Diversity Training Series: Educating Chicago's Law Enforcement on the City's Many Religions (2006)

The Situation

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, America experienced a rude awakening of its multi-religious landscape in the form of public religious prejudice, stereotypical mentalities, hate crimes, and outright ignorance—all of which created an atmosphere of two extremes: those who were feared, and those who were fearful. According to Unequal Protection: The Status of Muslim Civil Rights in the United States 2005, an annual report issued by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes in the United States has increased exponentially from 42 cases in 2002, to 93 cases in 2003, to 141 cases in 2004.[1] Moreover, individuals who are mistaken for Muslims, namely Sikhs, other South Asians, as well as Latinos, have also been targets of ethnic and religious hate crimes. The Sikh Coalition, tracking incidents of this nature following September 11th, reported 71 incidents of hate crimes between late 2001 and 2004 in the United States.[2] In Chicago alone, there have been 80 religious hate crime investigations between 2001 and 2004,[3] indicating a desperate need for action.

The Reaction

Now retired Chicago Police Superintendent Terry G. Hillard recognized this climate of fear as one which would not dissipate of its own volition, but as one which needed to be addressed through public dialogue and debate. In order to promote cooperation among the multitude of religious traditions dwelling in the Chicago area, he organized a forum. The intention was to foster security and respect for one another’s cultural differences. At the forum, which was attended by local leaders and members of various religious traditions, Superintendent Hillard became aware of his officers’ ignorance and, in some cases, rude behavior towards people of certain cultures; thus, the idea of educating Chicago’s police officers through a series of diversity videos developed.

The Result

With a clear goal of fostering new awareness and cultural understanding amongst law enforcement and their communities, the two-year development initiative co-sponsored by the Department of Justice began in early 2003. The result was five short but informative 10 minute video segments. The videos cover basic behavioral etiquette, beliefs, practices, and religious articles of the Sikh, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and Hindu faiths. Furthermore, with tightened security at airports, transportation centers, and government buildings, a special segment in the video series focuses on courteous and respectful methods for security personnel to employ when working with Sikh and Muslim passengers at the world’s second busiest airport: Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. As the Chief of Patrol, James Maurer, notes, O’Hare is “a global hub of diversity in culture, faith, and religious beliefs—it is imperative to show respect and courtesy to those we serve."[4]

While the central themes of the series are the five faiths outlined above and the overall religious fabric of Chicago, the vignettes pay particular attention to the attitude and approach of police officers towards the general public. For example, narrator Rev. Kevin Dean of the Chicago Police Department notes that since Muslim men and women are prohibited from being alone with an unrelated member of the opposite sex, interviews should be conducted by an individual of the same gender, but it is also preferable to have another individual in the room as well. Naturally, officers armed with this knowledge will be better able to perform their duties and accomplish their mission while also respecting an individual’s religious belief system.

Officers' Training

In addition to incorporating the educational videos into the training program of Chicago’s nearly 14,000 police officers and new recruits, the videos have had such positive impact that copies have since been distributed to police chiefs in the nation’s 50 largest cities. "This is not just a superficial thing," said Kareem M. Irfan, chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago. "It has changed our community's relationship with the police to the extent that people are beginning to see the Chicago Police Department as an ally rather than an opposing force."[5]

Video Segments

The diversity video series is comprised of two DVDs. The first DVD is divided into eight segments, with a focus on Chicago’s many religions. The sections are: Diversity is our Strength, Security, Diversity and Respect, Sikhism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Eastern Orthodox. The second DVD is sectioned into seven video clips with a cultural theme: East Asian, South Asian, Puerto Rican, Mexican, Central and South American, Transgender, and Building Trust. Illustrated below are a few examples of video segments in the series—Buddhism, Islam, the South Asian Community, Building Trust, and Airport Security.


Buddhism This video segment commences by explaining that there are an estimated 150,000 Buddhists in the Chicago area who congregate at over 60 Buddhist temples. The video then highlights various beliefs and cultural practices of the Buddhist tradition, and other practical information, such as:

  • Buddhist monks and nuns are greeted with both hands pressed together and a short nod.
  • Specially designed meditation rooms exist in a large portion of Buddhist households and thus, if an officer were to enter such a room, they are requested to remove their shoes unless in an emergency.
  • Many Buddhists carry wooden meditation beads and a prayer book—both of these items can be handled by police. Personal scrolls of prayer, however, unless absolutely necessary, should not be touched by police officials.

By giving law enforcement a glimpse into the 4th largest religion in the world, familiarity grows, both of its traditions and practices, as well as of their living atmosphere, resulting in an educated foundation for all security personnel serving Buddhist communities.


The city of Chicago is home to more than 400,000, of the 1.2 billion Muslims around the world. Though many of them are immigrants, they are 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th generation Americans. During this segment, Chaplain Dean explains the fundamentals of Islamic faith, such as:

  • Muslims believe that there is one God, who revealed Islam through a series of prophets, with the last one being Mohammed.
  • Muslims incorporate a strong essence of moral, family, and social values, as well as notions of justice into their way of life—all of which are also integral parts of the American fabric.
  • Keywords and translations of basic Islamic rhetoric. An explanation of the 5 pillars of Islam.

The theme of this video encourages law enforcement officials to familiarize themselves with the Islamic belief system, for this will allow officers to address individuals with proper titles as well enable personnel to converse on a basic level with Muslims. Simple accommodations of this nature by law enforcement ground respect and trust towards the Muslim community, their beliefs, and their practices. Educating Chicago’s officers of the Islamic way of life is tantamount to avoiding confusion, misconceptions, and conflict. Lastly, following recent world events, the law enforcement community is asked to be extra sensitive with the way in which they approach and work with members of the Muslim community.


South Asian According to the 2002 Census, the largest South Asian population in the United States resides in Illinois. The South Asian community living in Chicago consists of individuals from Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh; India is the largest of the South Asian countries and represents the largest South Asian community in Chicago. Within this array of South Asian cultures lie three major religions: Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism. In this video segment, law enforcement personnel learn about the South Asian community’s various religious ideologies and cultural belief systems through interviews and dialogue with individuals of the three faiths currently living in Chicago. Though it is of utmost importance to serve and protect the community, acknowledging and catering to individual faiths while performing their duties as police officers builds both cooperation between the South Asian community and the city’s team of law enforcement, as well as a new-found level of mutual trust and respect. During the course of this video, which includes an inside look into various religious rooms in Chicagoland homes, Chaplain Dean narrates practical information for officers, such as:

  • Individuals of the Sikh faith wear a distinctive head-covering over their uncut hair, and carry a small religious sword known as a kirpan.
  • Officers should be aware that such religious articles are part of historic Sikh traditions and practices, and are often worn outside such outfits as opposed to being concealed.
  • The kirpan is symbolic in the sense that it affirms the Sikh notion of justice and is not used as a weapon in any capacity.

Building Trust

Citizens now living in Chicago may have been victims of government sanctioned torture, war refugees, or even victims of religious and political persecution; in fact, a large proportion of individuals who have come to the United States have been raised in a totalitarian regime, dictatorship, or a government engaged in human rights violations, and in turn, associate authority with their homeland. As William P. Povers at the Adler School of Professional Psychology notes, the most visible representations of government are the military and the police, and thus absolute care must be employed when interacting with citizens who readily resort to native belief systems regarding authority.[6] In order to foster a remolding of authoritative trust and respect, the video outlines specific tasks police officers should engage in, including:

  • Avoiding slang when conversing with the community.
  • Exercising patience when working with individuals who have trouble understanding English and repeating instructions if necessary.
  • Speaking in an even tone.
  • Being calm in their approach.
  • Thanking them for their cooperation.

By taking part in these practices, coupled with an explanation and reassurance that this is a routine stop or procedure, some of the initial fears and concerns will be gradually alleviated. This segment also focuses on proper methods of identification during tactical operations, such as when plainclothers officers approach individuals. During the video reenactments, law enforcement personnel are encouraged to identify oneself both visually, by displaying their badge, and verbally, in order to ensure effective communication—both cues are required incase an individual has trouble understanding English.

Airport Security

This video focuses on methods for security personnel to employ when interacting with members of the Sikh and Muslim communities during airport security. Most of the information is with regard to searching religious attire and religious articles in a respectful fashion. Some key points expressed in this video include:

  • The Sikh turban, for example, is a religious article of faith, ranging from 5 to 8 meters (15 to 18 feet), and takes anywhere between 15 and 30 minutes to tie. It is extremely offensive to ask an individual to remove their turban.
  • If the metal detector is set off by the religious garment, personnel are asked to be respectful and offer the individual being searched to privately remove the article, away from the public sphere.
  • If it is imperative a woman of the Islamic faith remove her hijab, security is asked to be respectful and courteous, offering the woman a private place to remove the article, as asking her to do so in public immediately at the security booth is asking her to violate the principles of her faith.
  • The video stresses the notion that when searching a Muslim woman, it must be done by a female officer because there is a clear delineation of the sexes in Islam.

As Chief James Maurer notes, individuals possessing religious articles and/or wearing religious attire symbolizes a set of ingrained beliefs worth fighting for, and worth dying for.[7] Therefore officers must be extremely polite and courteous when handling religious articles; at the same time, security personnel have a specific mission to accomplish, and thus there are certain types of informed communication which are encouraged throughout this video segment. When religious articles such as jewelry, pendants, or the like, need to be addressed, a tactful method of approaching the situation is simply commenting on the article’s beauty, and genuinely taking an interest in its meaning. This method is a very respectful and courteous way of examining any kind of religious article or item while continuing the smooth flow of communication between the two parties. By engaging in six communication methods noted in this segment to ease public fears, two impressions are made: security personnel are non-threatening, but they are serious about the business of protecting citizens entering the city. When individuals arrive, the security personnel are the first formal representatives of the city and thus should represent and reflect the ideals and principles of Chicago. Therefore, these encounters are crucial to the image of the organization as a whole.


The series of videos produced by both the Chicago Police Department and the Department of Justice achieve their educational goal of informing officers about the array of religious and cultural communities living in the Chicago area. By focusing on the kinds of practices, methods, and tactics which should be employed from a law enforcement standpoint, the message is clear regarding the required etiquette of police officers when interacting with members of different faiths. Superintendent Terry G. Hillard, at a press conference regarding the initiative, stated, "Building solid, lasting relationships with members of our diverse communities goes further than simply doing the right thing. It's our obligation—in a city as diverse as Chicago, we have many different cultures that view the police from varying perspectives.

As police officers, the onus is on us to understand those perspectives so we can better serve and protect our communities."[8] Highlighting both the basic history and fundamentals of each religion, while paying close attention to practices and traditions, police officers are now, more than ever, aware of their diverse communities and the many particular needs they must attend to when performing their duties. The success of the series has only grown following its release—the police chiefs of the nation’s 50 largest cities have already received copies, in addition to a host of smaller cities and towns that have requested the videos. Moreover, in September 2002, The Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding began conducting religious diversity training for newly promoted Sergeants in The New York Police Department.

Georgette Bennett, President of the Tanenbaum Center, expressed, “It has to do with situations not escalating out of control unnecessarily because of misunderstandings. It has to do with getting cooperation from the community and investigations in order to be proactive in terms of developing situations.”[9] In Bristol, Connecticut, the city is committing up to $150,000 to develop diversity training programs for its police officers in order for them to become more sensitive to the needs of the population.[10] More recently, the Austin Police Department in Texas announced its new “Cadet Community Immersion” program. Having already graduated a second class of cadets from the initiative, the training program is designed to help future officers become more familiar with diverse Austin communities.[11]

As many other police departments, centers, and institutes, step into this field of educational training, the national consciousness in the law enforcement community with regard to sensitive issues of religion and culture will be gradually elevated. This new realm of efforts aims to minimize misunderstandings and misconceptions, while, at the same time, build a new foundation of trust and respect for America’s multi-religious communities. For more information regarding the initiative, or to obtain a copy of the DVD Diversity Series, please use the contact information below. Deputy Superintendent Ellen Scrivner Chicago Police Department Bureau of Administrative Services 3510 S. Michigan Ave. Chicago, IL 60653 Phone: 312-745-5600


[1] “The Status of Muslim Civil Rights in the United States 2005,” Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), http://www.cair.com/civil-rights/civil-rights-reports/2005.html (accessed June 30, 2006).↩︎
[2] “Fact Sheet on Post-9/11 Discrimination and Violence against Sikh Americans,” The Sikh Coalition,  (accessed May 2, 2016).↩︎
[3] Clarence Wood. “Hate Crime Investigation Report: 2005,” Chicago Commission on Human Relations, (accessed May 2, 2016).↩︎
[4] Chicago Police Department and the Department of Justice. Diversity Video Series: Religion— Airport Security, DVD, USA: Karl Productions, 2005.↩︎
[5] Stephen Kinzer, “Chicago Police Videos Offer Insights Into Various Faiths,” The New York Times,  January 23, 2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/23/national/23video.html.↩︎
[6] Chicago Police Department and the Department of Justice. Diversity Video Series: Cultures—Building Trust, DVD, USA: Karl Productions, 2005.↩︎
[7] Chicago Police Department and the Department of Justice. Diversity Video Series: Religion— Airport Security, DVD, USA: Karl Productions, 2005.↩︎
[8] Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, “Dialogue with Police Helps Lead to Sensitivity Training,” May 22, 2002, <ahref="http://www.ciogc.org/pages/Media/480/pageDetailPB.html">http://www.ciogc.org/pages/Media/480/pageDetailPB.html.↩︎
[9] Tanenbaum Center For Interreligious Understanding, “Religious Diversity in the Workplace: Training Program for Police Officers to Better Respond to the Religious Diversity in Their Communities,”  http://www.tanenbaum.org/programs/diversity/police.aspx (accessed June 30, 2006).↩︎
[10] Steve Collins, “City to Conduct Diversity Training,” The Bristol Press, January 18, 2006, http://www.centralctcommunications.com/bristolpress/news/article_892e5eb... (accessed May 2, 2106). ↩︎
[11] Nolan Hicks, “Austin Police Train with Diversity Immersion,” The Daily Texan, June 14, 2006, http://pluralism.org/news/austin-police-train-with-diversity-immersion/.↩︎