DHHRM, ADL partner to educate law enforcement
By Deb Silverthorn
The Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum is in a unique position to add to the conversation about police behavior through its ongoing partnership with the Anti-Defamation League.
Since 2016, the DHHRM has presented with the ADL the Law Enforcement and Society: Lessons from the Holocaust program, designed 20 years ago by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the ADL.
“We’re proud to be one of a handful of museums, approved by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, to conduct, with the ADL, this training regionally,” said DHHRM Museum President and CEO Mary Pat Higgins. “The lessons learned from law enforcement’s role in the Holocaust, as well as the ongoing struggle for civil and human rights in our country, highlighted in our Museum, provide a unique platform to engage law enforcement in meaningful discussions about issues they face today.”
The program enables law enforcement officers to examine the role their profession played in the Holocaust and challenges them to reflect upon their professional and personal responsibilities in a democracy today. Some 149,000 law enforcement professionals have participated through programs in eight U.S. cities including Dallas.
“The lessons we learned from the Holocaust and the actions of law enforcement in Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s are a platform for the ADL to discuss contemporary issues,” said Dr. Charlotte Decoster, the museum’s director of education. “The importance and need for ethical behavior is always relevant.”
The training reinforces law enforcement’s connections to the core values of their professions, strengthens awareness of the impact of law enforcement’s daily interactions with the public and helps law enforcement to better serve a diverse population.
“Our program has been strong, and we are planning its expansion,” said Decoster, who went to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for training; the team there then visited Dallas to evaluate its program.
For the ADL, a leading anti-hate and civil rights organization and one of law enforcement’s most trusted partners, the program addresses the current and evolving needs of law enforcement and the most critical issues for 21st century policing.
“It can take time to learn the techniques, but in the field, there’s often only seconds — if that — to put them into action and we want those seconds to count,” said ADL Central Region Vice-President Cheryl Drazin, who works closely with Decoster. “Personal decision-making with every interaction matters, from day one on the beat to the day of one’s retirement from the force.”
Locally, the Arlington and Dallas police departments, and the Rockwall and Dallas County sheriffs’ departments, have brought their leadership teams through the program; a number of those departments also bring their recruit or cadet classes. The course is a one-day seminar with a docent-led tour of the museum, a discussion led by museum educators on the role of police within the Nazi state and an interactive examination with an ADL facilitator of the role of police in American society today.
“The most meaningful part of the program is the facilitated discussion about the role that law enforcement played in Nazi Germany, with students analyzing photographs of ordinary officers as they progressed from community caretakers to active participants in the Holocaust,” said Lt. Christopher Cook of the Arlington Police Department. “One poor decision can lead to others and we must constantly check ourselves, ensuring we don’t lose sight of why we chose this career.”
The Arlington Police Department has sent its recruit academy classes to tour the old and new museums; each time participants were struck by the knowledge and personal stories of those who endured. “The preservation of civil rights of all persons is of paramount importance for the law enforcement profession,” Cook said.
“The history of the Holocaust includes police officers; ordinary, everyday men. Soldiers were not alone in carrying out so many deaths and we ask ‘Could it happen here?’” said Gregory Smith, director of the Institute for Law Enforcement Administration (LEAS) in Plano, a division of the Center for American and International Law. “Everyone is responsible for the decisions they make and we want to help officers by providing tools to access when ethical dilemmas arise so they will make the decision to stand tall, rather than give in,” said Smith. LEAS is an extension of educational visits ILEA has made to the Museum since 2005. “We want to empower their decision making.” Smith brings 400-500 officers a year to the DHHRM.
Drazin said there are different discussions with recruits than with those who have worn the badge for years.
“There is no other profession where one is asked to protect those who often speak out against them,” she said. “At the end of the day, it is about building bridges and the individual relationships and the individual choices that each person makes.”
For more information about DHHRM’s programs for professionals, visit dhhrm.org.