Chicago Police Videos Offer Insights Into Various Faiths

Many men of the Sikh faith wear a small sword under their clothing. Orthodox Jews often refuse to move illegally parked cars on Saturdays. Outsiders may photograph statues in Buddhist temples, but not in Hindu ones.

These are some of the insights in a series of videos the Chicago Police Department uses to train its officers in dealing with non-Christians. Community leaders say the videos have substantially improved relations between various religious groups and police officers.

"This is not just a superficial thing," said Kareem M. Irfan, chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago. "It has changed our community's relationship with the police to the extent that people are beginning to see the Chicago Police Department as an ally rather than an opposing force."

The five videos, each about 10 minutes, have been produced over the last two years as part of the department's desire to communicate more effectively with religious groups after the Sept. 11 attacks. They focus on Sikhs, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and Hindus. Each contains scenes shot inside homes and houses of worship, as well as interviews in which religious and community leaders explain aspects of their faiths.

A police narrator advises officers on practices they should be careful to avoid, like eating non-kosher food inside a synagogue or asking a Sikh to remove his turban in public.

Each of Chicago's nearly 14,000 police officers is required to watch all five videos, and they are also shown to recruits. Copies have been distributed to police chiefs in the nation's 50 largest cities, as well as to chiefs in the Chicago area.

"Other cities are using them," said Philip Cline, Chicago's police superintendent. "They've even ended up in some communities in the Middle East. It's because there's a recognition of two things: police need to know about diverse communities, and people out there need to learn about our tactics."

Rick C. Tanksley, the police chief in Oak Park, a Chicago suburb, said he saw the video on Hinduism when it was unveiled in September and was so impressed that he ordered the set of five for use in his town.

"They're right on target," Chief Tanksley said. "We've brought on a lot of young officers in the last few years, and this is a perfect way to educate them about the world outside and how people view the world differently."

Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum in Washington, said he did not know of any other police department that had produced a comparable set of videos.

"There's a need to educate police officers about cultural differences and how to balance the need for security with respect for people's cultural heritage," Mr. Wexler said. "Up to this minute, I don't think the law enforcement community has been as effective at getting at these issues as we should be. What this Chicago effort does is to go beyond the simple lip service you pay, and really try to understand these communities and realize that it really is possible to do your job and also respect the nuances of individual cultures."

Ellen Scrivner, the Chicago Police Department's chief budget officer, said the agency was planning to commission another set of videos, this time focusing on ethnic groups.

"One side effect that we hadn't expected is that a lot of community groups are asking for copies of these videos," Ms. Scrivner said, "and that's had a very interesting result."

Religious leaders say the videos have affected the way police officers approach them and their communities.

"Baptized Sikhs, for example, really appreciate the martial tradition," said Shiva Singh Khalsa, a minister of Sikh dharma in Chicago, "and that can create a problem when a police officer comes into one of our homes. They'll see swords and pictures of martyrs and all this martial stuff. That might have alarmed them before, but if they've seen this video, they'll understand that it's just part of our life and nothing to be worried about."

"My own experience is that, all of a sudden, beat cops know who I am," Mr. Khalsa said. "They don't call me 'sheik' or ask if I'm Muslim. All of a sudden, they're educated. They know that I'm part of the world's fifth-largest religion. Before, they didn't know I existed."