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WSU Spokane professor launches anti-bias police training

WSU Spokane professor launches...

SPOKANE, Wash. - A distinctive training developed in Spokane could shape the future of police policy across the nation.

Researchers at Washington State University's Spokane campus are working to address growing national concerns of police bias. It's a dangerous and sometimes deadly thing that hundreds of police officers will have to face during WSU's pioneer program.

WSU College of Nursing Assistant Professor Dr. Lois James and her colleagues have spent nearly a decade researching 30 years of local police data. That information has showed them a few trends.

"Implicit bias does seem pretty prevalent among police officers. Another finding that we've had is that officers can be very good at overcoming those implicit biases when tested in the simulator," James said.

Now, Dr. James is working to answer some pressing questions.

"Does implicit bias training work? If so, what type of implicit bias training? How much training is required? How long do the training effects last?" James said.

Four hundred officers with the Cleveland Police Department will help answer those questions, thanks to a contract signed with researchers last week. The large-scale training is part of a $750,000 dollar research grant awarded to Dr. James by the national Institute of Justice, which is the research and development agency of the U.S. Department of Justice. James said the Cleveland Police Department was selected based on three factors. The department serves a diverse population, is very large, and officers regularly use body cameras.

Dr. James was part of developing the Counter Bias Training Simulation (CBTSim). It's a portable simulator that puts officers in real life situations where they may be required to decide if they need to use deadly force. Participating officers go into a room where a video plays the scenario. The officer can respond to the video by giving commands or using the training gun.

"The officer has to figure out what to do and when to do it," James said.

Each scenario includes people with different races, genders and ages that aren't "predictably related to the outcome." Recordings reveal if the suspect was shot, where they were shot, and how fast the officer responded. The response time is recorded down to the millisecond.

The study puts another group of officers through standard classroom training. A third group receives both simulation and classroom lessons. The fourth group doesn't receive any training at all.

"We can start to get some answers as to how effective is implicit bias training and which modality seems to be better at producing desired results," James said.

James said these findings could play a pioneering role in improving police decision making and could inform policy and practice across the nation. The beginning of this three year trial begins January 1, 2018. Police training begins in the spring of 2019. The results are measured based on scores from body-camera footage, the number of citizen complaints received, police surveys and focus groups, and surveys of people arrested.

According to a release by WSU, the Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams is looking forward to being involved in the study.

"We understand the commitment required to participate, and are excited to play a pioneering role in the evaluation of implicit bias training for improving police decision-making, promoting public perceptions of police legitimacy, and enhancing the outcomes of police-citizen interactions," Williams said.