Article: Falls Cops Get Some ‘Blue Courage’ Training (Niagara Gazette)

Extra, extra! Read all about it! Blue Courage’s Inclusive Leadership class that graduated yesterday, consisting of participants from the Niagara Falls PD, was highlighted in the Niagara Gazette!

Falls cops get some ‘Blue Courage’ training

By Rick Pfeiffer [email protected] | Posted: Friday, January 16, 2015 3:00 am

Michael Nila knows all to well what it’s like to be a member of a minority community and to face stereotyping and discrimination.

His was one of the first Mexican families to settle in Aurora, Illinois, and his uncle was the first Mexican-American to join that small city’s police force. The department was in need of a bilingual Spanish-speaking officer and Nila’s uncle was a perfect candidate.

Then a superior officer told Nila’s uncle he was only being hired to police “his people.”

“I want to be a police officer for everyone,” Nila said his uncle told his superior and then said he’d quit the department if he couldn’t do that.
“They really needed a Spanish speaking,” Nila recalled, “so they told him he could police everyone.”

His uncle not only protected and served his community, but later died in the line of duty. Nila followed his uncle on the force and spent 29 years as a patrol officer and commander.

The experience turned him into a passionate advocate for diversity in law enforcement. Along with two other trainers, Nila has just wrapped-up three days of intensive diversity training for the members of the Falls Police Department’s command.

Every Falls Police captain and lieutenant, as well as the deputy superintendents and Superintendent Bryan DalPorto, were immersed in the course.

“We have wanted to bring this training to the department,” DalPorto said. “It will be transformational for the department (leaders) professionally and personally.”

Nila describes his program, called Blue Courage, as “an educational process that (is) designed (to teach) police officers to serve honorably, with empathy and compassion.”

“(Police work) is a brutal profession,” Nila said. “You can’t do it right if you’re emotionally broken. We create an environment and culture for (officers) to take care of themselves, so (they) can take care of the public.”

Nila’s program came to the Falls with high praise. The U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance is covering the costs for city cops.

Blue Courage trainers are also working with the New York City Police Department to provide the program to between 20,000 and 22,000 officers there in the wake of the Eric Garner incident. Garner’s chokehold death has lead to repeated protests over how police deal with minority communities.

Nila admits that many officers, who feel like they are under attack, after the Garner case and the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, following the police involved shooting death of Michael Brown, are not always eager students.

“The process of getting over the cynicism (of officers) doesn’t happen in an hour or two or even a day, that’s why we spend three days at it” he said as he took a break from the local training. “Nobody wants to go to diversity training. We need (the officers) to trust us and it has to be real to them.”

DalPorto said that by the second day of the training his command officers were engaged with it.

“The lessons learned here are being well received,” the city’s top cop said. “And taken to heart. The command staff is willing to make changes.”
Nila said his training isn’t about “pointing fingers.”

“I believe policing is one of the noblest callings anyone can undertake in their lives,” he said. “Public safety is the foundation of a healthy democracy. We’re teaching our police officers to be the true guardians.”

Because of the intensely personal nature of the training, Nila and his trainers are reluctant to bring non-participants to close to the actual process. But DalPorto believes the lessons that Nila brought will change policing here for the better.

“I think (the training) had changed lives and outlooks,” DalPorto said.

“This organization doesn’t need to be ‘fixed’,” Nila said. “But every organization can be better.”

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