Police take part in fair policing training

UNION COUNTY, NJ — The Union County Prosecutor’s Office has mandated that all Union County police officers participate in a “Fair and Impartial Policing” training program. The program is designed to help police officers identify any biases or prejudices they may have.

“Most of the training has and will continue to take place at the John H. Stamler Police Academy in Scotch Plains,” Director of Communication Mark Spivey of Union County Prosecutor’s Office told LocalSource in an email. “The training was implemented by acting Union County Prosecutor Grace H. Park, John H. Stamler Police Academy Director Eric Mason and the Union County Police Chiefs Association. In addition to representatives of all municipal police departments within the County, members of the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, Union County Sheriff’s Office, and Union County Police Department all are also undergoing the training.”

The program trains a police officer from each department, who then trains the rest of the force. All chiefs and mid-level supervisors have received the training. The rest of the police officers will be trained this year.

Factors such as race, religion, ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status and sexual orientation are discussed in the program. According to the program’s website, even well-intentioned people can have subconscious biases that prevent them from acting without prejudice. Social psychologists have shown that people can implement controlled behavioral responses that can overrule biased associations.

“We believe that this training will provide our sworn officers the tools they need to recognize unconscious bias, and to ensure that it doesn’t negatively impact the decisions they make in the line of duty,” Spivey said. “And it is important to note that the content of the training isn’t exclusively applicable to law enforcement; it makes clear the notion that anyone, in any profession and from any background, can harbor unconscious biases, even if they may not be fully aware of them. In fact, many companies are now engaging in unconscious bias training to their management and employees.”

The program was funded by the U.S. Department of Justice. There are five parts of the curriculum including “recruit/patrol,” “first-line supervisor,” “command-level training,” “mid management-level training” and “train the trainer.” All curriculum has received positive evaluations from participants. Each course accommodates up to 30 officers.

“I think it’s important for everyone to attend training, regardless of their profession,” Lt. Theresa Gazaway of New Providence Police Department told LocalSource over the phone. “We participate in biased-based training every three years, so it’s nothing new for us. This is just mandated by the county. It’s important to train officers on this topic and make sure they’re educated and aware of their biases. It’s makes for a more professional police force.”

Each scenario that police officers encounter is different, making it difficult to prepare their actions ahead of time. They need to be able to think and act quickly, and this makes it crucial for them to be able to identify any bias before they act upon it without realizing it.

“As police officers, we are trained to recognize biases,” Lt Sam Rocco of Garwood Police Department told LocalSource over the phone. “It’s a case-by-case situation. All officers receive training in this area so that they are able to make better decisions.”

Evidence-based policing is about implementing better informed and tested crime-control approaches, according to the program’s website. More importantly, it’s also how to achieve fair and impartial policing. Training based in science is important to enforcement and communities. Several states are moving toward statewide adoption of this program. The program is also reducing police defensiveness around this issue.

“The Prosecutor’s Office continues to actively solicit feedback from all departments engaged in the training,” Spivey said. “To date, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.”

When other Union County municipalities’ police departments were contacted by LocalSource, none of them commented prior to press time.