The Justice Department on Monday said it will train its law enforcement agents and prosecutors to recognize and address how their own implicit bias affects their workplace decisions.
The training will involve some 23,000 agents in the department’s four major law enforcement branches plus 5,800 lawyers in the 94 U.S. Attorney’s offices, Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates said in a memo to employees.
She said that implicit bias “presents unique challenges to effective law enforcement, because it can alter where investigators and prosecutors look for evidence and how they analyze it without their awareness or ability to compensate.”
The training will build on prior efforts across the department to raise awareness of implicit bias, putting a special emphasis on those with the most direct involvement with the criminal justice system, she said.
“These trainings, based on the latest scientific research, will be tailored to your agency and the type of work you do, recognizing, for example, that implicit bias can manifest itself differently for a line agent handling drug cases and a supervisory AUSA [assistant U.S. Attorney] involved in hiring and promotion decisions,” the memo said.
An accompanying fact sheet defines implicit bias as “the unconscious and often subtle associations we make between groups of people and stereotypes about those groups.”
“The implicit bias trainings will examine the unconscious and unintentional mental shortcuts that humans can develop about a wide range of social and demographic groups. Among others, the training will consider issues of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as socioeconomic and professional status,” it says.
“The trainings are designed to help individuals understand how implicit bias can impact their lives and work, and help participants make these discoveries in a blame-free environment that recognizes that even the most well-intentioned officers and attorneys can experience unconscious biases,” it adds.
The department projects that training the initial groups will require a year or more. The training also will be extended to inspector general agents and all criminal prosecutors in the department’s other litigating branches.
The move reflects a trend among lower-level law enforcement agencies to train their officers on implicit bias, as well as a federal government-wide emphasis on addressing the potential effects on its personnel decisions.
Acting Office of Personnel Management Director Beth Cobert recently called unconscious bias “one of the most challenging barriers to diversity and inclusion,” which, for example, can cause managers to “hire or promote people who look like themselves.”
“At OPM we’ve been working with agencies to help leaders across government understand just what unconscious bias is and how to guard against it,” she said at a government conference in April.
She said that more than 15,000 federal employees and managers have received training that promotes the use of inclusive behaviors.