Police aim to reduce bias with new policy

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In the next month, Berkeley Police Department aims to completely implement a policy to reduce police bias, as part of a push by multiple city organizations to promote more impartial policing.

Berkeley City Council voted in June to adopt “fair and impartial policing” methods, a program based on psychology and the study of bias. As of Tuesday, about 81 percent of BPD’s sworn employees and 9 percent of its nonsworn staff have completed the required training, according to a report presented to the council this week from BPD Chief Michael Meehan. By Oct. 17, it’s expected that all employees will have been trained, and the rest of the policy will go into effect.

In addition to mandating training that addresses racial profiling, the new policy requires sworn officers to provide data for certain traffic and pedestrian stops, in which the race, gender and age of whomever is stopped must be recorded.

“It’s important to use (the policy) to ferret out and discern the way bias affects what we do as a community,” said Alison Bernstein, vice chair of the Police Review Commission. “The strength lies in data collection.”

Similar plans have been implemented across the country. According to Meehan’s report, BPD began researching the concept at the end of 2009 and started drafting its plan in 2012. The department collaborated with the commission and took suggestions from various other organizations, such as the NAACP. The city enlisted the help of Lorie Fridell, an associate professor of criminology at the University of South Florida, who runs several fair and impartial policing programs.

Fridell held training sessions for BPD executive command staff and BPD trainers who teach the program to the rest of the department. Sessions for the executive command officers cost $4,500, while a session for trainers held in October was sponsored by an office of the U.S. Department of Justice, according to Fridell. The training involved presentations on bias and roleplay scenarios, targeting implicit biases.

“Explicit biases are based on hostility and are conscious and deliberate,” Fridell said. “Implicit biases … can occur even in people who consciously reject biases and stereotypes.”

George Lippman, vice chair of Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission, said some community members have told him that police officers have improved their treatment of civilians since the passage of the plan. Lippman added that more can be done to improve BPD and end racial profiling.

According to Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, the progress of the new policy will be monitored by reports submitted by the police department to City Council annually.

“Berkeley is a progressive community, but for decades we’ve heard of black and brown people being the subject of racial profiling,” Arreguin said. “I think it’s a big step forward.”

Contact Alex Barreira and Melissa Wen at [email protected].