An implicit-bias police training implemented by the U.S. Department of Justice as well as countless law enforcement agencies across the country came to the Baton Rouge Police Department this week, training 30 officers on fair and impartial policing.
The three-day "training-of-trainers" program will conclude Wednesday, certifying the 30 officers to train the rest of the department in the science behind implicit bias and how it affects effective policing.
"This class is impressive because there's a lot of input from the officers; they were so involved in it," said one of the training leaders, retired Lt. Sandra Brown of the Palo Alto, California, Police Department. "You have got to have the wherewithal to stand in front of the classroom and talk about one of the most difficult discussions, and that's race, ethnicity and other ways by how we judge each other."
Former Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie had worked to bring the training to the department, a move he often cited when asked how he was working to improve the agency following the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, by a white Baton Rouge police officer.
While this implicit bias training does address racial biases, it also addresses gender, sexual orientation, economic, age and any other biases that anyone can have, said Brown.
The training first explains that implicit biases are unconscious attitudes or stereotypes that people have based on past experiences — something different from explicit biases, like racism.
Then the training works to show how these implicit biases influence what people think and see, and in turn, how those biases, if unchecked, can influence actions, Brown said. The training uses scenarios from different law enforcement officers across the world and throughout history to show how to attain fair and impartial policing.
"What we're hoping is (officers) look beyond those biases that help create our stereotypes and take each person as an individual," Brown said.
Speaking Tuesday afternoon to the officers at tables set up in a U-shape to facilitate discussion, Brown gave an example of an officer in another department who asked about stopping a black guy walking through a predominately white neighborhood at night. She reminded officers to first consider any "actual intelligence" — facts like a reported nearby crime or suspect description — before pulling over the person simply on suspicion.
"If you got nothing, you got nothing," Brown said.
Cpl. Beulah Bowman, a Baton Rouge officer in Uniform Patrol who went through the training, said she thought it was in-depth in a way other training sessions in the past have not been.
"We as people, in general, have biases," Bowman said. "I think it teaches you how to deal with your biases when approaching the public."
Bowman said the class made her think of a scenario from the beginning of her career in which she now can see how an implicit bias affected her. Bowman, a black woman, was responding to a call involving a blind white woman. Bowman said she let her guard down, not expecting any danger — but soon, the woman attacked her.
The Fair and Impartial Policing training was the main recommendation from the Police Policy paper, a compilation of research from local universities on Baton Rouge Police reform, presented to the Metro Council in late May. The $17,000 training had been in the works since around March, Dabadie had told The Advocate.
Brown, and her co-leader, Assistant Police Chief Clarence Hunter from Henrico County, Virginia, said the training is structured in a way to connect with officers — instead of putting them on the defensive.
"One of the first videos we show is Susan Boyle," Hunter said, referencing the Scottish singer who took the world by surprise as a competitor in the "Britain's Got Talent" TV show. "It has nothing to do with race, and it shows how people judge people solely based on looks."
And it also is intentional that the people leading the training are in, or were formerly in, law enforcement, Brown said.
"We have been in the same shoes as these people," Brown said. "So when we walk in here, you can almost see a collective sigh."
The 30 trained officers will work with the two incoming academies this fall to ensure they receive the training before becoming sworn Baton Rouge police officers, said police spokesman Sgt. L'Jean McKneely. Then, within the next year, they will spend time going through the training with all current officers, McKneely said.
"We change minds, and we do it gently, and we do it with putting ourselves on the table, saying this is what I did," Brown said. "These guys have a pride of ownership for the Baton Rouge Police Department, that the past doesn't define who they are today. … I was very impressed."