Could a member of the DeLand Police Department be biased against you, without even knowing it?
At the behest of DeLand Police Chief Jason Umberger, members of the Police Department and community leaders took steps recently to find out.
A mixed group of command-level Police Department staff and area residents attended a training program put on by the Florida company Fair & Impartial Policing. They gathered Jan. 9 at Stetson University’s Carlton Union Building.
What’s the first step toward more equitable and unbiased police work? Recognizing that we all have bias, whether we know it or not.
“We all have implicit bias. It’s the inappropriate use of that bias to make law-enforcement decisions that is a problem,” program instructor and University of South Florida criminology professor Lorie Fridell said.
The existence of implicit bias is part of the human condition. It’s how we sort and categorize the world. The problem comes from the unintended effects — such as when inherent and unconscious biases cause discrimination and disparity.
“Every walk of life could use this training, but especially so in policing, so that inherent biases can be managed and the focus is instead on facts and circumstances,” Umberger said.
The training by Fair & Impartial Policing is the same training all 36,000 New York City Police Department officers are receiving, as part of an effort to reform the city’s police force.
In DeLand, two officers are certified trainers in the curriculum, and have trained every DeLand Police Department officer in managing implicit bias. Every new officer will also receive the training, Umberger said.
“This is next-level training. It’s the only training I have seen in the nation that really addresses the issue based entirely on science,” the chief said.
The science-based training helps elevate the conversation from a hot-button topic to a constructive conversation, attendees said.
“Very educational,” West Volusia NAACP vice president and founder of the Man Up mentoring program Sean King said. “This has been very positive in regards to promoting community interactions. The training gets away from the us-versus-them mentality.”
The inclusion of community leaders is not something every police department opts for, Fridell said. She said departments sometimes sign up for the training merely to “check a box.” DeLand was different.
“At the leadership level of the DeLand Police Department, I really saw evidence of a commitment and interest,” Fridell said. “I’m very impressed with the chief to invite community leaders.”
She added, “This group is more honest and open than I have found in other jurisdictions.”
In specific situations, determining if a police officer is unknowingly acting on an implicit bias, or just doing their job, can be difficult, Fridell said. That’s why acknowledging the existence of implicit bias — and getting the training to reduce and manage it — is all-important.
“What can an individual do? Two things: Reduce bias, and manage the bias,” Fridell said.
Eliminating biases can be difficult, because they can be so unconsciously entrenched, but successful strategies to reduce and weaken bias include positive contact with stereotyped groups.
Managing bias is easier. Once implicit bias is realized, individuals can control their behavior, and question their assumptions.
The involvement of the community in the training is part of the first step, attendees said, in what amounts to a cultural exchange.
“We’re participants in the process,” community advocate and founder of the CATALYST mentoring program Felicia Benzo said. “The next step is to really engage with the community — like having basketball hoop competitions... really mentoring with our kids.”
The training could lead to some policy changes, including codifying when it is appropriate to use demographics in policing, and when it is not. Either way, leaders in the community are invited to be involved.
“We want to take into account community input when making policy,” Umberger said. ”So the community is helping make the policy with what hits home for them. That community buy-in builds trust. We’re not hiding — I’m about transparency. Here’s what we’re doing.”