As police departments across the country conduct implicit bias training for their officers, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is making sure that 28,000 of its own employees receive the same instruction. On Monday, the department announced that FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, U.S. Marshals (USMS), U.S. attorneys, and agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) will undergo the same training mandated for the police departments that have long histories of discrimination.
A growing body of research shows that implicit bias distorts how people perceive those around them and project stereotypes onto them, even if they’re not consciously aware of doing so. That bias informs every aspect of the criminal justice system, from who police arrest to the types of punishments that judges and prosecutors dole out.
The DOJ’s new training will incorporate three levels of instruction, to break down how implicit bias specifically impacts executives, supervisors, and people in the line of duty. Fair and impartial training typically includes a discussion of what implicit bias is, the impact that it has on community engagement, and skill-building for how to make decisions impartial and effective.
More often than not, black people have a target on their backs. Officers are more likely to perceive black faces as criminal, and view young black boys as older and guiltier than their white counterparts. As a result, police disproportionately stop and detain black people, even when there isn’t just cause. But implicit bias also seeps its way in courtrooms across the country. Medical examiners and forensics experts are biased in their collection of evidence and final assessments about a crime that’s been committed. Black men and women receive longer sentences for the same crimes committed by white people, because of prosecutors and judges’ biased opinions. Black defendants are also more likely to be sentenced to death.