New training helps Wis. cops recognize bias

Fair and Impartial Policing training program helps to curtail personal biases, including implicit, unconscious prejudices

By Anne Jungen
La Crosse Tribune, Wis.

LA CROSSE, Wis. — All La Crosse police officers in the next year will undergo training designed to curtail personal biases, including implicit, or unconscious, prejudices that can affect policing.

This week, four members of the agency learned how officers can recognize and counteract their biases, said Lorie Fridell, who developed the Fair and Impartial Policing training program led by retired Madison police Chief Noble Wray and Milwaukee police Inspector Mary Hoerig.

"People in policing need to recognize implicit biases and reduce them because of the power they have over individuals," she said.

Fridell praised La Crosse police for taking a proactive role in addressing national issues affecting law enforcement "when some agencies only bring us in when they're under fire."

Neighborhood Resource Officer Nate Poke, detective Sgt. Andy Dittman, Sgt. Joe Wiegrefe and Assistant Chief Rob Abraham will institute the training to sworn officers during the next year. It also will become part of the standard training for new hires.

"It's important officers recognize these biases because they can affect the way they police and their safety," Abraham said. "We want to train our officers so they go home at the end of their shift. But we also have to make sure we're policing in a fair and just manner."

A professor of criminology at the University of South Florida, Fridell developed the training program with the Department of Justice, and with law enforcement and social psychology experts.

Explicit bias associates groups with stereotypes — African Americans with crime, for example — and involves hostility toward those populations, Fridell said.

"This type of bias impacts their perceptions of people and produces discriminatory behavior," she said. "This person knows it and owns it and will tell you about it."

Implicit bias is similar, but it exists at an unconscious level in people who, at a conscious level, reject biases, stereotypes and prejudices.

"Even well-intentioned individuals, well-intentioned police, can have implicit biases that can impact their perceptions and behavior," Fridell said.

Implicit bias exhibited by officers can cause them to be under-vigilant toward some groups and over-vigilant toward others, affect their interactions with the public and alter their perception of personal safety before using force.

"Stereotypes, in part, are based on fact," Fridell said. "But that does not mean that police can treat every individual as if they fit a stereotype. Policing based on stereotypes is unsafe and ineffective."

The training equips officers with measures to acknowledge and override biases to improve decision-making, Abraham said.

"This is beyond racial profiling," he said. "It's about recognizing the implicit biases, understanding the science behind them and teaching officers how to identify those biases to police better."

Fair and impartial policing also works with the community-policing concept to improve relations between police and community members, reducing stereotypes of both groups, Fridell said.

More than 1,000 agencies in the U.S. and Canada have participated in the training since it was developed in 2007. La Crosse police are joined during this week's training by members of the Appleton, Black River Falls, De Forest, Eau Claire, Greenfield, Madison, Showano, Verona, Tomah VA and UW-Madison police departments, Madison Area Technical College and the state Department of Natural Resources.

Copyright 2015 the La Crosse Tribune

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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