TAMPA — The top brass of the Tampa Police Department met Thursday to try to answer one question: How can officers do their jobs without being influenced by personal bias?
Lorie Fridell, a University of South Florida criminology professor and a nationally recognized expert on police bias, conducted the daylong conference. Representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP and others also attended to learn about the issue and mull over solutions.
The theme: We all have biases, whether we are aware of them or not. But having the right police policies, procedures and training in place to deal with them makes it less likely they will erode the relationship officers have with the people they are supposed to protect.
"The fact is it's human nature (to have biases)," Tampa police Chief Jane Castor said. "The goal is to have our officers understand that and to not let it influence the way you police."
Discussion topics included the social science of human bias, recognizing and managing bias at higher agency levels, and what community members and police both think of the subject of bias. Fridell has conducted similar conferences at police departments throughout the nation.
While Thursday's conference was geared toward the police command staff, by next year all Tampa police officers will go through similar sessions, Castor said.