The Denver Police Department has taken a hard look at what role race plays in officer-involved shootings, says Westword, a weekly in Denver. It used an unlikely tool: a rudimentary video simulation developed by psychologists at the University of Colorado. Over the past half-dozen years the simple computer game has allowed researchers to measure the influence that cultural bias has on police decisions and to make some surprising discoveries regarding how the human mind forms and acts upon racial prejudice. In 2002, Tracie Keesee spotted a small article in the Rocky Mountain News about a University of Colorado study demonstrating that participants playing a virtual-simulation scenario were quicker to fire at black male figures than at whites. This interested Keesee, a Denver police lieutenant. who was not only a University of Denver graduate student.
“I thought it was really relevant to large police organizations – the use of deadly force and how it impacts people of color, specifically African-Americans,” says Keesee, who’s now a district commander considered a strong candidate to become the city’s first female and first black police chief. “Whenever you read the newspaper, whether it be New York or Chicago or Denver, it continues to be a very prevalent question.” Since the 1970s, researchers have consistently found that minority suspects in the U.S. face lethal force from police officers at a disproportionate rate.