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IACP 2023 preview: How effective interaction with Muslim, Middle Eastern populations can increase recruitment, officer safety and police-community relations

Clarifying the source of common myths and misconception and recognizing our bias is the first step to building bridges and maintaining partnerships



On Saturday, Oct. 14 from 8:30-9:30 a.m. PST, Sgt. Sarah Shendy will present her session, “Effective Interaction with the Muslim and Middle Eastern Population: Considerations for Community Partnership, Recruitment, Officer Safety and Homeland Security,” in Room 4 at IACP 2023 in San Diego, Calif.

Shendy, who moved to the United States from the Middle East with her family at six years old, has over 15 years of law enforcement experience. Shendy is the first known Arab-American Muslim female police sergeant in the State of Ohio and was a recipient of the IACP 40 under 40 in 2022.

In her upcoming IACP 2023 session, Shendy will address the most common myths and misconceptions about the Muslim and Middle Eastern communities. The dialog includes clarifying often misunderstood information about the Islamic religion and the Middle Eastern culture. The class covers the five pillars, various communication strategies, gender roles and expectations, the hijab, and other topics relating to the functions, effectiveness and safety of law enforcement officers.

The class also includes sections on communication and preferred interaction, navigating language barriers, and tips to successfully investigate and prosecute criminal cases. Topics such as recruitment, police legitimacy and homeland security matters are also addressed.

Click here for more information on Shendy’s session, as well as others being presented during IACP 2023.

Muslim and Middle Eastern families have a strong presence in our everyday communities. According to Pew Research Center, there are over 3.45 million Muslims in the United States.

Understanding cultural expectations and religion can help strengthen police-community relations, improve recruitment and retention, increase officer safety and strengthen our homeland security.

Historically speaking, the Muslim and Middle Eastern community has been marginalized in terms of receiving and utilizing services from law enforcement entities. Many challenges are presented to the law enforcement community from the time of an initial call to conducting the investigation and successfully prosecuting criminal cases.

Many of these challenges exist due to a lack of communication, as well as strong assumptions and biases.

Increasing awareness decreases bias

We know through research that one of the biggest and most effective ways to decrease our bias toward other groups of people is through meaningful engagement.

Our implicit and explicit biases are heavily impacted by our environment, media, the news, the entertainment industry, and direct and vicarious experiences. Increasing our awareness through education and conversation will help us understand the dynamics of situations and what we can do to better serve our Muslim and Middle Eastern communities.

How it started

After learning that there is a huge and concerning disconnect between law enforcement and the Middle Eastern/Muslim community, I took the initiative to bridge the gap through education and engagement.

My class was originally offered to law enforcement personnel addressing policing-related issues. Since its inception in 2012, the class has been taught to a variety of different disciplines including higher education, court systems, hospital staff, social workers, and the Department of Jobs and Family Services.

How it’s going

Since 2012, this class has been taught over one hundred times to local, state and federal law enforcement.

The conversation has been impactful and very well received in Ohio, as well as other states. Attendees have stated that learning the basics of Islam and building cultural awareness has helped with their community policing initiatives, preventing and solving crime, as well as building a reputation of respect and trust.

Information and conversation

  • Does every Muslim person speak Arabic?
  • Does every Muslim female wear the Hijab?
  • When can a male officer shake hands with a Muslim female?
  • Can a K-9 officer enter the community mosque with his partner to investigate a bomb threat?

These are great questions!

This class, which I will present during IACP 2023, aims to address the most common myths and misconceptions, provide tips for effective communication and introduce tools for community engagement. Topics discussed will assist attendees with understanding religion vs. culture, gender roles, barriers to communication and much more.

NEXT: Follow Police1’s IACP coverage here

Sarah Shendy, M.S., is currently a police sergeant with the Case Western Reserve University Department of Public Safety. She was the inaugural director of the Office of Law Enforcement Recruitment. With over 15 years in law enforcement, Shendy is committed to training and recruitment. Because of her cultural and religious knowledge and background in Muslim and Middle Eastern populations, she previously served as a Terrorism Liaison Officer. In 2012, she designed and facilitated training for law enforcement officers and other public service employees on more effective ways to interact with Middle Eastern populations. She also served as a subject matter expert for the Community Diversity and Procedural Justice Committee with the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy. Shendy is the first known Muslim Arab-American woman to be a police sergeant in the State of Ohio.