As police departments across the country conduct implicit bias training for their officers, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is making sure that 28,000 of its own employees receive the same instruction. On Monday, the department announced that FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, U.S. Marshals (USMS), U.S. attorneys, and agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) will undergo the same training mandated for the police departments that have long histories of discrimination.
A growing body of research shows that implicit bias distorts how people perceive those around them and project stereotypes onto them, even if they’re not consciously aware of doing so. That bias informs every aspect of the criminal justice system, from who police arrest to the types of punishments that judges and prosecutors dole out.
The DOJ’s new training will incorporate three levels of instruction, to break down how implicit bias specifically impacts executives, supervisors, and people in the line of duty. Fair and impartial training typically includes a discussion of what implicit bias is, the impact that it has on community engagement, and skill-building for how to make decisions impartial and effective.
More often than not, black people have a target on their backs. Officers are more likely to perceive black faces as criminal, and view young black boys as older and guiltier than their white counterparts. As a result, police disproportionately stop and detain black people, even when there isn’t just cause. But implicit bias also seeps its way in courtrooms across the country. Medical examiners and forensics experts are biased in their collection of evidence and final assessments about a crime that’s been committed. Black men and women receive longer sentences for the same crimes committed by white people, because of prosecutors and judges’ biased opinions. Black defendants are also more likely to be sentenced to death.
A mental shortcut becomes almost irresistible
During his speech about race and policing last year, FBI Director James Comey addressed these biases, saying, “A mental shortcut becomes almost irresistible and maybe even rational by some lights. The two young black men on one side of the street look like so many others the officer has locked up. Two white men on the other side of the street — even in the same clothes — do not.”
But until this week, FBI agents weren’t required to participate in implicit bias training. On Tuesday, FBI leaders will join Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and top officials from the DEA, ATF, and USMS to kick off the training mandated by Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
“Our officers are more effective and our communities are more secure when law enforcement has the tools and training they need to address today’s public safety challenges,” Lynch said in a statement.
In recent years, the DOJ has made implicit bias training a requirement for police departments in major U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, New Orleans, Cleveland, Seattle, and Philadelphia. Additional training is usually part of a larger department overhaul mandated by the DOJ, when it determines that policing is unconstitutional and, often, racially discriminatory. This year, Ferguson and Newark, New Jersey agreed to additional training, when they accepted consent decree terms in March.