The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on Monday unveiled an initiative to ensure that all federal law enforcement officers and prosecutors will receive mandatory training in implicit bias.
In a statement announcing the program, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch called it “an important step in our ongoing efforts to promote fairness, eliminate bias and build the stronger, safer, more just society that all Americans deserve.”
More than 28,000 DOJ employees, as part of the initiative, will learn how to recognize the unconscious associations they make between groups of people and stereotypes – which can affect decisions based on factors including race, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation.
“Discriminatory policing practices like profiling are ineffective and unproductive because they distract law enforcement from pursuing individuals who pose serious threats to security,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference, in a statement on Monday. “Profiling robs people of their dignity, undermines the integrity of our criminal justice system, and instills fear and distrust among members of targeted communities. Fair and impartial prosecutions and limitations on prosecutorial discretion are essential to ensuring equality and justice for all Americans.”
Henderson said the training, while an imperative step, is not enough to eradicate discrimination in prosecutions and policing.
“We view this as another step toward the Department finally banning profiling at all levels of government and ensuring that implicit bias training occurs at the state and local level,” Henderson said. “We also encourage state and local law enforcement and district attorneys to follow suit to implement implicit bias training programs.”
In the past several years, DOJ action to end profiling, advocates say, hasn’t gone far enough – and legislation introduced in Congress to end racial profiling has languished now for more than 14 months. In fact, different versions of the legislation have been introduced (and then languished) in Congress for the past 15 years.
In November 2014, DOJ (under then-Attorney General Eric Holder) updated its profiling guidance – first unveiled in June 2003 under President George W. Bush – to include gender, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity. It originally only included race and ethnicity – and even with those updates, troubling exceptions and loopholes remained. In April 2015, Sen. Ben Cardin, D. Md., and Rep. John Conyers, D. Mich., reintroduced the End Racial Profiling Act, though neither version of the bill has even received a hearing.
For DOJ’s answers to frequently asked questions about implicit bias, click here.