Bias in policing has been a polarizing issue in recent years with cases such as the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, as well as the death of Eric Garner after New York City police officers put him in a chokehold.
While police bias is scrutinized and studied, programs have emerged to train officers to do their job without bias. One such program, the brainchild of USF criminology professor Lorie Fridell, is called Fair and Impartial Policing, and has been adopted and retooled by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to train officers at the federal level.
Fridell created the original Fair and Impartial Policing program, targeted at state and local law enforcement, during her time as director of research for the Police Executive Research Forum. With funding from the U.S. DOJ Community Oriented Policing Services office, Fridell spoke with law enforcement officials at all levels, as well as members of the community, about biased policing.
Fridell has been teaching the class at the state and local level since 2008. She has been tasked by the DOJ to develop a version of the program for the federal level called Fair and Impartial Law Enforcement , which is the program she is currently working on.
The class will be taught to members of four particular agencies: the Federal Bureau of Investigation; Drug Enforcement Administration; Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and the U.S. Marshals Service.
The program trains officers to recognize their own implicit biases, which Fridell said they might not be aware of because they might only associate bias in policing with explicit biases, such as racism.
“There is no animus and hostility associated with these biases,” she said. “The implicit biases can impact us outside of our conscious awareness, even as it may produce discriminatory behavior, and that led me to believe that even the overwhelming number of well-intentioned law enforcement in this country have implicit biases.”
The first 2-½ hour class for federal officials was taught June 28. Those in attendance included the DOJ Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, the directors of the four agencies receiving the training and other high-ranking individuals from those four agencies.
“It is actually rather scary giving presentations to the group on (June 28), the high level group,” Fridell said. “You want to make sure that you do a good job and make the university proud. It was a little less intimidating on Wednesday and Thursday.”
The first implementations of the supervisor and executive versions of the course came in the days following. As classes are taught, Fridell and her team are asking for feedback.
“As we start to roll it out, we’re going to be making changes,” Fridell said.
A curriculum for line personnel was not tested last week. Her program will reach more than 23,000 DOJ employees during its implementation.
Fridell said many trainees she has dealt with at the state and local level are defensive or even hostile when they enter training because they believe the implication of their involvement is that they are explicitly biased.
“What I see and what I believe strongly is that many law enforcement officers might … walk into the training room thinking that bias in policing … has nothing to do with them,” she said.
“I believe … they leave thinking very differently about the issue. They leave … with the skills that they need to implement fair and impartial policing.”
Bias training is important, Fridell said, because implicit biases impact people across many professions, but policing requires special attention because of the affect it has on people’s lives.
“While every profession needs to be fair and impartial, policing that is fair and impartial is critically important first and foremost to protect the rights of community members,” she said.
Renna Reddick, the public information officer for University Police (UP), shared a similar view on the importance of recognizing bias in policing saying, “Any type of training that brings different perspective is helpful.”
Seven officers at UP have attended Fridell’s course and UP also undergoes continuous, mandatory bias training. UP, she said, hasn’t received complaints about bias in its policing, which she sees as a sign of success.
“It means the training that they’re receiving is working,” she said.
One challenge that concerned Fridell was the difference in activities and missions between law enforcement at the federal level, and the state and local levels. Federal law enforcement is a lot less spontaneous than state and local, she said, when it comes to encounters with the population.
“I have a lot of knowledge regarding state and local agencies, and I’m going to be learning a lot, with this program, about federal law enforcement,” Fridell said. “… Those differences lead to different implications of the science of bias for their work.”
The next steps are to finalize the curriculum and continue teaching both the federal, and state and local programs while gaining feedback. Meanwhile, Fridell will continue training executive level officials in the four federal agencies in early July.
Early implementation of the line and supervisor trainings will be completed over the next three months. Then, in October, officials from the four agencies will be instructed on how to train members of their respective agencies.