By Lisa Costa
Lorie Fridell is an Associate Professor and Graduate Director in the Department of Criminology at the University of South Florida.
With over twenty years of experience conducting research on law enforcement, her primary focuses are police use of force and violence against police. Dr. Fridell is a national expert on racial profiling, or what she calls “racially biased policing,” and has authored and co-authored a number of chapters and books on the topic. She speaks nationally and has been travelling the country since 2008 to provide consultation and training to law enforcement agencies. She developed the Fair and Impartial Policing (FIP) perspective and has helped create five training curriculums: one for academy recruits or patrol officers, a second for first-line supervisors, the “Train- the-Trainer” program, a program for command-level personnel and another for mid-management. She previously taught at the University of Nebraska and Florida State University, and has received five university-level teaching awards.
Your trainings are based on the idea that bias leads to discriminatory behavior, which can be managed if one is aware of it. How does bias manifest and cause this behavior?
It used to be that bias in our country, even thinking back many generations, was more likely to manifest as explicit bias. If someone has explicit bias, he or she is aware of it and accepts it. They may frankly tell you that they don’t like this group or that group, and they might tell you why. An example of explicit bias would be a racist: someone who freely acknowledgeshis or her prejudice. We understand now that bias has changed in the way it manifests in our current society. Young people, and even people of my generation, are more likely to have implicit biases that can influence perceptions and behavior, in turn producing discriminatory behavior. And this can occur even in people who at a conscious level reject stereotypes and prejudices. It’s probably safe to say that all of us have implicit biases in one form or another.
So the FIP perspective helps officers to better understand how their minds work. How does one learn to recognize his or her own biases, and then react with the knowledge that those biases exist?
There are two general areas that I will call “remedies,” and we talk about this in the training programs. There are some mechanisms that can be used to try to reduce our biases, but that’s tough. It took us a long time to develop our biases and they’re not going to go away soon. One example of how we can reduce our implicit biases is a concept called The Contact Theory. What it says is that the more we interact in a positive way with people who are different from ourselves, the less likely we will have conscious prejudices and the less likely, or the weaker, will be our implicit biases. For example, the more you interact with Muslims in a positive way, the more likely you are going to reduce your conscious prejudice as well as your implicit biases. The same would be true for people of different ethnicities or sexual orientations. So one remedy is to try reducing biases, and the second, as you point out in your question, is to manage them. That’s made up of two steps: one is recognizing them, and the other is making sure they do not affect our behavior.
How does the training teach police to manage the biases they have?
So, the bad news is that prejudice remains widespread and manifests below consciousness, even in those of us who eschew, at a conscious level, prejudices and stereotypes. The good news comes from the large body of research that has identified how individuals can reduce their implicit biases or, at least, ensure that their implicit biases do not affect their behavior. Scientists have shown that implicit biases can be reduced through positive contact with stereotyped groups and through counter-stereotyping, whereby individuals are exposed to information that is the opposite of the cultural stereotypes about the group. The former mechanism provides further justification for community policing methods, such as permanent assignments and positive police interactions and partnerships with the diverse individuals within a community. The latter mechanism provides the theoretical rationale for use-of-force role-play training (including computer simulations) that randomly pairs the demographics of subjects to scenarios that do and do not result in threat or danger to officers. In addition, taking the perspective of the stigmatized “other” has been shown to reduce both explicit and implicit biases, at least temporarily.
You stated that implicit biases could be reduced through positive contact with stereotyped groups. How does the training help police to interact more positively with people “different” from themselves?
The training highlights for police attendees how they can harness the power of The Contact Theory to reduce their own biases, and reduce biases against police. They learn that frequent, positive interactions with people who are different from themselves can reduce both conscious and unconscious biases. Police are one of the most stereotyped groups in our society. When the police initiate frequent, positive interactions with community members, they can also reduce the biases that those individuals have about police.
Are a lot of officers defensive when you start talking about racially biased policing
Yes. Police are particularly defensive because of the way we have talked about this issue in our country for a long time. The general thinking has been that bias in policing is produced by explicit biases. Another way of saying that is that we have racial bias in policing because of widespread racism in policing. That has been the very negative way we have thought about this issue, so it’s very understandable. Police look at their colleagues, they look into their hearts, and they don’t see widespread racism. They are inclined to be: a) defensive and offended, and b) disinclined to acknowledge the existence of bias because they don’t see this widespread racism. It’s very true that people who come into this FIP training are angry, sometimes even hostile, but they leave very different. We get very good evaluations because we’re not pointing a finger at police and saying they’re bad people. The worst thing we say: “You’re human, like the rest of us, so let’s understand how our minds work.” The training not only [addresses] how bias might manifest in policing, but also it’s quite successful in reducing the very understandable defensive police attitude about the issue.
What are your future goals?
We’re hoping to get funding from the U.S. DOJ COPS office that will do two things: It would make the police profession aware of the science of bias and the COPS office curriculum, which is the FIP curriculum, and the COPS office also wants to be able to respond to requests from agencies to receive FIP training. They will be sponsoring training, around the nation, to agencies approved to receive it.
So the program is made up of five different curriculums for police departments, correct? It seems like you’re involved at every level.
Yes. And actually, I spoke with a judge today who is thinking about how we can implement training for the entire criminal justice system. It is important to be thinking about prosecutors, judges, juvenile justice workers, and correction officials as well. There’s a whole world out there that needs to become aware of the science of bias.