Richard Biehl

Director and Chief of Police, Dayton Police Department

Laws vary from culture to culture. So what do you do when you’re leading the charge to uphold the law in a community filled with diverse races and ethnicities? How does local law enforcement send a message of peace, respect, and cooperation to a diverse immigrant community? These are the questions confronting Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl. With over three decades of public and community service in Cincinnati and Dayton, Chief Biehl has gained a unique perspective on the importance of creating a welcoming environment for immigrants. It’s a philosophy melded from sources as varied as Ivy League universities and a local martial arts instructor.

Understanding Other Cultures

“My instructor in Taekwondo is a native born Korean. So, when Mr. Kim would speak, he would always be looking down and every once in a while he would look up. Well, in our culture, when you’re not looking someone in the eye, you’re believed to be deceptive. In the Korean culture, it’s considered offensive.  A couple of years ago, we worked with a small group of citizen volunteers to create a series of brochures of what to do when stopped by the police. For instance, in some cultures, when you’re stopped by an officer, you need to get out of the car to stand up and talk to them. That would be perceived as an act of aggression in the United States. Now, we’re not always going to be fluent or competent within all the cultures with whom we interact. Our challenge is how do we interact with the diverse cultures that exist within our community that what we’re doing is perceived as legitimate.”

Legitimacy of Authority

“There’s this great research out of Yale University initially by a gentleman named Tom Tyler and some of his other colleagues on legitimacy of authority. A lot of research was done in Chicago back in the nineties. An interesting part of that research is that if the authorities, whether they are judges or police, communicate in a certain manner, those authority figures are seen as acting legitimately even if the decision is adverse to the individual. It’s based on something called “procedural justice.”

“While we need to learn as much as we can about the cultures we interact with, we’re almost always going to be short of the knowledge base we need to be effective in understanding the culture. What we can master is a communication skill set in interacting with everyone we meet. They need this opportunity to speak, communicate back to the authority figure that they have been heard and also that, whatever they offer in terms of communication, that that information was considered when coming to a decision. If those elements are present, the individual will – even if they still get the citation – see the authorities as acting legitimately. The research found that when people see the authorities as not acting with legitimacy they are less willing to obey the law in the future.  This is my message to our folks in our department. ‘How we do’ is as important as ‘what we do.’”

A Partnership with ABLE

“We have members of the immigrant community here in Dayton that are victims of crime. Some members of the immigrant community who are undocumented may be reluctant to come forward because of immigration enforcement. Let me make it very clear. We don’t do that. But, in order to make it easier for them to be able come forward and tell us what happened, we partner with ABLE – Advocates for Basic Legal Equality – really for two services. First is for outreach to our immigrant and ethnic communities and to communicate that we want to work with all members of our community. We also realize that we’re often not the best entity to begin a conversation about a U-Visa application. ABLE is uniquely qualified in this area. Should someone be a victim of crime – if you are undocumented, you can obtain temporary legal status in this country, which may often lead to permanent residency through a U-Visa. And we are here to help you with that process.”

About Welcome Dayton

“I think it’s a tremendous gift to the community. Y’know, I had a conversation with a number of individuals at City Hall in a meeting to talk about immigration and related issues, particularly the law enforcement piece of it, a few years ago, and I said, “Does anybody here have ancestors originally from this country?” and not a single hand went up in the table. We’re a nation of immigrants. That we would ever lose sight of that would truly be a sad commentary on the history of this country. My great-grandfather came over from Germany in 1900. I’m a third generation American myself. So, when I hear hostility directed to individuals from other countries, I’m stunned.  When did we forget who we are?

“Now, with that much said, I think everyone generally agrees, particularly in the law enforcement community, we do need to regulate the borders. We do need to have cogent policy on immigration. I don’t think most folks would argue against that.  But with that, it shouldn’t be cowling to some hostility and fear of the other. That’s what a lot of this dialogue has been. It’s sad and it’s wrong. The fact that this community has adopted this approach says much to the spirit and heart of this community and I think it’s honoring the very rich tradition of this country.”

For more information about the Dayton Police Department, visit www.cityofdayton.org/departments/police/pages/default.aspx