For centuries, Black people in the U.S. have had to navigate structural and institutional racism. This is especially true for the system of policing, which evolved from pre-emancipation slave patrols. Though law enforcement agencies have made strides in the past 160 years, Black people continue to be targeted and killed by police at a disproportionate rate. Evidence shows that DEI training initiatives within policing often fail to reduce this racial disparity that exists in policing. Yet, improved training outcomes surrounding racial relations continues to be a priority. The purpose of this qualitative, phenomenological study was to examine the experiences of U.S.-based DEI practitioners and consultants that have designed and facilitated DEI training programs for law enforcement. The adaptive leadership model (Heifetz, 1994) is an influential component of this study. This served as the theoretical framework to understand how adaptive leadership influences the work of DEI consultants and practitioners and whether it is an appropriate model for how to support efforts to dismantle institutional racism in policing.

The phenomenological analysis revealed nine themes: (a) Lived experiences with marginalization; (b) Law enforcement background; (c) Increase opportunities for leadership development; (d) Navigating unforeseen challenges; (e) Changes in practice; (f) Listen to Black community members; (g) Expand DEI training in academies; (h) Increase financial support for DEI; and (i) Participant feedback. The study’s findings led to the following conclusions: (a) adaptive leadership is a valuable framework for DEI practitioners to utilize when facing difficult challenges in their efforts to help dismantle institutional racism in policing and (b) establishing an internal DEI department allows for more dedicated efforts toward eliminating the racial disparity in policing of Black people. Findings and takeaways from the interviews were incorporated to offer recommendations for further study.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Discrimination in law enforcement—United States; Police training—United States; Leadership

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Stephen Kirnon