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Fair and Impartial: Campus Police Trained to Recognize Bias

As part of the college's recognition of Martin Luther King Jr.'s contributions to social justice issues and movements, the Campus Police will host a discussion titled, "The Possibilities and Limits of Fair and Impartial Policing Training and Body Cameras." The discussion is open to the campus community and will take place from 11:05 a.m.-12:30 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 17, in the Spencer-Weinstein Center for Community & Justice.

Davidson College's Chief of Police Todd Sigler, Assistant Chief Carolyn McMackin and Chief Scott Cunningham, a certified Fair and Impartial Policing (FIP) trainer, will lead this lunch and learn community conversation about their experiences with FIP training and body cameras. How do these tools and interventions reduce racial bias in policing and what are the challenges and limitations? Registration is required; maximum 20 people.

Police Cheif Siegler talks to students
Campus Police Chief Todd Sigler chats with students at a police department-sponsored cornhole tournament in the Alvarez College Union.

Police officers regularly face situations in which their split-second judgments determine the outcome of the interaction. The role of implicit, or automatic, associations that influence those interactions is the subject of conversation in communities across the country and the focus of special training programs for law enforcement agencies.

Davidson College Police Chief Todd Sigler and Assistant Chief Carolyn McMackin last year joined representatives from 10 other agencies across the country for training in fair and impartial policing.

The workshop was an opportunity for state and local officers to receive the same training as federal Justice Department personnel. That organization is training its 28,000 agents and lawyers to recognize and address how implicit bias affects their workplace decisions. Likewise, the training supports a mandate from President Carol Quillen that Davidson College work diligently to promote positive relations between campus police and the campus community.

While explicit bias, such as exhibited racism, is relatively easy to recognize, fair and impartial police training is meant to assist law enforcers in understanding how their implicit biases can affect their workplace decisions. The training literature defines implicit bias as "the unconscious and often subtle associations we make between groups of people and stereotypes about those groups."

Reducing Bias

Among other attributes, the training pointed out that implicit biases can concern race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as socioeconomic and professional status.

Assistant Chief Carolyn McMackin
Assistant Police Chief Carolyn McMackin.

"This training is research-based and provides an understanding of the science of implicit bias. It taught us that what we perceive can often influence how we respond–unless we recognize it and prevent it," McMackin said.

Social psychologists have shown that implicit bias works outside of conscious awareness, and manifests even in people who consciously hold non-prejudiced attitudes. It starts with an automatic tendency to categorize individuals.

"Just because you have implicit biases doesn't make you a bad person," Sigler said. "But you just need to recognize when you may be imposing a bias on an individual, and think of ways you can improve the dynamic."

The good news is that research has shown that implicit biases can be reduced through positive contact with stereotyped groups and through counter-stereotyping, whereby individuals are exposed to information that is the opposite of the cultural stereotypes about the group.

Constant Improvement

Sigler said college police officers attend a range of technical and special professional development trainings on topics including public safety leadership and campus violence prevention. The department has also been active in training officers in fair and impartial policing primarily by building relationships with the students it seeks to protect.

"We're trying to build a relationship of trust and respect between our officers and the campus community," Sigler said. "Our most important goal is to help our students feel safe on campus so they can concentrate on having a successful college experience."

Sigler praised Davidson students for their willingness to engage in dialogue with the police. He tries to encourage communication by making himself approachable. He drops everything to listen when they visit his office or send him a text. He attends SGA meetings and stations himself in the Alvarez College Union or Summit coffee shop after business hours to hear their concerns, or simply become acquainted.

Building Relationships

Every encounter is an opportunity to build relationships. Sigler said occasions of socializing that involve alcohol cause the most friction between campus police and students. But dialogue is always the best response.

"I can't say we've got 100 percent agreement on the best procedure, but we all understand the concerns and issues," Sigler said. "By talking it out we can find some ways that we can get our job done while still accommodating their desire for privacy."

Sigler acknowledged that instant communication on social media has put stresses on campus policing. False rumors can engulf the campus in minutes.

"People sometimes react emotionally before they know the facts," he said.

Sigler believes that a general emphasis on fair and impartial policing can defuse much of the current distrust of law enforcement nationwide.

"I've been doing this for 33 years, and I believe this is the best opportunity ever to make some strides in how community and police work together," he said. "But everyone has to make an effort to really listen."

Additional Educational Opportunities

Implicit Bias Faculty Research Panel
5-6:15 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 19, Hance Auditorium, Chambers Building

National and local scholars in social psychology and industrial and organization psychology will lead this faculty research panel discussion on the origins and vast applications of implicit bias research. They will share findings from their respective research projects that shed light on the role of racial bias in student learning outcomes, health disparities, employment and workplace diversity. Open to the public.

Panelists: Luis M. Rivera, assistant professor of psychology, Rutgers University; Enrica N. Ruggs, assistant professor of psychology, UNC Charlotte; Scott Tonidandel, Wayne M. & Carolyn A. Watson Associate Professor of Psychology, Davidson College

Bill Giduz
bigiduz@davidson.edu
704-894-2244