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Against the backdrop of simmering tensions over race and police violence against African Americans, police departments like the NYPD have introduced a relatively new training program aimed at teaching officers about implicit bias. Special correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault reports on the research behind “Fair and Impartial Policing” and whether it’s really effective.
Finally tonight, the latest installment in our Race Matters Solutions series.
Earlier, we reported on how a white police officer in Texas convicted of murdering an unarmed African-American teenager is still undergoing the sentencing phase of his trial.
It is another case amid ongoing tensions between law enforcement and the African-American community around the country. Police departments are looking for new ways to teach their officers about race and about policing.
Reporting from New York City, special correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault examines one model that has gained popularity across the nation.
Here in New York City, issues between the New York Police Department and African-Americans have long been simmering, with cases like the death of Eric Garner four years ago representing something of a boiling point.
The father of six who'd been selling cigarettes on the street died after an officer put him in a chokehold while arresting him. The incident sparked massive protests.
In July, the NYPD said it would begin preparing disciplinary hearings for the officer involved in Garner's death. The city had reached a $5.9 million settlement with Garner's family in 2015.
Meanwhile, other cases around the country have also resulted in settlements in the millions. Against that backdrop here, at its sprawling training academy in Queens, the NYPD has introduced the Fair and Impartial Policing training, a relatively new program aimed at teaching officers about so-called implicit bias.
The concept, which has gained popularity in recent years, is that subconscious biases and stereotypes can influence a person's behavior, even if that person is not explicitly biased.
We all have implicit associations that can impact our perceptions and behavior. But there's good news. And it comes in the form of action plans.
Each of the department's more than 40,000 members will attend the six-to-seven-hour class. Today, 19 of them were instructed on the science behind implicit bias.
Not only is it based upon what you're seeing at the time, no only it's basically what you're seeing, what you're feeling, what you're hearing, but it's also built upon your — your history, your past.
The training cost the NYPD $4.5 million.
NYPD First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker explained the rationale for such an expense.
They have been prolific in terms of their — amount of departments they have trained. The feedback from those departments is that their offices were able to hear the message. And we have seen that to be true here.
There is, however, significant skepticism from both social scientists and law enforcement about how much this type of training can actually change police behavior.
I put that and other questions to Lorie Fridell, who runs the implicit bias training program, and Noble Wray, a member of the training team and former chief of the Madison Police Department in Wisconsin.
So, welcome to you both.
Dr. Fridell, let me start with you.
What led you to start this training?
I started thinking about bias in policing when I worked at the Police Executive Research Forum.
I became perplexed because I came to believe two things that didn't go together in my head. And one was that I came to believe that bias in policing was more than just a few bad apples. But I also came to understand that most police are well-intentioned individuals who want to serve their community.
And I couldn't figure out how both of those things could be true, until I was introduced to the science of bias.
But that leads me to the definition. What is implicit bias?
So, explicit bias would be like a racist. It's conscious. It's deliberate. The stereotypes that a person has is based on animus and hostility.
With implicit bias, we still have stereotypes about groups, but it's not conscious and deliberate. And, in fact, implicit biases can impact us outside of conscious awareness, and it impacts even on individuals who at the conscious level reject biases and stereotypes and prejudice.
One of the critical aspects of this training is not just telling them about implicit biases, and so they recognize them, but they need to have tools to reduce and manage biases.
If we recognize our implicit biases, and we're motivated, we can actually overcome our biases and implement bias-free behavior.
So the motivation has to come from these classes or these sessions?
It does, but it also comes — again, most cops are well-meaning individuals.
And so once they understand that their mind is playing tricks on them, and it might produce discriminatory behavior, a large number that say, I want to do better.
Chief Wray, how did you get involved in this?
I mean, you're a black policeman. And I think that most people, when they think about bias and police, they think about white policemen and black people. How did you get involved?
I kind of fell — fall into that same category. I thought that when I first started.
Throughout my career, I always thought the issue is related to bias. I usually focused on the explicit bias. So I would go into a training, fold my arms, and say, literally, this is for the white guys in the room.
What I realized is that it wasn't about a specific race in terms of an African-American police officer not being impacted by it, or a white police officer are the only ones. What I realized is that I didn't get a pass on that. I realized that this was an issue of human beings, that we all have implicit biases.
And so that's what really got me into it.
Today, when you were having a class, you asked the people, the policemen in the room to fill out cards, right?
So, we asked them to write down a thought that comes to mind…
The thought that comes to mind.
… when they hear racial profiling or biased policing.
This one says "Greatly exaggerated, unfair, political tool."
This one says, "Sensationalized."
And another one says "Ridiculous."
How do you deal with that kind of pushback?
Wherever we are, wherever we are across the country or North America, a lot of officers come in believing that bias in policing is not a big issue.
They think it's been exaggerated. They picture it as explicit bias. And they look around the room and they don't see their colleagues as having explicit bias. And so they say, we're being unfairly castigated.
And that is our first task. And we are — we need to reduce that defensiveness. And we come in, and we say, we're going to talk to you about how your mind works. And this is not the science of police bias. This is the science of human bias.
Does it always work?
Not always work. There are a few people that — there's always going to be challenges. Their minds are made up.
But I always start the class off saying, if you're not introspective, and if you personally don't want to improve, this is — this may not work for you.
Yet some of the critics I've read say that there's an absence of probing, objective research, and that longer study is needed to determine if officers really retain what they're being taught and if civilians actually benefit.
I would like you both to respond to that.
So the curriculum is based on a body of research.
But the implicit bias training, including our own, has not yet been evaluated. And that's what we need. And, in fact, in the context of doing our training in NYPD, we are conducting a year-and-a-half controlled evaluation.
How do you respond to that criticism?
One of the unique things about the implicit bias training, which I do — I understand that we need more research, we need more longitudinal research.
But one of the things that I think is powerful about implicit bias training is that there are certain things that you can do in your daily operational as a police officer to help mitigate some of the issues that you're confronting.
If — by keeping lines of communication open, slowing things down, because, you slow things down, you get to know the person more. Contact theory. The more you know someone, the more your positive interactions with someone, the better you are able to interact.
So we talk about a series of things in — from a policing standpoint that you can do to mitigate some of those issues.
And, over time, how many departments can you think of that you have gone back to and found that the training was sustained?
Departments that — where their leadership at the top embraces it is sustained.
You plant the seed. Like most organizational experts will say, this is change. This is difficult change. It's transformation. And that takes time.
How much time, do you think?
I think this is — this issue is generational. We're changing the way we think about this issue. We're changing the tools that we're using to address it.
And I think we are on the right trajectory. And I think we're going to see great changes in policing along these lines.
Well, I certainly hope so.
Thank you both for joining us.
Thank you, Charlayne.
Our Race Matters coverage, Solutions coverage, continues online with more on the guilty verdict in the 2017 police fatal shooting of a 15-year-old.
That is on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour.
Watch the Full Episode
Charlayne Hunter-Gault joined the then-MacNeil/Lehrer Report in 1977. Her assignments included substitute anchoring and field reporting from various parts of the world. During her association with the broadcast, she was recognized with numerous awards, including two Emmys as well as a Peabody for excellence in broadcast journalism for her work on Apartheid's People, a NewsHour series about life in South Africa.
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