Officers train to remove bias from policing

The state of Wisconsin has the highest incarceration rate per capita of black men in the United States.

“La Crosse County has one of the highest arrest rates (per capita) for African-American adults and juveniles in the state of Wisconsin, so yes, there’s some work we can do,” Attorney Keith Belzer said.

To help get to the bottom of the problem, four La Crosse police officers are joined by dozens more from across the state taking part in a three-day training program called Fair and Impartial Policing – Training the Trainer.

The training focuses on teaching police officers to recognize that everyone has bias but then identify that bias and eliminate it from their decision-making process while on patrol.

Officers with the La Crosse Police Department have one day left of training and hope to return to the office Monday ready to train the whole department.

“The La Crosse Police Department wants this to be a top down training philosophy, so everyone from the chief of police to the newest officers will eventually receive this training,” said Assistant Chief Robert Abraham.

The training focuses on implicit bias, which are biases at the subconscious level, meaning everyone has them, not just police.

“What we hope to do is we hope to train the officers so they recognize that they have these and then identify it and try to not let those come into their decision making process when policing,” Abraham said.

La Crosse police asked the La Crosse County Juvenile Justice Best Practices Committee to also be a part of the training. Just last year, the committee identified that young people of color in the county have a much higher rate of police contact than white youth. Committee member Tracy Littlejohn said she hopes this training will spread beyond just the city of La Crosse.

“Just to overall improve the overall juvenile justice system, so that we’re not just creating a system that just automatically takes them into that prison pipeline, but we want to help these young people be able to make the correct choices in their lives,” Littlejohn said.

Belzer said there are certainly issues of bias in all areas of the criminal justice system, but right now, there is a lot of work in La Crosse County being done to address that.

“I think the police department is taking the lead on this in trying to get some training for their people, and it’s training, that I’m hoping, will spread into other parts of the criminal justice system,” Belzer said.

Abraham said Fair and Impartial Policing is as important to an officer as firearms training or defense and arrests training.

He said by taking part in this training, the La Crosse Police Department feels it is being proactive instead of reactive.

Littlejohn said this isn’t going to be an instant fix but hopes to see results in the very near future.