Lew Dodley is a very genial man, fast to smile and eager to make you feel at ease. Until suddenly he's not. Instead, he's yelling in Bert Montalban's face, telling him to shut up, then asking him why the room is a mess, then yelling again, "Shut up!" before Montalban can even begin to respond. Then, it's over and Dodley is smiling again and Montalban takes his seat with the rest of the East Greenwich police officers.
It was all part of a training session last week for police meant to tackle the insidious nature of stereotypes as well as to explore some of the emotional baggage many of us carry from past experiences.
Every year, the department provides training for officers on everything from CPR and first aid to firearms and domestic violence. The police budget includes about $15,000 for such trainings.
"I wanted to do something different this year," said Police Chief Tom Coyle. Dodley – a 73-year-old African American with dreadlocks – was that "something different."
Coyle learned about Dodley from Bob Houghtaling. Dodley, who has a Ph.D in psychology, lives in Chicago. He and Houghtaling met through Youth to Youth, the community-based drug prevention and youth leadership program both are involved in.
In the role play between Dodley and Montalban, Dodley was the belligerent father to a Montalban's victimized son.
"How many of you had a father like that," Dodley asked afterward. A few officers raised their hands. He then took some of the officers further, asking them how they would respond. Each time an officer contributed to the conversation, Dodley would pause, then thank him.
"Being a man nowadays means, 'I gotta be tough.' Don't cry. Don't show emotion. That kind of stuff, really, can pile up on you," said Dodley.
Earlier in the training, Dodley had asked the officers to stand up if they had male and female hormones. Only three or four officers stood up. (Men and women both have male and female hormones.) As one officer told Dodley, "I think I heard about that in school, but I just don't want to believe it."
Everyone laughed, not surprisingly. But, what does that mean for how police deal with women? And what about dealing with African Americans, about Native Americans, about people of color period?
The East Greenwich police force is all-white and has only one female officer. The one African-American officer left last year to join the State Police, according to Chief Coyle. One officer speaks Spanish, Bert Montalban, who is Cuban-American.
"We live in an ever-changing world. it's becoming a smaller, more diverse place. And it's always important to take a look at yourself and what motivates you to make the decisions you make in your life," said Houghtaling.
"I think he was tremendous," said Coyle after the training. "It is very hard to keep a group of police officers focused for hours and he did that. Even the guys from third shift were focused. This was a great training."
Coyle said feedback from the officers has been very positive. He was so pleased, he plans to bring Dodley back in December for a second session.
"It's well worth it," he said.