AUSTIN, Texas - Learning about implicit bias is now a mandatory class for all cadets going through any of the more than 100 police academies in Texas. The requirement for the new curriculum was announced earlier this month by the state commission on law enforcement.
That change was based on a request by state Rep. Garnett Coleman (D-Houston).
"Oh it’s just a first step, this is what could be done without statute, when we are not in session, and so that’s the reason I approached them, just like I approached anyone that could do things by rule, to say, do it now, we could do this now, and they agreed,” said Coleman.
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The class essentially is a way to teach cadets on how to make a deep personal assessment, but it’s not social engineering, according to the commission's Government Relations Director Gretchen Grigsby.
"It’s always good for cadets to examine themselves and how that will impact their interactions with people they are charged with serving and protecting, and so we can all do some introspection, and realize how that may affect we protect our community,” said Grigsby.
The commission is allowing local communities to write their own course work, as long as the class meets minimum standards. Coleman wants a more uniform standard. "All police officers should be trained the same way in Texas,” he said.
Implicit bias is already a topic for cadets, but it’s part of a larger course on de-escalation. Bias training has also been developed by CLEAT, the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas. Executive Director Charley Wilkison said the group supports the idea of a new stand-alone course.
"We think overall implicit bias is something that we need to address, not only about race, but in all cases of bias, human beings are biased, so we believe it will save lives, like CPR, it will turn into a good thing that officers look forward to taking, and we are in a time of great change and law enforcement is going to be ready for that,” said Wilkison.
The initial change came out after a confrontation between a state trooper and Sandra Bland, but to get legislation passed in 2017, language requiring a specific class on implicit bias, as well as placing restrictions on some traffic stops, were taken out of the bill.
Coleman said when state lawmakers return to Austin in January, he will push for state lawmakers to endorse the new bias training class. He is also working on a package of reforms. Part of it will focus again on traffic stops and prohibiting the arrest of people like Sandra Bland for infractions where the penalty is a simple fine.
Wilkison said he believes academy classes should run longer to give cadets more time to study what they are taught. He also said CLEAT is willing to have an open discussion about reform, but warned measures must remain in place where police officers can protect themselves without the fear of being prosecuted or dying.