by Art Levy
Updated 5 yearss ago
Ten years ago, Lorie A. Fridell was a University of South Florida professor who was researching bias in policing when she founded a small business that has grown into the biggest provider of bias awareness training for law enforcement officers in North America.
Her Tampa-based company, Fair & Impartial Policing, has trained officers in Miami, Tampa, Sanford, Miami Beach, Clearwater, other Florida cities and throughout the country. She says her training is in high demand these days, particularly since implicit bias can escalate hostility between police and suspects, resulting in the sort of high-profile conflicts that departments want to avoid. Last year, for example, Fridell’s company signed a $4.5-million contract with the New York City Police Department to train the city’s 36,000 police officers. Gross billings over each of the last four years have averged $1.5-million annually. Fridell employs 19 classroom trainers.
“I never expected in 2008 to be running a company of this scope,” says Fridell, who has remained a criminology professor at USF. “It just kind of happened by virtue of the demand for the product.”
The goal of the training, Fridell says, is to get the officers to first recognize their own biases — acknowledging negative stereotypes about groups of people, for example — and then help the officers manage those biases.
“This is not about blaming,” she says. “This is about understanding how your mind works and how it might play tricks on you. Very early on we link the training to their goals and tell them that policing based on biases and stereotypes, including implicit biases, can make you unsafe, ineffective or unjust.”
In doing so, she says, the training also makes the case that bias works both ways, with citizens sometimes believing negative stereotypes about police. The officers, she says, have to be able to understand and manage that reality and quell potentially volatile situations.
The business, which also gets funding from U.S. Department of Justice grants through USF, trains officers of all levels, from street-level cops to their supervisors to the department’s top leaders.
Fridell and her trainers sometimes have to overcome bias themselves.
“Because of the way our culture talks about this issue and talks about bias in policing, it’s not unusual, when we walk in a room, for our audience to be somewhere between defensive and outright hostile,” she says. “No. 1 on our radar screen in the curriculum: How do we go into that room and convince them that this is important to them, that we are not going to be shaking our fingers at them? My trainers, with one exception — me — are sworn cops. They are either in service right now or they’re recently retired. They bring the credibility that I as the academic would not bring to certain audiences. Now, I do train at the command level. They’ll put up with an academic. But otherwise, whether we’re talking to patrol officers or sergeants, we really need a sworn cop in front of the room to make the case.”
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