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The Issue Of Racial Bias In Police Training

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The journal article Understanding Police and Expert Performance: When Training Attenuates (vs. Exacerbates) Stereotypic Bias in the Decision to Shoot by Jessica J. Sim, Joshua Correll, and Melody S. Sadler discusses several studies that were done to address problems police officers are facing where they have shot individuals of color who were unarmed. Experiments were performed on participants and officers to see whether certain criteria was associated with Blacks and Whites having a presence or absence of a weapon or another object. The main question they are tackling is if more Blacks are targets of police force when unarmed or innocent, compared to Whites. When race is related to the presence or absence of a weapon, it raises ethical questions as to whether police training is teaching unreasonable actions towards individuals of target.

In regards of doing a short study, social psychologists and researchers wanted to address the question concerning racial bias in the decision to shoot. They did this by doing a first-person-shooter task (FPST) where participants viewed male targets who were either Black or White and holding a gun or another object (Correll, Sadler & Sim, 2013). When the target appeared on screen, they were to either press a button labeled shoot when armed or don’t shoot when unarmed. They found that race of the target did have a lot to do with the effects of shooting or not shooting (Correll, 2013). Some of the participants were undergraduate students and they were faster to shoot armed targets when they were Black rather than White (Correll, 2013). They were also fasted to choose don’t shoot for unarmed targets when they were White (Correll, 2013). These results tell us that race did have a profound impact in the participants willingness to shoot.

The article states, “This pattern of bias seems to reflect the accessibility of stereotypes that link Blacks to the concept of danger” (Correll, 2013, pg. 292). Researchers wanted to address this question about if we tend to link Blacks to danger by doing another short study where participants read newspaper articles summarizing a series of violent crimes. The articles described the suspect as either White or Black and had attachments of police reports and sketches of the suspects (Correll, 2013). After reading the articles, the participants performed the FPST. Researchers found that participants who read about Black criminals had a more extreme triggering criterion compared to those to had a conservative criterion for Whites (Correll, 2013). Participants also showed no bias when experimenters diminished the Black-danger association by exposing them to articles about White criminals (Correll, 2013). These studies suggest that better training may help officers and people who want to go into the police force overcome the stereotypes and reduce bias overall.

Experiment I was built on previous research where participants read newspaper articles describing crimes committed by Blacks or Whites. They wanted to test the impact of accessibility manipulation on the performance of undergraduates, expert undergraduates and officers (Correll, 2013). They went about this by selecting 75 undergraduates and 52 officers. It’s important to note that the reported results are based on the performance participants who were not Black (Correll, 2013). Undergraduates were then placed under two training conditions, novice or expert, and each group, including the officers, were set to read one of the two fabricated newspaper articles about Black-criminal or White-criminal (Correll, 2013). Each group did the FPST test and points were either awarded or penalized by correctly shooting when necessary or having a false alarm (Correll, 2013). Each group finished 16 practices and 100 test trials (Correll, 2013).

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The groups were then required to to read either a White-Criminal or Black-criminal article and had 5 minutes to study the article. They then had to recall as many details as they could and afterwards, performed the FPST (Correll, 2013). Many variables were tested during this experiment and a formula was conducted to simplify and understand the results. Researchers calculated c and d for Black and White targets and computed the difference and average of both (Correll, 2013). After doing computations for each group, results told researchers that participants showed a great amount of racial bias (Correll, 2013). Participants revealed more sensitivity to Black that White targets. Overall, the results summed up what the researchers thought all along, that participants showed a greater bias towards Blacks and a greater willingness to shoot.

To sum it up, as the article states, “Novices were dramatically affected by manipulations of stereotype accessibility, whereas experts and officers were not. These data provide fairly clear support for Hypothesis I, suggesting that training can reduce the effect of accessible stereotypes” (Correll, 2013, pg. 295). Experiment I showed that lab-based training and real world experiences can reduce the impact of stereotypes towards colored people of target, mainly Blacks. Experiment 2 went further into the hypothesis of experiment I. Researchers wanted to test it with students in the laboratory and among police officers using methods to look at differences of their real life experiences (Correll, 2013). In the experiment, participants were randomly assigned to a training task that either reinforced Black-danger stereotype or undermined the stereotype (Correll, 2013). Participants were to complete 16 practice trials and 200 training trials before doing the FPST that was modified for each of the training conditions (Correll, 2013). A second hypothesis was tested during this experiment to see whether racial bias increases as a function between race and threat during the training phase (Correll, 2013). Again, researchers found that participants showed a greater sensitivity towards Black targets compared to White targets. As the article states, “Presumably, mere practice with shoot/don’t-shoot decisions in response to a series of SC targets did not eliminate bias because the racial information in the training phase served as a valid predictor of the presence or absence of a gun” (Correll, 2013, pg. 298). Universally, each study and experiment showed us that people have a tendency to shoot Blacks because of the Black-danger association and whether there was a presence or absence of a gun.

As we talked about in class and what we seen in the world every day, the media and news play a huge role in influencing our thoughts and how we tend to stereotype people. In the mere future, we can only hope that better training and practice comes intact with police officers so we can reduce unreasonable actions of shooting cases. As stated earlier, the main question researchers were answering is if more Blacks are targets of police force when unarmed or innocent, compared to Whites. The answer was unfortunately, yes, and more commonly than we should see. The studies and experiments shown in this article were both complex and elaborate but they provided results that can be used for future purposes in better police training. If training in the future can reduce racial bias, police will better respond to circumstances in a more meaningful manner.

This article clarifies some of the findings discussed in class because we talked about discrimination which is defined as behaviors directed towards others because of their group membership. The media seems biased when explaining stories because you will almost every day see a story about a Black person committing either a crime or an officer who has unjustly shot him/her. Being stereotypical and discriminating against Blacks has caused a huge stir up in society and can turn out for the worst because you can’t categorize a whole group of people because of something some else did. Not only is it unjust, but it does exactly what this article mentions; police officers shooting unarmed Blacks because they looked like a threat from a distance.

I believe some remaining questions are, how can we eliminate racial bias in police training? Why do media outlets outline crimes that target a group of people that causes stereotypes in society? What can we do to reduce all these problems? The findings in this article seem to be both optimistic and pessimistic because they explain the results from the experiments which aren’t necessarily pleasant or positive but researchers seem to be optimistic about the future to better train police officers and reduce stereotypic bias in the decision to shoot.

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The Issue Of Racial Bias In Police Training. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 5, 2024, from
“The Issue Of Racial Bias In Police Training.” Edubirdie, 17 Feb. 2022,
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