Minneapolis police have launched a new training program to teach the entire department how to counteract personal biases at a time of renewed scrutiny of police tactics locally and across the country after several racially charged incidents.
The “fair and impartial” police training teaches officers that even a well-intentioned person can have unconscious or implicit biases. Police officers are taught to recognize their prejudices and reduce their influence in how they go about their jobs.
“You have to continually make a conscious effort, any person does, to not make these snap judgments,” said Lt. Melissa Chiodo, who helps supervise the Minneapolis training.
The idea is to train officers to think differently about how they process and react to situations on their job and resist the urge to prejudge individuals. “Every day we amass new situations,” Chiodo said. “It adds more stuff to the computer to store up that you can draw on and you don’t want to do that.”
The training has been taught in Baltimore, where riots followed the death of Freddie Gray, who died after being transported by police, and in St. Louis County, Missouri, where the police shooting of unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson led to widespread protests.
St. Paul police will start similar training in August. In Wisconsin, officers from several departments will attend a fair and impartial training session in July to be able to teach their respective officers.
“There’s phrases and things that we say, actions we take, beliefs we have, that we don’t even know why we have them,” Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau said in an interview.
According to a 2002 study on bias highlighted during the training, participants in a simulation were slower to shoot an armed white man than an armed black man and were more likely to shoot an unarmed black man than an unarmed white man.
Harteau said bias isn’t limited to prejudices about race, but extend to include a range of personal differences, including socio-economic status.
Minneapolis police started discussing implicit-bias training following a June 2013 incident in which two off-duty Minneapolis officers visiting Green Bay, Wis., were accused of using racial slurs, berating local officers and disparaging the Minneapolis chief. Harteau later fired the officers.
“My ultimate goal is that when people see something on TV, whether it be nationally or locally, with an officer doing something wrong that they can confidently say that that’s not our department or that’s the exception, not the rule,” Harteau said.
Minneapolis officially began the training last year, focusing on supervisors. Starting in May, Minneapolis patrol officers went through four-hour training sessions on the science of human bias, Chiodo said.
Going forward, fair and impartial policing will also be part of the academy training new recruits go through, along with ongoing refreshers, the chief said. Minneapolis has already spent more than $28,000 on the entire program, which will take them through the end of the year.
Everyone has biases
Like everyone, police officers form biases that can be the result of their experiences with family, school, community, and other influences, Chiodo said. Learning and generalizing is a natural instinct that in many instances can keep people safe, she said.
But for police officers, prejudgments can be problematic, leading officers to let down their guard in some situations that may not immediately appear dangerous, or to erroneously see threats when there are none.
For all of the expectations police leaders have for the program, they are having a tough time gauging success.
“How do you measure a feeling? How do you measure perception?” Harteau asked.
She said she hoped to get a better handle on the success of the effort through a three-year, federal initiative to study and reduce racially biased policing within the city through community surveys and training.
“It’s just too early to determine the long-term effectiveness,” said Tanya Gladney, an associate professor in the sociology and criminal justice department at the University of St. Thomas.
Gladney is working with St. Paul police to help with the department’s implicit bias training. She will also be researching the effectiveness of the program.
Work to do
In May, the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota published an analysis of more than 96,000 arrests made by Minneapolis police for low-level offenses from January 2012 through September 2014. According to the report, blacks were 8.7 times more likely than whites to be arrested for minor offenses.
“What we’ve observed is a phenomena where young people, especially black men and black youth, are viewed as more threatening somehow,” ACLU-MN legal director Teresa Nelson said.
Nelson said the ACLU supports the initiative, but the training needs to be ongoing and address biases against other populations, such as immigrants and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Chiodo said she hopes the police training may also inspire community members to work on their own prejudices.
“Hopefully through our officers working on this, the community sees that and they also maybe look at officers in a different light,” she said.