WSU professor explains the consequences of implicit bias in police

SPOKANE, Wash. — Protests sparked from George Floyd’s death are sweeping across the nation and even around the world. 

A spotlight is now focused on policing. 

To help us understand how our experiences play a role in reaching this boiling point, 4 News Now reached out to Washington State University’s School of Nursing for answers on implicit bias. 

Out of one man’s death comes the pain, sorrow and anger of many around the world. 

“People are recognizing the massive injustice and not just members of the African American community,” said Dr. Lois James. 

Dr. James describes the intensity of the protests as “striking.” 

As an assistant professor for WSU Nursing, she studies the connection between implicit bias and policing. 

This doesn’t just fall on the police. We all have biases. It’s human nature. Yet, implicit bias is the attitudes and stereotypes we have towards others- that we may not be aware of- that can carry heavy consequences. 

James believes implicit bias training is an important step for police departments to avoid tragedies like these. 

“In some cases it’s mandated, in some cases some departments want to be proactive, they kind of want to get ahead of a potential issue,” said James. 

She believes a lot of officers want to do better and are trying. Yet there are a number of challenges when it comes to this training. 

Policing data isn’t standardized, so it’s hard to say how many departments actually offer implicit bias training. 

Then, there’s the challenge of police allowing access to this information. The question of the quality of this training and getting officers on board. 

“If the time is right for real honest reform, we need to move forward in a smart, strategic way,” said James. 

She fully acknowledges policing is difficult and dangerous. 

“I understand the hurt there, but the real importance is for officers to try and kind of put any personal feelings of victimization aside and recognize this is important for the profession,” said James. 

At the end of the day, while efforts can be made on both sides, she says the responsibility of battling implicit bias lies on the police, and breakthroughs are emerging. 

“There are lots and lots of examples of departments around the country that have come forward and said there’s no way, there’s no way we would have stayed silent and let what happened to Mr. Floyd happen,” said James. 

“You see the chief praying with protesters, we see across the country, there’s footage of officers kneeling with protesters,” James said. 

Her research also shows there’s a connection between the health and wellness of officers and implicit bias. 

“For example, when officers are extremely tired, they’re less able to check their responses. They’re less able to think and rationalize and empathize,” said James. “If we have healthier, happier cops, they’re going to do better.” 

Programs like Coffee with a Cop and having officers show up to community events to interact with the public will help police and different groups find common ground. 

James predicts there will also be a greater push for these community oriented policing programs, along with implicit bias training. 

“Implicit bias is something that we all experience. It’s something that we all have,” said James. “And although the police as kind of the gatekeepers to the criminal justice system are very important, part of that, where that really shows up is that we all need to do better. We all need to think about all the things we can do.”

READ: How to talk to kids about race and racism amid George Floyd protests 

READ: ‘Quit killing us because you’re sick’: Spokane NAACP reacts to George Floyd’s death