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We don’t need more implicit bias training for cops

June 4, 2020

There has been a great deal of news coverage about new legislation being proposed in Lansing, specifically legislation that would require that all incoming law enforcement officers complete training on implicit bias, de-escalation techniques, and mental health screening.

The legislation, known as SB 0945, was introduced by Democratic Senator Jeff Irwin and has a slew of other Democratic State Senators as co-sponsors. The legislation was first proposed on May 28, which was after the police murder of George Floyd, but before the uprisings that have rocked the state since then. However, on June 4, it passed in the Michigan Senate, which was no doubt because of the uprising and protests that have happened across the state in the last week.

Some people may see this as a positive step forward, but my read of history and the institutional structure of policing, is that not only does this kind of training result in fewer police acts of violence, it lulls us into thinking that we are making progress.

Alex Vitale, author of the insightful book, The End of Policing, has this to say about the kind of training that SB 0945 is pushing.

“Many advocates also call for cultural sensitivity trainings designed to reduce racial and ethnic bias. A lot of this training is based on the idea that most people have at least some unexamined stereotypes and biases that they are not consciously aware of but that influence their behavior. Controlled experiments consistently show that people are quicker and more likely to shoot at a black target than a white one in simulations. Trainings such as “Fair and Impartial Policing” use roleplaying and simulations to help officers see and consciously adjust for these biases. Diversity and multicultural training is not a new idea, nor is it terribly effective. Most officers have already been through some form of diversity training and tend to describe it as politically motived, feel-good programming divorced from the realities of street policing. Researchers have found no impact on problems like racial disparities in traffic stops or marijuana arrests; both implicit and explicit bias remain, even after targeted and intensive training. This is not necessarily because officers remain committed to their racial biases, though this can be true, but because institutional pressures remain intact.”

Last year, the Grand Rapids City’s fiscal committee voted to spend $21,268 to send two GRPD officers to Boston for a 2 week training on “racial reconciliation.” We have to stop spending public money on ineffective, feel-good programs like this. 

In addition, there has been a long standing and growing call for defunding the police. Legislation like SB 0945 will not solve the problem, it lulls us into thinking we are making progress, but most importantly, it means that those making and supporting these kinds of policies are not listening to black voices and are not learning from the lived experiences of black people. 

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