Former San Antonio police officer Troy Smith is working to build bridges between law enforcement and the community through his “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” workshop.
The workshop aims to create a dialogue between officers and community members by allowing them to participate in role-plays where each person takes on the opposite role — known as “role-reversal training.”
The scenarios simulate realistic interactions between police and residents, which can often get heated.
Smith, a retired San Antonio Police Department detective, hopes the exercises will bring new perspectives to participants.
“The community gets to see the police as human beings, the police get to see the community as human beings, and they build that relationship,” Smith told KENS 5 News.
Smith says the no-holds-barred exchange of ideas is crucial to the success of the program. “We allow people to speak freely and that way they can vent and actually say what they feel. That way, the police officers can hear what the community is thinking and the community can hear what the police officer is thinking,” he explained.
Regis Price, president of a nonprofit called the Agape Group, enjoyed the workshop he attended at a local community center in June, the first Smith had held since the onset of the pandemic.
“It really just gave me a different mindset, a whole total different mindset. Just because I could feel it too,”Price said.
Smith created the workshops in 2016 after he witnessed relationships between police and the community deteriorating. He funded the program purely out of pocket.
“As a minority business owner, the process to get funding is so difficult. And then once you get it, you have to go out, spend the money and then get reimbursed, and most small organizations like that can’t do that,” he told KSAT News.
That may be changing. San Antonio’s 2022 budget has allotted over $5 million to pilot police reform programs addressing mental health calls, creating crisis community advocates, adding SAFFE officers and contributing to local neighborhood crime prevention programs. In April, the city’s Public Safety Committee will discuss how to allocate approximately $56 million in federal funds it received from the American Rescue Plan Act. Smith hopes the increased funding could make it easier for organizations like his to get support.
“It’s a drop in the bucket. We always say, ‘You take what you can get.’ You can always use more,” he said.
Certainly, the need for the workshops has only increased in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in 2020, with tension recently erupting in San Antonio after the police shooting of Kevin Johnson on March 14.
“The community has gotten afraid of the police, and I believe the police became afraid of the community,” Smith said.