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NYPD training officers to not be racist

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NEW YORK (PIX11) --Wednesday saw more protests in Baltimore in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, as well as a rally against police brutality in Washington, organized in large part by New York activists.

As those demonstrations were underway, social media and traditional media continued to discuss NYPD training materials that instruct cops to not be racists.  While a closer look at those training guidelines shows that they were not introduced in response to the high profile police custody deaths of recent months, some activists are questioning how well they've been implemented.

The training materials, which have been dubbed Policing for Dummies by some media outlets and bloggers, were part of a letter discussing a variety of NYPD training needs from a federally appointed monitor of the department, Peter Zimroth, to a judge.

The guidelines called on officers to uphold the rights of the citizens they're sworn to protect by, for example, not telling or tolerating ethnic, racist or sexist jokes; not judging the beliefs or customs of people if those people are not breaking the law; not engaging in racial profiling.

"It's never a bad thing to reissue them, and just make people aware of them," said Jon Shane, PhD, of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, about the pro-tolerance police guidelines.  "But it's not something that's new or groundbreaking," he said in an interview. "These are just ordinary precepts that police officers follow to begin with."

Dr. Shane has written numerous case studies about police responses and procedures, and also served two decades as a cop on the streets of Newark, rising to the rank of captain.

He said the same thing that the NYPD and other analysts of the police department guidelines have said about them: they'd been in place long before they were written about by the federal monitor this week, and that officers in virtually every police department -- including such recent hotspots as Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, where Michael Brown was fatally shot in a police encounter -- are urged to abide by them.

That begs at least two questions: why has there been an apparent rise in cases ending like those of Freddie Gray or Eric Garner, who died in police custody last summer in Staten Island, and how can people have faith and trust in police after such tragedies?

Dr. Shane said that the answers are not easy.

"Sometimes we lose sight of that given the fact that police have to take immediate action during a particular circumstance and the outcome is captured on video, it doesn't look right," he told PIX11 News. "But the reality is that these things happen in police work and unfold in a matter of seconds, and sometimes split seconds, and when they do, [and] they don't look right, it's important to reassure the public that the police department has the best interests at hand, and that's what I think these guidelines do."