Three police officers who successfully fight hate crimes in their hometown of Atlanta recently shared their experiences at the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) in Bangkok.

Officers Eric King, Miguel Lugo and Kathleen Carozza led a training class for police and prosecutors from across Southeast Asia. The State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, King noted, recruited them because it “wanted a conversation to happen with folks that were [policing] on a local level, who were actually doing the work, from getting the call to the investigation part, to contacting the victims.”

Officer speaking to a family in a shopping area (Courtesy of Miguel Lugo)
Officer Miguel Lugo on duty in Atlanta (Courtesy photo)

The training covered crimes based in prejudice against race, religion, social status and disabilities, with a special focus on crimes against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community. The class explored officer training, crime-scene response and victim assistance, among other topics.

“They’re okay until we get into the LGBT portion,” said King, “and then it always gets uncomfortable. The same is true stateside. I think oftentimes we’re scared that we’ll say something wrong and offend somebody. We have to tell people: ‘This is why we’re having the conversation. This is why we’re here. We want you to ask us the questions so we can correct the issues, and if we don’t have the answers, we’ll get them for you.'”

The training stressed the importance of community policing in preventing hate crimes. “Officers need to know the cultures they are patrolling,” said Lugo. “The community can’t only see the police when something bad happens.”

Nixon Frederick, director of the ILEA in Bangkok, said a problem in many countries — including the U.S. — is officers not understanding the broader context of hate crimes. “A lot of times police officers make the arrest, the case goes to trial, but they don’t really have anything to do with the victims.” Part of community policing, Frederick said, is helping police officers understand the victims’ experience.

Man speaking into microphone during a training session (Courtesy of ILEA)
Kittisak Jutivorakul of the Royal Thai Police during anti–hate crime training (Courtesy photo)

“Hate and discrimination are very toxic in general,” said King. “No matter where you are, if it’s happening around you, you’re going to feel the impact of it.”

ILEA Bangkok invited law enforcement professionals from 12 Asian nations, including Burma, Indonesia, Laos and Thailand.

The Atlanta Police will also conduct this training for Latin American, European and African law enforcement at three other overseas State Department–run academies later in 2016.

“Hate crimes happen in Atlanta,” King said.

But Lugo noted with satisfaction how the officers’ fight against hate crimes makes a difference. “When we help our community,” he observed, “we see the results right away.”