Event + Reaction = Outcome. It’s a well-known formula for success that’s been touted by everyone from weight-loss experts to self-help gurus to college football coaches.
But for Jason Lehman, founder and executive director of the Long Beach-based nonprofit Why’d You Stop Me? (WYSM), the formula presented a unique approach to solving a complex real-world challenge: reducing acts of violence between the police and the community.
Founded in 2014, WYSM has been endorsed by many law enforcement organizations, including the California State Attorney General’s Office and Attorney General Kamala Harris, who deemed the program a best practice for improving relationships between police and the public.
As an officer with the Long Beach Police Department, Lehman was inspired to form WYSM in 2011, when he was invited to speak to a group of at-risk youths. The audience included individuals who had made threats against police officers.
“During the Q&A session, I realized that the audience had a limited understanding of police procedures and our interactions with the community, creating a lack of trust,” said Lehman. “It was apparent that acts of violence between the community and police could be greatly reduced if both parties could step into each other’s shoes to see, hear and feel the power struggle we each faced.”
Lehman saw the need for an educational program that addressed these complex issues for both law enforcement and the community.
WYSM pairs a law enforcement official with a community member to teach several programs, including: The Real Reason, which is focused on inner-city residents aged 14–25; A Community Perspective, which involves current and future law enforcement members; and Managing Anger Toward the Police, directed to incarcerated individuals.
Lehman regularly travels the country, training law enforcement officials and communities on the mutual benefits of cooperation. The nonprofit also presents two annual $1,000 scholarships to local high school students.
“This year alone, I’ll train more than 1,000 law enforcement officers from dozens of agencies spanning the country and more than 1,000 community members within Long Beach,” said Lehman.
Looking ahead, Lehman has plans to expand WYSM into a national standard for community-to-police-officer interaction. To achieve this goal, the nonprofit contracted with the College of Continuing and Professional Education (CCPE) to develop a Train-the-Trainer course to help improve officer safety, and implement de-escalation and problem-solving techniques in the field. Topics will also include how to effectively use social media, create positive message campaigns and classroom events, and apply the six principles outlined in President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.
Currently, CCPE is documenting WYSM’s existing educational process and providing trainer development information. CCPE will then submit documentation to the California Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST), conduct pilot courses, and assist with a nationwide program.
“I’m looking forward to expanding the influence of our program,” Lehman said. “This course will prepare trainers to return to their agencies and provide their fellow law enforcement officials and communities with information that will ultimately reduce violence between peace officers and the communities they serve.”