Learning to be Less Biased

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Police professionals keep on top of what’s happening in fields related to theirs. Psychology is one, business is another.

Another reason why we need smart, educated, relational police is in the following interview by Sarah Green in the March, 2015 issue of the Harvard Business Review.

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“Fierce debates about biased policing continue to resonate across the United States, and they’re playing out on front pages again after a special investigation into the Ferguson, Missouri police department. The investigators concluded that the white police officer who shot Michael Brown, a black man, was justified in his use of force. But they also found that the Ferguson police department had over-policed the town’s black population. And they turned up multiple email messages rife with virulent racism.

“Of course, police departments are not the only organizations confronting some uncomfortable truths about their biases — corporations have been in the hot seat on this as well, although there the recent discussions have mostly centered on gender, whether it’s equal pay, the lack of women in C-Suites and on boards, or the treatment of women in industries such as technology.

“Whether it’s racial or gender bias, there is a lot at stake. To figure out how police departments are responding, I spoke with Anna Laszlo, director of Fair and Impartial Policing, a consultancy that has helped to train police departments and law enforcement agencies. Among others, they’ve worked with police departments in Milwaukee, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Detroit, Minneapolis, St. Louis, and Tucson. What follows is an edited version of our conversation.

“HBR: Do the standards of bias training need to be different in police departments? Or is it pretty much like any workplace?

“Laszlo: In terms of the role of implicit bias, the science is the same. The science tells us that if you hire from the human race, you’re going to be hiring biased individuals. There’s an extensive and growing body of research across all professions — doctors, lawyers, judges, real estate agents, teachers, and yes, police as well, that points to implicit bias in human beings.

“[The difference is] that the stakes for policing are so incredibly high. Police officers are the only people in a democratic society who can legally take your freedom, and can legally, justifiably take your life. So with all due respect to my colleagues in other professions, the stakes for policing are significantly higher.

“We also know that the police are most effective when they police their communities with the collaboration and authority of the people they serve. Police legitimacy is significantly harmed if there is no trust between the police and the community, and clearly biased policing can significantly impact that trust.

“HBR: You mentioned the extensive research that’s out there on implicit bias, and I know that’s a big part of your training approach. Why emphasize the science? Why start with that?

“Laszlo: It’s important to start with the science because the science is egalitarian in some ways. Scientific data is scientific data. The science helps us to understand that all of us as human beings come with implicit biases. That moves the discussion from an accusatory perspective of ‘You are racist, you are homophobic’ to one of, ‘You’re human.’ We often say early on in the training session, ‘If the worst thing you learn about yourself today is that you’re a human being, so be it…’”

Read the full interview HERE.

  • What are you doing to move these concepts into your department’s training program?
  • When will they be operational?