During the first presidential debate late last month, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was asked whether she felt implicit bias was present among police. Her response: “I think implicit bias is a problem for everyone, not just police.”
Clinton said if elected president she intends to implement implicit bias training for police officers and to use federal dollars to fund those programs, with the goal of addressing the root of these biases.
“I think too many of us in our great country jump to conclusions about each other,” she said, “and, therefore, I think we need all of us to be asking hard questions like, ‘Why am I feeling this way'”
According to research, it is undetermined whether implicit bias training is effective in changing officer behavior. Implicit bias training is designed to train officers in identifying their subconscious prejudices and bias regarding factors such as race and gender.
Most of the time, successful programs boil down to the skill of the person training the officers, as well as the ability of the departments to afford follow up training. The training is designed to help officers identify prejudices and not act on them.
The concept moved to the forefront of policymakers’ agendas in 2014, following the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. After that incident, President Barack Obama praised the practice of implicit bias training, and since then a number of police departments across the country have begun implementing these programs and training.
Issues with the training are that one session is not enough, yet departments cannot afford follow up sessions. In some instances, officers may be resistant to their instructors. Research also shows that after the sessions, participants tend to revert back to their biases and prejudices.
Experts stress the need for ongoing training for a department to successfully rid itself of biases. Clearly, these biases have trickled through departments across the country, like when New York still had its controversial stop and frisk policy.
The data from that policy showed that in some years over 80 percent of the citizens chosen for a stop and frisk search were a minority.
Other methods to hold officers accountable include the use of equipment like bodycams, as well as having departments be more transparent with their traffic stop and search data.
Just as with implicit bias training, these strategies do not always hold up as efficiently in practice as they do in theory. An ongoing study regarding body cams at police departments was updated this past August. The study concluded that of 50 United States police departments with body cam policies, none of them are effectively and appropriately implementing these policies. Notably, the police department in Ferguson failed to meet even the minimum qualifications in any of the areas the study took into account.
These types of methods can assist officers in thinking twice before letting their biases escalate a situation and have lethal consequences. Though implicit bias training is not perfect, overall it is seen as a step in the right direction toward officers ridding prejudice notions from their day-to-day jobs.
Implicit Bias at Work
Implicit, or unconscious, bias affects job functions in all industries and is becoming a popular topic among employers. At DiversityInc’s 2016 Top 50 Learning Sessions this past April, Lissiah Hundley, diversity & inclusion strategist for Cox Enterprises, presented “Addressing Unconscious Bias.” According to Hundley, “It is influenced by our background, family, cultural environment, personal experiences, etc.”
More recently, at DiversityInc’s fall conference, “Conquering Recruiting Challenges,” Hundley moderated a panel called “Unconscious Bias at the Recruiting Stage.” Panelists included Melissa Harper, VP, global talent acquisition, inclusion and diversity and HR compliance,Monsanto(No. 43 on the2016 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversitylist); Chris Louie, SVP, global talent acquisition,Nielsen (No. 41); and Michael Peters, senior director of talent acquisition and talent management,Comcast NBCUniversal(No. 29).
The executives discussed unconscious bias they’ve witnessed during the recruiting stage in their own careers and explained different strategies their companies have employed to overcome it.
“Recruiting has never been as difficult as it is today and it’s never going to get any easier,” Harper said, adding that effective diverse recruitment is “not a one size fits all” and requires a global lens.