Trauma to Trust workshop helps repair relationship between community & Newark police

The Newark Police Department was sued by the United States Justice Department in 2016 in an investigation that found a pattern of corruption, excessive force and racial disparities in arrests.
While even longtime critics of the department agree that much progress has been made, the city remains under a federal consent decree to correct the problems. One way the city has done this is to create a program that is designed to rebuild the relationship between the police department and the community.
In a Newark classroom, people from either side of America's most bitter fault lines - police officers and the urban, mostly minority residents they serve, are hashing it out.
“I wear this uniform, I also have to answer for his actions, her actions, his actions. You understand what I’m saying? There’s such a dark history with the uniform,” said one Newark police officer.
“And we’ve got a whole community that’s trying to heal from a historical trauma that’s not a historical abstract. It was very real for us right in this town,” says Zayid Muhammad, Newark strategist for Equal Justice USA.
The program is called Trauma to Trust. It brings police officers and community members together for two weeks of training to talk about some of the issues facing both sides – race, trauma, violence and social and economic inequality. In other words, people with hard lives and people with hard jobs, listening to one another.
“You go into someone’s house, you have no idea what’s in that house,” one officer said.
Some community members said it would help if more Newark officers were from and lived in Newark.
Officers explained some things about their jobs, like why they sometimes stand with their hands on their guns. They also explained bigger topics, such as the trauma of long days responding to 20-30 calls witnessing violence and facing unknown dangers.
“I can’t imagine holding a dead baby in my arms at 9 a.m. and having to deal with a domestic at 2 p.m.,” one community member said.
The five police officers in the meeting also listened to concerns from the community. Residents spoke frankly about the fear and mistrust of police in a town with a history of corruption and excessive force.
“It’s a vehicle that we hope helps peel some of those layers back so each side is better informed through a trauma-informed lens why that relationship has been so strained and so difficult,” Muhammad says. “But more importantly, for law enforcement officers to understand whether they are a good guy or not, this historical trauma is real.”
Muhammad says that some of that understanding comes from meeting like this one where everyday people sit in a room face to face to work things out.
“It’s heavy work, but it’s work that has to happen if we’re ever going to bridge this gap,” he says.
Around 600 people have completed the Trauma to Trust workshops, including 250 Newark police officers.