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An expert in police training in the middle of protests and the debate of police brutality

Weekly Conversation with a Lorie Fridell. The USF criminology authority on biased policing shares the impact of George Floyd’s death in the training to law enforcement agencies

Lorie Fridell, a criminology professor at the University of South Florida, specializes in “implicit bias,’’ biases that everyone has and may not even be aware of them. She is also the founder of Fair & Impartial Policing, “the #1 provider of implicit-bias-awareness training for law enforcement in the U.S. and Canada,’’ according to the company. Fridell, 62, talked with the Tampa Bay Times about police training in the wake of the death of George Floyd.

What do you think will be the impact of George Floyd’s death on police training?

We are already getting many, many inquiries that increased quite dramatically following the events in Minneapolis. I expect similar calls are going to providers of de-escalation training. And then you probably know that at the federal level and probably at the state (level), too, we’re seeing calls to make these types of training mandatory.

What’s the difference between explicit and implicit bias?

Explicit bias is generally what people think of when they think of bias and prejudice. With explicit bias, a person links groups to various stereotypes. Those groups might be based on race, ethnicity, LGBTQ, gender. The stereotypes might be lazy, don’t want to work, criminal. And indeed, with explicit bias they are negative stereotypes because the linkage is based on animus and hostility toward those groups. Those stereotypes can impact on that person’s perceptions and behavior, producing discriminatory behavior, and this person is not concerned about that behavior.

With implicit bias, we still link groups to stereotypes. Those stereotypes can still impact perceptions of behavior, producing discriminatory behavior, but this can happen outside of conscious awareness, even in individuals who at the conscious level reject bias, stereotypes and prejudice … The explicit bias is conscious, and the discrimination is intentional. With implicit bias, the implicit associations are automatic, can be outside of conscious awareness, and can manifest even in well-intentioned people.’’

And the result can be the same?

It might lead a police officer to more often request consent to search from people of color than whites, and that might also happen (with) a racist officer.

Lorie Fridell conducts implicit bias training for command staff personnel at the New York Police Department. Fridell, a professor of criminology at the University of South Florida, landed a two-year, $4.5 million contract to train the NYPD's 36,000 sworn employees. [Courtesy of Lorie Fridell]

Do you have an idea what percentage of police agencies allow choke holds?

The extent to which they are used is not something I have information on … Here’s my sense, that the holds that block the airways ... many agencies got rid of those holds years ago, even decades ago. The carotid (artery) hold is more prevalent, in terms of being allowed in policy. And I see that some agencies are banning them. Another policy option is to place them only at the deadly-force level. So that an officer at that point in an encounter might be justified in using a firearm. In some situations, they might be able to use the carotid hold instead.

When your instructors, which you note are all sworn law enforcement officers, explain implicit bias to police groups, what is the reaction of those taking the class?

Many of these individuals are somewhere between defensive and outright hostile because they are coming to Fair & Impartial Policing training and they know that’s on the topic of biased policing, and generally they are not pleased to be there.

But then we just start talking to them about the science. It’s not the science of police bias. It’s the science of human bias and how those biases can make them unsafe – and they sit up straight – ineffective – and they sit up even straighter – or unjust. So generally, we have to get over that hurdle, reducing that defensiveness when we walk into the room.

How does one identify implicit bias in oneself?

Even though these implicit associations linking a group to a stereotype can happen outside of conscious awareness, once you know about the science, you can start to recognize when this happens. That happened to me. Once I learned about the science, I started to recognize the numerous times every day that I draw conclusions about people or situations based on just that snap judgment. So that’s the key: once you know about them you can recognize them.

And then managing our biases, which is what’s so important, has three components. Once you recognize your implicit associations, if you are motivated – that’s number two – you can choose to implement bias-free behavior.

What do you think of the movement to “de-fund’’ the police?

I’m learning about how that term is being meant, and I get the impression that it’s not always meant literally, that we’re going to de-fund them. But I think it is very healthy for our society to look at the institution of policing and examine what the police need to do and what we can and should take off their plates.

The other thing that’s really important, right now we give money to the police so that they can respond to crime. But I love this idea of giving resources, not necessarily out of the police budget, to addressing the factors that produce crime. That is a wonderful development. What funds are we going to put into education, funds into … first of all, putting food in the mouths of kids so that they can concentrate in the classroom, role models, job opportunities? That is an incredibly healthy and exciting discussion, because if we start to address some of those factors that produce crime, we can reduce our reliance on police.