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Unique theater workshop in Brooklyn helps police officers, civilians see through each other's eyes

NYC theater workshop explores relationships between police officers, civilians 02:41

NEW YORK -- Building stronger ties between community and police has always been an elusive goal with many thinking that bridge is critical to help ease tensions.

CBS2's Alice Gainer went inside a unique theater workshop where these fragile relationships area explored to help create a better understanding.

From simple exercises in team building to those in intense focus, police officers and civilians, seven of each, work together at the Irondale Theater in Brooklyn. It's a ten-week program culminating in a live performance at the end of March called "To Protect, Serve and Understand."

"I became increasingly aware that communication was breaking down between police officers and civilians," said director Terry Greiss. "The catalyst for me was the Eric Garner case."

Greiss says he wrote to then-police commissioner Bill Bratton saying it was, in part, poor communication that contributed to the tragedy. Bratton encouraged a pilot program, now in its seventh year.

Every week starts with dinner with provocative questions and answers on the table.

"If you had the opportunity to change your uniform, would you?" a facilitator asked.

"It's not just who I am now. When I put this uniform on, it's who I can be, who I want to be," one officer said.

"I'm not putting on anything I didn't work for," another officer said.

Then, working as a group or in pairs over the next several hours, civilians and officers explore and learn to trust. The goal is to try to imagine the world through each other's eyes.

"I'm in regular clothes, I'm just regular old Nick, but I put the uniform on, it's like I'm not even recognizable," one officer said.

Zuleysha Redford has been an officer for almost six years.

"Being able to listen and hear the perspective of the community can actually give us a wake-up call of what went wrong and how can we do better for the future," she said.

"This space has given me a lot more courage than that I really didn't expect. It has helped me to really challenge how I view police officers," said Upper West Side resident El Chen.

Chen adds she appreciates the challenges and camaraderie.

Henry Gregorek, an officer for five years, says he's grown through the shared experience.

"We can see better where each other are coming from. I can use that in my day-to-day policing by just speaking with people and trying to step in their shoes," he said.

"To Protect, Serve and Understand" runs March 25-26 and is free to the public with a ticket. For more information, visit

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