While explicit bias remains part of the fabric of life in the U.S., elected leaders and chiefs of police have increasingly focused on implicit bias, inherently unintentional yet more pervasive. In policing, the consequences of such bias can be dire. If officers rely on stereotypes instead of facts, routine encounters can escalate or turn deadly. This year, the New York Police Department began a training program on implicit bias that is a pillar of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s police reform efforts, reports the New York Times. All members of the department will be trained via a $4.5 million contract with Fair and Impartial Policing, a Florida company that is a leading provider of such training.
It is one of the biggest contracts to the for-profit training company, and no one can be certain of its effectiveness. Patricia Devine, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin who studies prejudice, is troubled by the spread of such training in the absence of objective research. She said more study of officers’ unintentional biases is necessary to evaluate how training can affect their behaviors. The New York Police Department would not permit a reporter for the Times to observe the training. Noble Wray, part of Fair and Impartial Policing’s training team, tells students about how as an officer in Madison, Wi., he would hear comments that betrayed bias toward black officers like himself. Lorie Fridell, a criminologist at the University of South Florida who runs Fair and Impartial Policing, said the training is not meant to cure officers of biases, but to teach them to be aware of moments when an acquired bias surfaces, so that it can be managed. “The key to this training is your behavior,” she said. “We need to make sure your behavior is not biased.”