The U.S. Department of Justice announced this week that it will now train all of its law enforcement agents and prosecutors to recognize and address implicit bias as part of its regular training curricula, using a program developed by USF Associate Professor of Criminology, Lorie Fridell.
The demand for such programs has spread in the wake of a series of shootings of unarmed black men by white police officers in recent years.
It comes after the DOJ was criticized for not developing its own policies to combat bias after recommending local police do so after the riots in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. The department actually held a two-day training with St. Louis area police on implicit racial bias and fair and impartial policing as it continued its civil rights probe into the killing of unarmed black teen Michael Brown by a white Ferguson, Missouri police officer and the department’s broader investigation of the Ferguson police department (Fridell conducted a seminar with the Tampa Police Dept. in 2014).
“Our officers are more effective and our communities are more secure when law enforcement has the tools and training they need to address today’s public safety challenges,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced in a statement on Monday. “At the Department of Justice, we are committed to ensuring that our own personnel are well trained in the core principles and best practices of community policing. Today’s announcement is an important step in our ongoing efforts to promote fairness, eliminate bias and build the stronger, safer, more just society that all Americans deserve.”
In the next month, more than 23,000 FBI, DEA, ATF and U.S. Marshals Service agents will begin receiving the Implicit Bias Training Program, as will the approximately 5,800 attorneys working in the 94 U.S. Attorneys Offices around the country.
“The science-based training program is designed to help people understand how implicit biases can impact their lives and work,” says Fridell, adding that social science has shown that we all have biases. “It also helps participants make these discoveries in a blame-free environment, one that recognizes that even the most well-intentioned officers and agents can experience unconscious biases.”
A faculty member in the USF College of Community and Behavioral Sciences, Fridell says that stereotypes associated with different groups of people can influence the interactions and decisions of those in law enforcement as they carry out their responsibilities. And she says these stereotypes may be based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, socio-economic status, or other factors.
“I have had officers tell me that this training has ‘opened their eyes’ and ‘made them think’,” says Fridell. “It is something they say now is in the back of their minds every day.”
In the DOJ statement, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates says that the dept. has a responsibility to do everything possible to ensure that the criminal justice system is fair and impartial. “Given that the research is clear that most people experience some degree of unconscious bias, and that the effects of that bias can be countered by acknowledging its existence and utilizing response strategies, it is essential that we provide implicit bias training to all of our prosecutors and law enforcement agents,” she said.
Fridley is the former Director of Research at the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), and the author of several books on law enforcement, including 2001’s “Racially Biased Policing: A Principled Response.”