Police Academy Looks To Holocaust For Lessons On Policing Today

Jun 4, 2018

Pittsburgh police training now includes a half-day session on the role of law enforcement in Nazi Germany.

The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police launched the class this winter, in partnership with the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh and faculty from Duquesne University. It held a second session last week with a cohort of about 30 recruits.

 

Cadets began with a screening of the film “The Path to Nazi Genocide.” Holocaust Center director Lauren Bairnsfather then led a discussion on how local officers were enlisted by the Nazis – first to maintain order, but ultimately to commit the worst crimes of the Holocaust, including murder.

“Although we don’t imagine anything that extreme happening,” Bairnsfather said, following her presentation, “they need to know about it because it happened, and it happened with ordinary men who were in a society not so different from our own.”

The class also included remarks from a local Holocaust survivor, Sam Gottesman.

Police Sergeant Colleen Bristow was instrumental in adding the class to the police academy curriculum. She said it raises ethical questions that still come up in police work today.

“We’re reminding people that, if a supervisor asks you to do something that you know is unethical or is against your moral compass, you say no. The supervisor is not a supreme being,” she said.

The class is representative of a broader change at the academy, Bristow said, as the department puts greater emphasis on how officers interact with the community. It's meant to serve as a supplement to a separate class on law enforcement’s role in the Jim Crow era, she said.