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Chattanooga police cadets interview community groups on police perception

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -

Chattanooga police and residents are not always on the same page, but the city's future officers are hoping to help change that. 

Twenty-three Chattanooga police cadets spent more than 50 hours interviewing community members, compiling video, and gathering research on the various cultures and customs that make up the city.

Cadets were split into groups and were assigned a different groups including the LGBTQ, Intellectually and Developmentally Disabled an Mental Heath Consumers, Hispanic, African American, and Muslim communities. THEIR perceptions all varied when asked about police, but it was eyeopening for the cadets like Darnell Bryant. 

Bryant was born and raised in Chattanooga, but for the first time ever he has a better understanding of the city's LGBTQ community. 

"You almost have to be a family member in order to be let into that community or a best friend. They're very discreet," said Bryant. 

He and his team learned some the LGBTQ community commends the police department for trying to break old traditions and treating all calls the same. However, some people think Chattanooga officers are distant; some want them to be more supportive. 

"I would like to see actual police officers that are homosexual come out of the closet and get into the community and how us there are more people than we know that are like us," said Josh, a member with of the LGBTQ community. 

Hispanic residents agree, but cadets learned many Hispanics don't go to the police out of fear of being deported and separated from their families. But the language barrier is the main reason for the disconnect. 

"It’s hard and in most situations it can be scary too because you don’t know what’s going on; you don’t know how to ask the right questions," said Vivian Lazano, a social worker for La Paz. 

Cadet Ryan Blevins says he ran into a similar problem when with the African American community. 

"When we started asking the younger generation hey can I ask you some questions about the police they were like no, we don’t want anything to do with them. When you get with the community leaders it’s a totally different answer," said Blevins. "What do I say to not step over that line or step on somebody’s toes? I don’t want to offend this person." 

Some African American community leaders told cadets they want police to be more proactive, but slow to react. They also want officers to be held accountable for their actions. 

"Just because you have a badge doesn't mean that you don’t have to abide by the laws as well. You’re in this position because you are an enforcer of the law, protector of the community. If you cannot do that; you cannot wear that badge,' said Enora "Nori" Moss, former Chattanooga YFD Communications Coordinator. 

This is the fourth year the police department has required this kind of outreach in their Immersion Program, but we're told it will continue. The academy's 23 cadets will graduate on Feb. 7. The group includes 21 males and two females. 

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