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Friday, August 15, 2014

Training Police To Put Aside Their Biases

Police stand watch as demonstrators protest the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown on August 13 in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on Saturday. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Police stand watch as demonstrators protest the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown on August 13 in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on Saturday. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, has cast a spotlight on race relations and racial profiling by police in the U.S. The angry protests by Ferguson residents reveal the lack of trust and confidence in their local police force.

Lorie Fridell says that police departments can change their relationships with their communities by training their officers to recognize and set aside their biases. Fridell is an associate professor in the department of criminology at the University of South Florida and has developed model curriculums called “Fair and Impartial Policing,” with grants from the Department of Justice.

She told Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson that the program is based on the science of bias and has successfully worked in cities around the country. According to Fridell, the demand for the program greatly exceeds the space available, which is a great credit to “goodwill on the part of departments.”

“Even though this is still a current issue, great changes have been made in policing over the years,” she explained. “We’ve had great reductions in the police use of deadly force, and most of those reductions are in the reduction of shooting African-American males.”

Interview Highlights

On the importance of implicit bias

“We face a lot of defensiveness and resistance of the part of officers, in part because we’ve been dealing with this issue — bias in policing — based on outdated notions of the science. The scientists tell us that bias these days is less likely to manifest as explicit biases like a racist, but rather manifest as implicit bias. This occurs in even well-meaning individuals. Implicit biases can impact our perceptions, our behavior, it can occur outside of our conscious awareness. And what’s really scary is that this occurs even in people who at the conscious level reject biases and prejudices and stereotyping.”

“A very strong implicit bias related to policing is the extent to which we link people of color to crime. There are a lot of studies that measure our ‘blink response’ or implicit bias, that shows that many of us are more likely to see threat and perceive violence and aggression when we see a person of color rather than a white person. This can impact our perceptions and this can impact our behavior. Some of the studies use very quick-moving ‘shoot-don’t-shoot’ scenarios, and unarmed blacks are more likely to be shot than unarmed whites.”

On the contact theory

“The key theory here is what’s called the contact theory: the more we interact with individuals who are different from ourselves, including those we stereotype, that’s going to reduce both our conscious as well as implicit biases. So the more we interact with Muslims, that will reduce our biases. The more we interact with homeless, transgendered, blacks — I should note here that it needs to be positive contact — that can actually reduce both our conscious as well as our implicit biases.”

“This theory is true for all of us, and it certainly would be true for the police. A lot of departments are telling their officers — get out of your car, and instead of just spending all of your police time in negative interactions like arrests, go out there and talk to the store owners. Talk to the mother who’s working two jobs to put her kids through college. Talk to the man in the African-American community who’s helping the kids in the afternoons stay out of gangs. So these types of contacts can be tremendously important, and let me add that it works the other way: the more community members who distrust police that have positive interactions with police, it reduces their biases against the police department.”

Guest

  • Lorie Fridell, associate professor of criminology at the University of South Florida and expert on racial profiling.

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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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