MIDDLETOWN, Ohio (FOX19) - Middletown officials announced Wednesday that they have added racial intelligence training for first responders.
Chief David Birk had planned on adding the training prior to reports of a social media concern regarding a photograph of a police officer, a spokesperson for the City of Middletown said.
The issue came to light when a picture of the officer surfaced, showing him making a gesture with his hand.
Some people in the community accused the officer of making a hand symbol that represents white supremacy. However, city leaders said that after investigating the issue internally, they believe the officer was actually making a gesture that he understood to mean “OK” or “gotcha.”
In an effort to address the issue publicly, the Middletown city manager and Middletown police chief released a joint statement and video on social media on Wednesday night.
The two said they investigated the situation thoroughly and take every complaint seriously. They said the officer in the photo told them the gesture he made was part of an old game he used to play at school and was not meant to represent any kind of intolerance or prejudice.
“[We] had all of our officers trained on social media policy, and they reviewed that. We also have bias profiling training in our policy that every officer gets trained on yearly, and we’re also starting RIT training, which is racial intelligence training,” Police Chief David Birk said in the video.
Officials say the photo in question has since been removed from social media.
City leaders said they plan to continue working on combating injustice and intolerance. They also said they know that some hate groups have started using once innocent hand symbols as symbols of white supremacy and racism.
“They’ve co-opted things that in the past were parts of normal everyday life and were innocuous or actually supportive and positive, and we have to recognize in this environment that we may not be able to use those symbols anymore,” City Manager James Palenick said in the video. “We have to be sensitive to the issues they represent.”
Racial intelligence training will begin in March, according to Chief Birk.
The full statement from city and police leaders is as follows:
“The City of Middletown and the Division of Police are aware of photographs recently circulating on social media of a patrol officer making a hand signal that can mean ‘OK’ or ‘gotcha.’ The City and the Division of Police recognize that a change in climate has occurred in this country and the symbols and signs once associated with an innocent meaning have taken on new definitions of divisiveness and hate. Organizations dedicated to the spread of intolerance and prejudice have taken the hand gesture like the one used by the Officer in question and co-opted its meaning from an innocuous greeting to a symbol of white supremacy and racism.
This issue has been investigated internally and while there was no intention from the Officer to invoke intolerance or division with this gesture, this has been a learning opportunity for the Officer as well as the Division of Police as a whole. The photographs in question on the Officer’s personal social media page were immediately removed.
The City and Division of Police have a respectful, ongoing relationship with the NAACP and conversations with this organization to combat injustice and intolerance will continue. Middletown Division of Police has recently added Racial Intelligence Training for the department, bringing additional education to our first responders.
The City and the Division of Police are establishments that seek to promote community, tolerance and acceptance. As an organization we have made it clear to our employees that we will not tolerate the expression of racial intolerance, divisiveness or hate, including the use or transmission of symbols associated therewith.”
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