As the primary federal agency responsible for investigating allegations regarding federal civil rights violations, agents with the FBI in Little Rock want to work more closely with communities to "prevent and address hate crimes" and other civil rights violations by offering free, local training.
"We've been meeting with different communities and law enforcement partners to hold this joint training for the last three years. What we're really trying to do now is increase the number of times that we've been doing it," FBI Supervisory Special Agent Ryan Kennedy said recently.
"In the past, we've been doing, maybe one, maybe two trainings (each) quarter. But what we're going to be doing here in the near future is actually adding additional instructors to this course, so that we can possibly hold as many as three or four (each) quarter," he said. "We really feel like now is an important time to get out and be a leader in helping people have these conversations."
The two-hour training course focuses on what is and what is not considered a civil rights violation, he said, noting the interactive training is conducted by FBI agents who are veterans in investigating such violations. Those who attend are encouraged to share thoughts and perspectives on real-world case studies.
"This isn't just a training where we're sitting up there talking. We have a software system that we utilize where the audience members are actually asked questions and then they have to vote on the questions. A lot of times that helps drive those difficult conversations between the public and our law enforcement partners because it helps us understand where there are misconceptions and misunderstandings. So that's one of the other things that we do to help facilitate these conversations," Kennedy said
They also take the time to explain, in detail, what "Color of Law" is through this presentation. In the last year, the FBI has offered this and other presentations across the state.
"So we really delve into the law, and we tie that into real-life historical examples so that we can provide a clear and concise understanding of what is and is not a violation of someone's civil rights," he said.
Representatives from the FBI's Little Rock office said they felt the need to facilitate a way to bring together local law enforcement and the communities they serve to have hard discussions that otherwise may not happen.
"We want to facilitate open communication between those two groups. It's not just enough to have this conversation with our law enforcement partners. It's not just enough to have this conversation with our community leaders. We need to be having this conversation with both parties in the room so that we can have difficult conversations," Kennedy said.
"Frequently, when we do these trainings, we do have difficult conversations with both parties. But what we have found is that people walk out of these trainings with a greater level of respect for each other."
According to a release, previous training sessions hosted throughout Arkansas were consistently highly rated and well received by many participants. All of this at no cost to the public.
"All of the trainings that we do are offered free of charge. It's part of our responsibilities as a law enforcement agency, specifically, the FBI, to get out and provide not just this training but other trainings that we help our law enforcement partners with and our communities with," Kennedy said.
"If anyone comes down and says, 'Hey we got an FBI training and it costs money,' please let us know. Because that's typically a scam," FBI Little Rock Public Affairs Officer Connor Hagan said.
"If you are a community leader or in local law enforcement, we urge you to contact the FBI and schedule a 'Color of Law' presentation for your organization. Just call the FBI Little Rock Field Office at 501-221-9100 and ask for the Community Outreach Specialist," Hagan said.