Published: Dec. 9, 2021

Classmates and instructors celebrate completion of the Our Community Listens training

Members of CUPD, along with Boulder, Castle Rock and Grand Junction police departments, celebrate completion of the Our Community Listens training, with instructors, in Boulder. 

Police officers train diligently to keep their tactical skills sharp. It’s not uncommon for officers to engage in emergency response, firearms, de-escalation and driving training on a regular basis. But what about working on the one skill officers use more than any other: communications?

“Police are in the people business, so it makes perfect sense for us to engage in communications training,” said Chief Doreen Jokerst of the University of Colorado Police Department (CUPD). Jokerst was instrumental in bringing to campus a three-day, intensive communications course called Our Community Listens, hosted by the Chapman Foundation for Caring Communities.

Last week’s training, a gift from the foundation, was the first time the course was offered exclusively to law enforcement officials. About a dozen CUPD police officers and staff members, along with several members of the Castle Rock, Grand Junction and Boulder police departments learned how to be better listeners, approach confrontation in a more effective manner and better understand the impact of non-verbal communication skills. 

“The thing that stuck with me the most was that 90% to 95% of conversations are through non-verbal communication,” said Wesley Carey, a CUPD community safety officer and supervisor with nearly 10 years of service, referencing research showing most communication “cues” come from facial expressions, posture, gestures and tone––not from spoken words. He added, “I will be able to communicate with the public better and more effectively by going through this class.” 

CUPD Events and Emergency Management Program Assistant Molly Andersen said an important takeaway was the necessity of incorporating silence into conversations, which seems counterintuitive but actually helps people become better, more empathetic listeners. “I will work to always remember this lesson in my relationships with campus stakeholders, faculty, staff and, ultimately, the students whose academic goals we all serve,” she said.

“Relationships are strengthened when we listen to connect, instead of to reply, and it allows for truly human connection. This work is the basis for everything we do,” said Misty Janks, CEO of the Chapman Foundation for Caring Communities. “We are excited to partner with CU Boulder Police as they continue to serve and foster a caring community.”

Course participants completed an online assessment, which helped illuminate individual communication styles, then worked in pairs and triads to practice interacting with class members whose styles differ from their own, to mimic officers’ daily interactions with a wide variety of campus community members. 

Practicing newly-learned communication skills will continue, as class members commit to working with each other for the next 90 days. “The course provided me with tools and accountability partners within our team to ensure I can continue to learn from the course and incorporate the key areas into my life at home and at work,” said CUPD Commander Tom Matlock. 

CUPD class members will share what they’ve learned with the rest of the department, to help create an environment where dignity and trust can flourish through more positive interactions with students, faculty and staff.

“Attending this class was an incredible opportunity that taught me how important mindfulness is during a conversation. I plan to put this into practice so that I can effectively communicate with my coworkers and the CU community,” said Hannah Dennis, CUPD’s operations administrative assistant. 

More than 11,000 people worldwide have completed the training, initially developed as a way to foster a corporate culture where leaders would learn empathetic listening skills to better care for the people around them. After realizing stronger communication skills were having a positive impact not just on team members’ productivity at work, but was spreading to their interactions with family members and their communities, leaders began to offer the course more widely. 

It’s a ripple effect that can have a positive impact on CU Boulder as a whole. “It’s just what we’d like to see from a policing and community relations perspective,” said Jokerst. “It’s about being better listeners, building trust and making sure our campus community knows we truly care.