Editorial: Simple concept, important bias training for police

It's so simple, yet so effective.

It seems to boil down to an adage that has much truth to it: Don't judge a book by its cover. Or another: Looks are deceiving.

That's what local police departments are trying to impart to their officers through specialized training to help them recognize implicit bias - those unconscious thoughts about race, gender, age, socio-economic status, sexual orientation and appearances that can lead to false assumptions.

If it's such a simple concept, why training? Because everyone has implicit biases and it's important to filter them in situations officers face on a daily basis.

"Never totally lock onto a theory that you can't change as soon as the facts change," Elgin police Deputy Chief Bill Wolf told a group of officers in training earlier this month.

Elgin, Gurnee, St. Charles and Naperville officers all have taken the training in the last few months. This kind of training has become vitally important in the last few years, especially after the August 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. And those who have been trained recognize its importance in helping them do the best job they can.

"It gave me more self-awareness, and opened my eyes to these implicit biases everybody has," St. Charles police officer John Losurdo told the Daily Herald's Elena Ferrarin. "If you understand them and you don't let them dictate what you do, that's how you benefit."

The training is money well spent in these suburban departments, and we encourage other police departments to find a way to provide it for their officers as well.

The training also shows, Ferrarin reported, that residents can have their own bias against police officers. It encourages cops not to take it personally nor to react to it.

"Just because I might have been fair to the people I deal with, the people on the receiving end may not have had those same good experiences with policing," said Elgin Detective Jamie Marabillas.

Keeping that in mind would likely keep a volatile situation more under control.

Just agreeing to attend the training may mean having to overcome some implicit bias about why it's necessary. Losurdo, the St. Charles officer, said he thought it wouldn't be worthwhile. "I thought it was going to be kind of like a political response to what's happening now, where people say all officers are racist." But, he added, "it's not accusatory at all."

Everyone has baggage they bring to a situation that might make it worse in the end. We are appreciative of these police officials who want to work with their residents and in their communities to communicate better and address problems in a more positive way.

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.