Lower Burrell police to be among 1st to undergo ‘legitimacy’ training at IUP

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Lower Burrell police to be among 1st to undergo ‘legitimacy’ training at IUP

The Lower Burrell Police Department will be among the first in the region to take a new seminar at Indiana University of Pennsylvania Police Academy focusing on the concept of police legitimacy.

The concept deals with the degree to which the public is willing to support and cooperate with police and recognize their authority. In many places, the legitimacy of police is being questioned, said Marcia Cole, a retired Arnold police sergeant who serves as program coordinator at the IUP Police Academy’s Criminal Justice Training Center.

“We developed the program in light of what is going on,” Cole said.

Protests erupted across the country this spring following the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who died May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck as several officers watched. Other violent incidents elsewhere sparked more protests and questions about the future of policing.

“I believe it is our responsibility as officers to show that we do not tolerate bad behavior among our ranks, and that we are always willing to work with the community and address their concerns and show that we are here to protect and serve,” Cole said.

Recognition of personal bias is one aspect of increasing police legitimacy, which gains public trust, Cole said.

In Lower Burrell, where about 98% of its residents are white, police haven’t been involved in high-profile, racially charged incidents similar to the ones involving Floyd or Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis. Lower Burrell police Chief John Marhefka said the department wants to be proactive and take steps to prevent such incidents from happening in the city.

“With how everything is going in the world, here in Lower Burrell, we try to be proactive in our police training,” said Marhefka, whose department has 17 full-time officers, making it one of the Alle-Kiski Valley’s larger departments.

Marhefka said he learned about the IUP course and jumped to include his officers in the Oct. 16 training.

“I think it’s fantastic and puts us ahead and advances our interactions with the public,” he said.

Marhefka said education is key to being successful.

“Police officers have split seconds to make decisions. That’s why here we’re constantly training,” he said.

IUP began to offer the legitimacy seminar about a month ago. So far, police from Indiana Borough and IUP have participated in it.

The course takes a historical approach, retracing the history of policing and how the public felt about it, Cole said.

“We look at how to change things up a little and how we can legitimize ourselves in the eyes of the community,” she said. “We have to understand how to interact positively with the community. We have to look at ourselves and ask, ‘Do we have biases?’ and address that.”

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-226-4691, [email protected] or via Twitter .

Local | Valley News Dispatch

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