What is Cultural Proficiency?
Cultural Proficiency is a way of being that enables both individuals and organizations to respond effectively to people who differ from them. It is an approach to addressing diversity issues that goes beyond political correctness. It is an inside-out approach that focuses on those who are insiders in law enforcement, encouraging them to reflect on their own individual understandings and values. The Cultural Proficiency model surprises many people who expect a diversity program to teach them about other people, not about themselves.
Culture is defined broadly to include all shared characteristics of human description, including age, gender, geography, ancestry, language, history, sexual orientation, and physical ability, as well as occupation and affiliations.
Culturally proficient law enforcement professionals demonstrate an understanding of the variety of diverse cultures each person may experience in the workplace. Although they accept that they will not necessarily have intimate knowledge about each of the cultures represented in the police department or the community they serve, they recognize their need to continuously learn more. They develop a conscious awareness of the culture of their department and community and they understand that each has a powerful influence on their co-workers, supervisors, managers, and community members.
Building Cultural Proficiency requires informed and dedicated employees and supervisors, committed and involved leadership, and time. Employees cannot be sent to one or two days of training and be expected to return with solutions to all the equity issues in the workplace and the community. The transformation to Cultural Proficiency requires time to think, reflect, assess, decide, and change.
Why has the Oxnard Police Department developed a Cultural Proficiency program?
Through both legal mandate and in the interest of maintaining technical proficiencies, we as law enforcement professionals spend a considerable amount of time training in the areas of firearms, defensive tactics, driving, and less-lethal weaponry. We spend considerably less time focusing on inter-personal communications and identifying and understanding the differing cultures around us. It is a skill set that peace officers use vastly more on a day-to-day basis than the aforementioned “perishable” skills.
We work in a tremendously diverse community which has virtually every ethnic, religious, and socio-economic class represented. Likewise, our workplace of 400 employees encompasses a wide spectrum of cultures. To avoid making an issue of the differences manifested among our peers and community members is the virtual definition of “cultural blindness.”
The Oxnard Police Department has developed a Cultural Proficiency program to help our employees, and in turn the organization, to be better equipped to recognize and respect the differences in each of us. The Oxnard Police Department has not been immune to racial, sexual, and religious intolerance in its past and we want to ensure that we recognize that and evolve towards a culturally proficient organization. We want to be a model for other law enforcement agencies.