By Jeremy Clopton
The “Ferguson Effect,” along with contemporary issues in law enforcement in a post-Ferguson era, is a new Honors Program Seminar at Whatcom Community College, led by Chief Deputy Doug Chadwick of the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office.
Chadwick has 24 years of experience working in law enforcement. In 2014 he graduated from the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia along with 220 men and women from 47 states and 23 international countries.
“The honors seminar proposal was well received and supported by other departments as a current and relevant subject that should be offered,” Chadwick said.
The seminar explores events related to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in mid-2014, and the effects controversial police shootings have had on law enforcement and public sentiment across the nation.
This was described as the “Ferguson Effect” in a July 2016 article in the Washington Post. It is the idea that increased scrutiny of police following Brown’s shooting has led to an increase in violent crime in major U.S. cities.
The seminar discusses ethics and accountability, the importance of public trust and police legitimacy, public perception and the role of the media, struggles with recruitment and retention, use of force and the deployment of body-worn cameras.
“It’s really a seminar on contemporary issues in law enforcement,” said Chadwick. “What are some of the issues we deal with, obviously public trust, recruitment is becoming more and more of an issue, public sentiment because of some of these high-profile officer shootings. So really it’s a class of looking at the facts and not making assumptions.”
The Honors Program is designed to further students’ education by exploring topics in a deeper perspective than other classes will allow, and Chadwick’s seminar counts toward Social/Behavioral Science credit.
Chadwick said he is not here to “provide opinion,” but offer another side of the story. “This is a current issue, this is what a lot of the issues the profession is dealing with, so I’d rather people have the right information and can have a dialog about it.”
The seminar is a small group setting, and students are encouraged to be more involved in the class.
“This format isn’t a lecture format, this is a come in and discover and more of a discussion,” he said.
Each week students are expected to bring news articles or video clips for discussion, and participate in classroom exercises related to the selected law enforcement topic, according to the syllabus, which are used for starting dialog.
“They’ve come in with some preconceived opinions,” said Chadwick, “and that’s just based on their experiences, and they probably don’t have a lot of experience with law enforcement, but they have family and friends and people they know that have, and that all forms opinions.”
Students have spoken about ideas and opinions they have already conceived before taking Chadwick’s seminar, and hope to broaden their perspectives.
“I would say I came in with more of, like, an ignorance,” said psychology major Amanda Laninga. “For me personally, this is kind of way to get more information and see if I have any biases I can work on.”
According to Chadwick the seminar was developed based on his training and experience of the last 24 years and said that because of his training in law enforcement the seminar provides an inside look for students.
“The students have had a chance to sit through some of the training I provide our deputies and officers,” he said.
This experience gave students a better understanding of what kind of thinking goes into preparing officers.
“I think it gives us a perspective from the police officers side of things,” said Marianna Kamp, a nursing major. “The training that’s involved behind the scenes, I’ve never heard before. And I think it gives us a different perspective than what we came in with.”
Kamp wants to speak on these issues with more authority.
“This class is really into looking at the facts and the correct sources when making some of the assumptions that I make and discussing them with other people,” she added. The second half of the seminar will focus on issues in the police department related to recruitment and retention, crimes rates, and changes in policing.
“My intent is to arm the students with good information and encourage them to investigate the facts thoroughly before they formulate an opinion,” said Chadwick, who added that he would be “happy to continue the seminar if there is interest.”