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Research Brief- Improving Police-Minority Relations: The Out-of-Car Experience

1/9/2017 12:00:00 AM

Richard R. Johnson, Ph.D.January, 2017In the wake of a significant increase in officer deaths from violent attacks and unceasing criticism by media outlets, political figures and other groups in 2016, citizen satisfaction and confidence in the police in America has actually rebounded from a pattern of decline that has been going on since the early 1970s. In 1968, Gallup Poll data showed 78% of Americans had "a great deal" of confidence and satisfaction with their local police. Since that year, confidence and satisfaction in the police has declined, bottoming out at 47% satisfaction in 2015. In the latter half of 2016, however, citizen satisfaction and confidence in the police rebounded, with 76% of Americans indicating that they had "a great deal" of confidence in the police as of October, 2016.1A national disconnect continues to exist, however, between the law enforcement profession and members of racial and ethnic minority groups. The recent Gallup poll data continues to reveal that African-Americans and Hispanics express less satisfaction or confidence in the police than do Whites. Nationwide, non-whites are still 20% to 40% less likely than whites to have confidence in the police. In fact, less than 50% of African-Americans surveyed by Gallup in 2016 had confidence that police officers would treat them fairly.2Think about that. One out of every two African-Americans has a mistrust of law enforcement. This is a national problem in law enforcement that needs to be addressed. But how do we address it?The most common recommendations from civil rights leaders, politicians, and other policy makers is multicultural training for law enforcement officers. In fact, it was a major recommendation in the Final Report of the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing. In this report, under Pillar Five Training and Education, the Task Force stated that police officer training should include, "implicit bias, fair and impartial policing, historical trauma, and other topics that address capacity to build trust and legitimacy in diverse communities."3 Many individual states and communities have recently formed commissions that have made similar recommendations.Is there research evidence that requiring officers to go through multicultural of implicit bias training has any effect on the attitudes and behaviors of officers, or the attitudes and behaviors of citizens? Is there any evidence that these things will "improve understanding and effectiveness in dealing with all communities" as the President's Task Force has claimed?4 After all, similar recommendations have been made by many commissions on law enforcement over the last half century, yet relations between the law enforcement profession and minority communities, especially the African-American community, still remain strained.Multicultural Awareness TrainingThe underlying theory behind multicultural awareness training (also known as cultural diversity training) is that if law enforcement officers have greater knowledge of the experiences, histories, and cultural norms of groups other than white males of European descent, they will become "enlightened," more sensitive to the experiences and cultural norms of others, hold fewer prejudiced opinions, and behave in a less prejudicial manner toward citizens they encounter that are not white males of European descent.5 These types of training experiences often involve a combination of video clips, lectures, discussions, and field trips that seek to educate officers. More recently, training in "implicit bias" has arisen. This training informs officers about the prevalence of their unconscious biases and their unconscious racist actions.6Unfortunately, even though such training has been going on for decades, the published research provides no evidence that this sort of training has any effect on attitudes or behaviors of the attendees. The majority of the existing research on police multicultural training simply discusses the amount or type of training conducted, or how the training was perceived by the officers.7 Mostly this training is perceived negatively by law enforcement officers and recruits, even among officers who are members of racial minority groups.8 Only three studies could be found that examined the effects of this sort of training on officer prejudicial attitudes.

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Excerpt from Brief:

What Actually Breaks Down Racial Barriers?

In fact, psychologists Thomas Pettigrew of the University of California, and Linda Tropp of Boston College, examined 515 separate research studies on inter-group contact experiments and found overwhelming support for the argument that these experiences consistently reduce prejudicial attitudes and behaviors, with the effects lasting for months or years.15 This evidence clearly reveals that situations that cause people of differing groups blacks and whites, men and women, gay and straight to cooperatively work together on a common cause, decreases biased attitudes between members of these groups. As people spend quality time with members of different groups, they begin to develop empathy toward one another and they are confronted with experiences that contradict some of the false stereotypes they may have been holding.

Out-of-Car Experiences These research studies have consistently revealed effectiveness in helping reduce biases between members of different groups, so it makes sense that law enforcement officers and minority citizens interacting in partnership to solve a specific problem can reduce bias and animosity on both sides........
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