Students Join Forces with Police to Bust Bias

In an unusual but successful team-up, School of Journalism students partnered with the MSU Police Department to produce “100 Questions and Answers About Police Officers,” the 13th volume in the Bias Busters guidebook series. The guides are created as part of a journalism course under the supervision of Editor in Residence Joe Grimm. They provide basic information about different groups of people to encourage larger in-depth conversations. The books offer an open door to those who may not ask questions about diversity and differences because they are unsure how to approach sensitive subjects due to their lack of knowledge. 

“Police officers are a heavily stereotyped group, and there are so many important issues in the news,” said Grimm. “It is a cultural group, in that officers all have to go through the academy, share the same language for some things, are around each other a lot, rely on each other for help, and outside of the police ranks they’re not that well understood.”

With the help of the MSU Police Department, the class made a guide about police officers that includes a letter from the chief of the MSU P.D., along with other department-specific information. The book is designed so that the department-specific section can be removed. If another police department off campus wants a customized guide, that part of the guide can be replaced by a new letter from that department’s chief, allowing the guide to be tailored to specific departments. 

Strengthening Bonds

After encountering an online article about Grimm and the Bias Buster guides, MSU Police Department Sgt. Florene McGlothian-Taylor asked Grimm if officers could partner with the journalism class to create a book about law enforcement. McGlothian-Taylor serves as part of the police department’s Inclusion and Anti-Bias Unit. The unit’s goal is to work with the public, including MSU faculty and students, to address biases within the university.

“The idea is to make certain everyone is included in having a better relationship with law enforcement,” said McGlothian-Taylor. “[We want the community to] understand what officers do and have officers understand how the community views them, and how we can work better together.” 

She was enthused by the opportunity to use the Bias Buster guides to facilitate conversation between officers and the community. 

“The booklets are a good resource to learn about how law enforcement actually works,” said McGlothian-Taylor. “I would like people to read them and maybe take the step to initiate contact with police officers. The idea is to make certain our community doesn’t experience things that are happening in other areas, and that if something does happen, individuals know who they can go to and have resources available.”

Along for the Ride

Anna Nichols, now a senior journalism major, was one of the student producers for the guide. In addition to participating in the interviewing, writing and editing process of the book, Nichols further immersed herself in the project by accompanying an MSU police officer on a ride along. 

“Everyone I spoke to was open to having these conversations,” said Nichols. “The officer I was talking to kept saying that if people thought of police officers as people [rather than as a job] that they would have a different perspective on police. [We also discussed] how journalists sometimes get a negative image painted of them. There are unethical journalists, and there are unethical police officers, but the actions of one do not define everyone. We had a really cool discussion about that.”

As someone without a personal connection to law enforcement coming into the class, Nichols learned a lot about what it means to be a police officer and what kinds of stereotypes officers face.

“I want to be an investigative reporter, which means filing Freedom of Information requests, talking to police officers and being able to have those relationships,” she said. “I currently run the Cops and Courts beat at the student newspaper, The State News. I’m about three official days into the beat, and I’ve already consulted the book. Sometimes you forget what you know or what you’ve learned before, so right away it benefited me.” 

This latest installment of Bias Busters also comes with QR codes that connect readers to online videos when scanned on a phone camera. The videos were made for the guide by an MSU Police Department videographer to share additional information about the MSU bike and K-9 units.

By Kristina Pierson