Salisbury Police Chief Duncan: Positive training behaviors can lower crime rate

 

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A police officer is called to a domestic dispute and advised there’s a gun. He arrives to find an arguing man and woman and keeps an eye on the male, assuming he’s hiding the weapon.

But, it turns out the female is armed.

The officer’s  assumption is an example of implicit bias, identified and discussed at the Fair and Impartial Policing workshop in Salisbury last week.

The first of its kind in Salisbury, the training — presented by Dr. Lorie Fridell of the University of South Florida and former director of research at the Police Executive Research Forum — distinguished between implicit and explicit bias.

Fridell explained explicit bias is overt and easily recognizable in prejudiced words and actions. Implicit bias, though, is bias individuals don’t realize they have.

“This is something that has been researched and documented, which is why we can talk about the science behind it. It is the sum total of all experiences we have had, or not had, in life. It applies to how you interact with your environment. We all come to the table with implicit biases because we are all human,” said Salisbury Police Chief Barbara Duncan.

“This is the first step in how we make our decisions and how to be more reflective in making decisions. Recognizing them is how you move through them, make non-biased decisions and apply them,” she said.

She said the training is beneficial for not only police officers, but for every sub-group, including racial, the disabled, LGBT, religious, gender, age and culture.

The fair and impartial seminar, Feb. 22 and 23 at the fire house on Cypress Street, was intended to “build trust in the community,” Duncan explained.

“With that trust, we will lower the crime rates even further than they are now, which will create an economically healthy and stable city and region,” Duncan said.

She joined Mayor Jake Day, Salisbury City Council President Jack Heath, council members, fellow police chiefs and community leaders at the event she found “very impressive.”

During two days, Fridell explained the science behind the training and provided examples of how to counteract biases. Among them was the example of a resident calling police because she sees an African-American male acting suspiciously.

“So, the police department would send somebody out to see if everything is OK. We don’t want to engage in the proliferation of bias and automatically assume the male is doing something wrong,” Duncan said.

“It might be he’s in need of medical attention. He might be looking for a house for sale or it might be he’s doing something wrong. The idea is not to go to the scene with a closed mind,” Duncan said.

“It was good stuff. The great thing was that it was a really robust group and everyone became comfortable expressing their concerns and experiences. Dr. Fridell brought out a lot of issues and concerns and we really made some significant progress in areas of providing information to community members who attended,” Duncan said.

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Positive, behavior-changing lessons from the training will now be incorporated into police academy training, beginning with the next class. Recruits will go through the curriculum and there will be training internally.

“We will take the opportunity in all forms of training to discuss implicit and explicit bias so it rolls through our training platform,” the chief said.

The mayor said city leaders are committed to  “as close to bias-free policing as we can possibly have,  as is humanly possible, by acknowledging human observation skills and other senses and acknowledging that some information will be collected, such as race. If it’s not relevant, it can be treated as excess information.”

Local pastor Mark Thompson, who works for the board of education overseeing the mentoring program, attended and called the training a good way to start changing attitudes.

“It can be used not only for police but in every field, even in the education system. There is no training for school systems like this. I want to look into training like this,” he said.

He said it’s a good way “to look at yourself and see how to correct behavior before it’s already out.”

Now that police are trained, Thompson said, “We have to start training the community, so they will understand.”

“As leaders in the community we have to always stress the positive when we speak. If there is an issue, don’t blame anybody. People look toward us so we can’t come out and say, ‘Yeah, the police were wrong.  We’re going to get to the bottom of it.’ We’re have to work together to see that things are whole again,” he said.

At his church, he said, members who go into the community talk about working together with police. “We’re almost like this now, where we want to have inclusion with all races. It’s not so much an issue with us. I’m not saying we’re perfect but it’s always stressed by our pastor to work with people who don’t look like us, and be careful how we approach people who are different from us. Church people ought to already know this. These are just the teachings of Jesus,” he said.

“It’s time to stop preaching to the choir. It’s a good time for the NAACP to have a meeting. They could have similar training,” he said.

Mike Dunn said he was impressed that, “everybody in that room was engaged and understanding what the chief is trying to achieve.”

“I get the sense that, clearly, in the eyes of many in this community, the experience of growing up here is not the same. That was very evident. The African-American community has different sensibilities and different things they’ve seen growing up here,” Dunn said.

What he learned quickly impacted his life. A few days after the seminar, he and his wife played golf in Westover.  On their way home, he was pulled over by a police officer for “going a little too fast,” he said.

As the officer approached his car, Dunn remembered what he had learned, that the proper way to wait for him was to place both hands on the steering wheel.

The training will benefit the city, the mayor said, by “building legitimacy and trust.”

“That’s what it’s all about as we become a city known as the place that polices without bias. I think everybody would agree we have a good police department. What we built, ultimately, is trust, a department committed to furthering opening lines of communication,” Day said.

Duncan said she believes the average person understands police officers “submit to an inordinate amount of training and develop expertise in the field of policing, which has evolved into a highly technical industry. I think, rightfully, they hold these individuals to much higher standards and expect a quality delivery of service.

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“One of the outstanding things the Salisbury police department benefitted from was, we worked through our biased-based policing policy. And most of the vast majority of agencies have these biases. We certainly don’t want to engage in biased policing and don’t want the community to see it because it causes mistrust and erodes the police operation,” Duncan said.

“We learned about various policies that are geared toward reduced biased-based policing. We’ve got to look at the substance of our policy here and make adjustments to it,” she said.

Dunn called it “a very positive step forward.”

“The right people on all levels were at the table. This is a new concept in policing that Chief Duncan is bringing to the community. I thought it was exceptionally positive,” Dunn said.

“In a lot of cases, it’s not easy to talk about this. Without platforms like these you’re keeping a lid on it until it can’t be contained,” the chief said.

“Once you realize implicit bias happens, you realize, ‘This is what I know. Let me put that aside and get to the facts of this case. I’ve identified my implicit biases. Now let me work on it.’”

 

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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