SACO, Maine — The Saco Police Department announced a new effort to help bolster implicit-bias training for departments across the state Tuesday.
Chief Jack Clements made the announcement in a press conference that the agency, in partnership with the Maine Department of Public Safety, would offer the new training to departments in several Maine cities and towns through the Fair and Impartial Policing organization.
Clements said the department will use a $5,000 grant it received from Aftermath Services LLC to help get the program off the ground.
“We felt it would be short-sighted to keep that money and training just here in Saco,” Clements said. “Since the entire law enforcement community in the State of Maine works just as hard as we do at community engagement, we started having conversations around how we could use this money to bring enhanced diversity training to Maine law enforcement."
The grant was award to the department as the winner of a 2020 video contest that showcased how officers were supporting their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Obviously what we're seeing right now there's a lot of negative, but people don't get to see the positive," Officer Morgan Royle said.
Royle, who is featured in the video, recently transitioned from her role as a school resource officer at Thronton Academy to community resource officer.
She now delivers meals, checks on some of the city's most vulnerable population, and fosters relationships between the department and community members.
"That means a lot right now because obviously all of us are seeing stuff that's going on but we want people to know that we still are there for them," Royle said.
That spirit and connection is what Clements hopes the new training program helps encourage statewide.
The initial training will bring at least 15 community stakeholders and 15 department leaders together, according to Clements.
It comes as agencies across the state and country are taking a hard look at practices when it comes to race and diversity as calls to 'defund the police' grow louder among Black Lives Matter activists
Many departments and officers in Maine have already received some kind of race-based implicit-bias training. Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck said this new training is still an important step.
"I think any time you get to train your officers and work with your community its a win. Do we think it's 100 percent effective all the time? The obvious answer would be no, but that's why we continue to have refresher training and continue to have these conversations," Sauschuck said. It shouldn't take a special day to talk about these issues."
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maine is opposed to departments adding additional implicit-bias training because it does not go far enough.
Officers in Minneapolis received implicit-bias training in 2015, well before George Flloyd was killed at the hands of officers there.
"More conversations are definitely not the answer," attorney Michael Kebede said. "Study after study shows that bias training simply does not work. What works is what the movement for black lives across the country is telling us. We need to divest from police, prisons, and surveillance, and we need to invest in jobs, education and health care."
But for many officers like Royle, this new training is simply about becoming a better resource for their communities.
It is still unclear just what departments will receive the new training. Officials expect to get a clearer idea of when it can be offered as coronavirus restrictions are lifted.