A full year before the events in Ferguson in August 2014, a relative newbie at the Orange County Sheriff’s Department was hard at work devising a way for the agency to improve its relationship with Orange County’s diverse communities.
Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders.
Carrie Braun, who joined the OCSD’s public affairs team in August 2012, always has been passionate about breaking down stereotypes and fostering understanding.
One of her favorite quotes comes from chauffer-turned-estate manager Tom Branson, a character on her beloved TV show, “Downton Abbey”:
“I don’t believe in types. I believe in people.”
So while Ferguson, Baltimore and other events launched a national discussion about race and the role of police in the community, Braun already was well into pondering the OCSD’s role in combating hate, bigotry and misunderstanding before the unrest that followed those fatal shootings.
Result: the formation, in 2013, of a Diversity Advisory Council.
For her role in establishing the DAC, Braun, who holds the civilian position of public affairs manager — technically, she’s an executive assistant to Sheriff Sandra Hutchens — recently was honored with one of the most prestigious awards in Southern California law enforcement:
The Anti-Defamation League Helene and Joseph Sherwood Prize for Combating Hate.
For two decades, the Anti-Defamation League has handed out the award to police agencies and individuals in Imperial, Kern, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo and Ventura Counties.
The vast majority of recipients have been sworn officers and deputies, or members of district attorney offices — or agencies themselves. For example, the 14 agencies involved as first responders and investigators of the San Bernardino terrorist attack were recognized at this year’s awards ceremony on March 8 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.
Braun, 33, is one of only a few non-attorneys or non-cops to ever receive the award, said Alison Mayersohn, senior associate director of the ADL’s Los Angeles office.
Although very honored, Braun — in her warm, self-effacing way — downplayed her achievement, saying it belongs to the OCSD as a whole.
“Connecting with people in general is just kind of my thing,” Braun said. “It’s how I live my life.”
Braun’s passion to break down barriers — and the OCSD’s commitment to better serve the community — was on full display at a recent meeting of the Interfaith Advisory Council at the Sikh Center of Orange County in Santa Ana.
The IAC, which meets every two months, started in August 2015 as a collaboration between the Rev. Mark Whitlock of Christ Our Redeemer AME Church in Irvine and the OC Human Relations Commission.
The OCSD and Irvine PD were instrumental in the IAC’s formation, and Hutchens is the only law enforcement official to sit on the commission, which aims to foster religious and ethnic tolerance.
The IAC does this, in part, the old-fashioned way:
At the Sikh center, members of the 500-year-old faith, which sprang from India and the teachings of Guru Nanak, made a presentation to more than two-dozen religious leaders in O.C., as well as Hutchens and Braun.
Presenter Jasdeep Singh Mann, of Yorba Linda, talked about how members of the Sikh faith often are mistaken for Muslims because they wear a dastaar, or turban.
Mann said his 8-year-old son was berated and shunned at school following the San Bernardino massacre — all because of his appearance.
A dastaar, Mann explained, is a symbol of honor and self-respect that “signifies piety and purity of mind.”
Mann also told the IAC that members of the Sikh faith always carry on their bodies a kirpan, a dagger that is an article of faith symbolizing self-reliance and protecting one’s honor.
The kirpan, Mann said, has created some challenges in interactions with law enforcement. But for the most part, he said, cops have become educated on its significance.
“We have a good relationship with law enforcement in general,” Mann said.
At the end of the IAC meeting, which was followed by a tour of the Sikh Center of Orange County, Hutchens reminded attendees their work is ongoing.
“It’s not just having this meeting and going away,” Hutchens said. “We’ve got to continue talking to each other.”
Added Whitlock: “The real challenge is listening to one another.”
Although the IAC technically is not part of the DAC Braun was honored for establishing, the two councils share a common goal:
Protecting O.C. from potential hatred and bigotry, and bridging existing gaps caused by a lack of knowledge and understanding.
The DAC serves as an umbrella group for several Community Advisory Councils set up by the OCSD several years ago.
Braun determined those councils, which represent various ethnicities in O.C., weren’t being used to their full potential and she therefore established the DAC, taking a member or two from each CAC to form it. The DAC also includes representatives from the Anti-Defamation League and the OC Human Relations Commission.
“The brilliance of the idea served to diminish feelings of hatred and mistrust between community groups and insert law enforcement as the intermediate responsible for protection of all,” OCSD Lt. Jeff Hallock (now a captain) wrote in his nomination of Braun for the Anti-Defamation League Helene and Joseph Sherwood Prize for Combating Hate.
Hallock called Braun a “role model” for the OCSD.
Hutchens is equally proud of her and the prize.
“It shows we’re reaching out to diverse communities,” Hutchens said. “It’s all part of fair and impartial policing…It can be something as simple as how to address someone — how you do that and what words you use are very sensitive areas.”
In her remarks after being presented the award, Braun said, “I wholeheartedly believe that to combat hate you have to first understand love.”
She said her understanding of love comes from family. Her parents, Beth and Jim Grove, “told me that in a world where I can be anything, I should be kind.”
Among family members who watched Braun receive the Anti-Defamation League Helene and Joseph Sherwood Prize for Combating Hate were her husband, Nick, and their three children, Abigail, 7, Ryan, 5, and Logan, 1.
Braun, who prior to joining the OCSD worked for seven years at Cox Communications, leaving as community relations manager, ended her remarks with another quote she tries to live her life by (by the poet Maya Angelou):
People will forget what you said and what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.
Braun ended her remarks after receiving the prize by saying: “It’s my hope today that we all leave today feeling empowered. Together, we are greater than the hardship in the world.”
Reflecting on her award, Braun said thoughts about her children help inspire her work.
“I feel like when I leave home every day,” she said, “I’m doing meaningful work — something that makes a difference, something that I think is going to make the world a better place for them.”