To remain sharp on the city’s streets, San Antonio police officers regularly hit the shooting range, test their reflexes on the driving course and learn new ways to defend themselves.

But being tough and alert is not enough. These days, police officers must also learn to be sensitive.

As part of a new state mandate by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, police departments now require classes on Middle Eastern culture in the list of cultural diversity training sessions.

An estimated 20,000 Muslims now live in the San Antonio area. That means there is a greater chance than before that police will encounter someone of the Muslim religion – for reasons ranging from a routine traffic violation to investigating a hate crime.

Police Chief William McManus has introduced the idea that police officers should know good “customer service,” a concept that’s trickled into the classrooms at the San Antonio Police Academy. The goal is equal treatment for all San Antonians – not just Muslims but people of different religions, races, creeds and sexual orientation.

To that end, the department for the first time is turning to people who know those communities and cultures firsthand. So far, two classes on Middle Eastern culture have been taught at the academy. Two Muslim women, both wearing a hijab, were brought in to conduct the training.

Diversity coordinator Officer Ruben P. Cerda, a 32-year veteran of the force, concedes that it can be a challenge to make officers really wrap their minds around the subject of Middle Eastern culture and traditions.

“They’ll say things like, ‘I’m doing my job, so why do I need to learn this?’ and I have to tell them, ‘Wait a minute guys, if you don’t follow protocol, you could get in trouble,'” Cerda said. “But if you watch them during the presentation, they start asking interesting questions, and they really get into it.

“I think they come away from it learning a thing or two, and they appreciate it.”

Cerda turned to Sarwat Husain, president of the San Antonio chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Narjis Pierre, president of the San Antonio Muslim Women’s Association. Both have conducted numerous sensitivity training sessions to educate people about their traditions.


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