to understand the social culture here in Minnesota.”
Monique Drier, a community liaision for the Brooklyn Center Police Department who helps plan the event, said the academy helps “breakdown barriers and build relationships in the community,” said Drier. “It also offers a safe environment for individuals to ask all the questions they may have about police.”
During the classes, Nyanwleh said he learned about a variety of police issues and enjoyed getting the chance to ask police officers about the protocols of their job. Students learn everything from why two squad cars show up for a traffic stop to the fact that every person police officers stop do have certain rights. Other topics include domestic violence, personal safety, fraud and crime prevention.
Since the program began several years ago, Drier says it has had a big impact on Brooklyn Center’s police officers. “It helps them see everyone in a very proactive light. Let’s face it, police are not called when things are going well,” said Drier. “They are called to bring order to chaos. The academy offers them an opportunity to interact with new Americans in a very positive and proactive way.”
The Joint Community Police Partnership is a collaborative effort between the cities of Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Richfield, Hennepin County and the Northwest Hennepin Human Services Council. The program has won numerous awards and recognition from across the country.
The academy began after police officers in Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center noticed cultural misunderstandings during routine traffic stops with new immigrants. Both cities are home to a large number of African refugees, with many coming from Liberia.
Police personnel developed the classes when they learned many immigrants from other nations feared them. In many of their homelands, law enforcement was often corrupt. The classes are designed to reach out and show immigrants police are a helpful resource and friends, not people to be feared.
Nywanleh says the best part of the academy was the question and answer periods. “I learned a lot. There were many things that I didn’t understand about the justice system that are now clearer to me,” she said. While the Liberian immigrant highly recommends the class to fellow new Americans, he thinks the class would actually be beneficial to all Americans. “It’s great two-way communication.”
The New Americans Academy is free to the public but advanced registration is required. The current class runs from now through November 17 but more academies are being planned in the future.
For more information, contact Monqiue Drier at the Brooklyn Center Police Department at 763-503-3265 or email her at [email protected].