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Trauma to Trust trainings in Newark (Equal Justice USA/Facebook photo)

Trauma to Trust is a comprehensive, multi-session program based in Newark, New Jersey, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, that conceptualizes and tailors its efforts toward understanding the role trauma plays in marginalized and disenfranchised communities from a historical and present lens.

Launched by Fatima Dreier, Dr. Monique Swift, and Dr. Barbara Prempeh in September 2016, the program applies coordinated grassroots strategies to galvanize support for its work and training while examining the implications of oppression and the strained relationship between law enforcement personnel and residents of color. In a recent interview with NJ Urban News, program director Lionel Latouche said, “We envision a world where all facets and contingencies of a community come together to respond in a healing-based way…supporting both the harmed and those who’ve done the harming.” Latouche said. The program is an extension of the nonprofit, Equal Justice USA, meeting at the intersection of racial, criminal, and social justice reform.

Partnering with the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey, Dreier, Swift, and Prempeh developed a transformative trauma-informed initiative, that among other things, hosts interactive listening and learning sessions. The program enables participants to understand the community’s inner workings and foundational principles. For example, topics such as anti-violence tactics, community-oriented responses to violence, and mental health resources are examined. Facilitators isolate and accentuate community concerns to cultivate a curriculum and invite police officers and community members into a centralized physical space and discuss contentious or controversial subjects– using trauma as a tool to mobilize and promote empathy.

Trauma to Trust reframes the focus from “What’s wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?” conveying that the behaviors exhibited on the surface indicate individual situations.

Once participants realize that specific reactions and responses stem from internalized trauma, they can modify how they interact with those individuals. Deepening community connections and identifying cultural and implicit biases is a viable pathway to coping with trauma. Additionally, nurturing community safety, wellness, and autonomy serves as a healing presence. And providing third-party counseling services for people dealing with past traumatic events are Trauma to Trust’s main prerogatives. 

Conversely, the program guarantees that support systems exist for police officers, so they’re not stressed, overworked, and overwhelmed. Latouche says program coordinators have witnessed a substantial reduction in civil complaints against officers who’ve taken the training, meaning they’re forging human-based connections with the community while still performing their duties.

Various studies show that police officers who practice these de-escalation strategies fortify community relationships, dismantle potentially harmful confrontations and scenarios, foster organic alliances with community organizations, and improve community outcomes. Transparency, honest dialogue, and sharing between law enforcement and the community are significant factors determining the program’s success. 

Trauma to Trust has garnered positive community reception. Latouche says nearly 300 officers have enrolled in the program since its inception, and 400-450 community members have successfully engaged in the training. “The trauma the police officers feel was not something that I ever gave any thought to, and that was an eye-opener,” said one recent participant. Additionally, a police officer expressed appreciation for the program. “The good thing about this trauma course [is that] the civilians and police officers being [trained] together was unique…By the end, we were in the trenches together, the conversation flowed, [there was] dispelling of the misconceptions, it was amazing…Everyone needs it,” he said. 

To learn more about Trauma to Trust, please visit the website https://ejusa.org/issues/traumainformed-policing/trauma-to-trust.

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