Bias training, relationship building added to TUPD protocol

By Pam Gorsuch on May 11, 2017

All TU patrol officers attended training during spring 2017 to work on recognizing and overcoming implicit biases.

The Towson University Police Department’s standard is fair and impartial policing. The reality is that all people—police included—have a lifetime of experiences that can lead to subconscious biases. The challenge is to bridge that gap.

This spring, all Towson University patrol officers worked toward recognizing and combatting implicit bias at day-long training sessions held on campus. Trainers worked with groups of 15-20 officers to cover the science of bias, types of bias, and how biases affect police response. Then they walked through hypothetical police call scenarios to learn how officers would respond during each step of the call and shared the consequences of various responses in similar real-life situations.

“The training is difficult, and that’s exactly why we need to do it,” said Deputy Chief of Police Joe Herring. “Once we recognize our biases, we can work to combat them. The training is a great start to that process.”

The training curriculum is based on the national Fair and Impartial Policing Perspective. It offers a science-based approach to policing, with the goal of making officers aware of unconscious biases so they are able and motivated to counteract them with controlled responses.

TUPD Sergeant Sam Hannigan led the on-campus training and says one simple way to counteract implicit biases is fostering broader and deeper interactions with the community. As a result of the training, officers are being encouraged to stop into campus events, buildings and group meetings—not to patrol but to build relationships.

“The goal is for officers to go in and introduce themselves to as many diverse groups on campus as possible,” Hannigan said. “We want to get to know everyone, and we want everyone to know we’re here to help.”

The TUPD is developing an online version of the training sessions that it hopes to share with police aides and police communications operators this summer. Several members of the Bel Air Police Department also attended the TU training sessions; the department is considering a wider rollout of the training in the future.

On Wednesday, May 10, TUPD received the University Diversity & Inclusion Award for an administrative department, in part because of the training it has implemented on ethics, diverse communities, cultural competency, victimization "and other tenets of diversity and inclusion as they relate to the TU community."

This story is one of several related to President Kim Schatzel's priorities for Towson University: Creating a More Diverse and Inclusive Campus and Strategic Plan Alignment.