About 25 Lawrence residents on Saturday learned from Lawrence Police Department officers about “Fair and Impartial Policing” training officers are given to address the topics of racial and other bias-based policing.
From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., participants learned about recognizing their natural biases, how to address them and how those biases can have dire consequences.
The first of its kind for the public, the training was by invitation only, and members of the Citizen’s Advisory Board of Fair and Impartial Policing asked many city officials, including Vice Mayor Leslie Soden, Lawrence schools faculty and religious leaders to attend.
Throughout the morning, participants learned about the “implicit biases,” which Sgt. David Hogue said people draw from their own experiences and may not explicitly recognize within themselves.
“People aren’t going to raise their hand and say, ‘I’m biased,’” Hogue said. “Even well-intentioned people have bias.”
Chief Tarik Khatib said one way to counteract implicit bias is to increase the number of positive experiences one has with people different from themselves. He said that’s why he advocates for the community policing approach — to have officers have good contact with the community outside of an enforcement situation, and vice versa.
“Most of what police officers do is confrontational,” Khatib said. “Usually, people don’t call us and say, ‘Hey, I’m at home, nothing’s wrong. Come over and have a cup of coffee with me.”
But it wasn’t only the participants who learned through the training and discussions that took place over the course of the day. Throughout the training, attendees of many races provided feedback to officers on their own prior and current experiences with law enforcement.
Several even pointed out that videos shown in the training depicting police use of force featured a majority of black criminal suspects, and one instance where a white suspect was given a significantly longer amount of time to put a weapon down than they said a black person would be given.
The audience’s reaction to the videos “disappointed” the officer presenting, he said, for he feared the “logic” on use of force he was trying to convey was lost in the controversy, but St. Luke AME pastor Verdell Taylor said that though bias and race can be an uncomfortable issue to speak about, it is important and must continue.
“This is the beginning, but we’ve got to move forward,” Taylor said. “Not everyone was ready to hear some of our questions.”
Training attendee and Liberty Memorial Central Middle School assistant principal Annette Kenoly said that open, understanding environments need to be in place to have these conversations.
“Bias is based on how we perceive people, and so we have to be willing to go deep when we talk about it,” Kenoly said. “The role that race plays we’re talking about is systemic.”
At the end of the session, attendees were invited to drive a patrol call and conduct a pretend traffic stop. Participants were put through a series of scenarios — like pulling over those with weapons or drugs inside the vehicle — to have a glimpse at the challenges of police work.
Mahboob Ahmed, an IT professional and assistant director of the Islamic Center of Lawrence, said that during his simulation, he was distracted with the driver and passenger of the vehicle and never noticed a person in the back seat holding a handgun. Ahmed said the experience opened his eyes to the realities police face in their jobs every day.
“My perception of police was previously based on (traffic infraction) tickets or other interactions,” Ahmed said. “Putting myself in their shoes today and seeing what is going through their head when they see things shaped my perception."
Attendees were also challenged with a "shoot or don’t shoot” scenario. Participants were given fake handguns and told to give demands to a video simulation of different criminal situations. Interestingly, most of the attendees who volunteered for the simulator ended up shooting their “suspect.”
“Today adds to my appreciation of what (police) do,” Safadi said. “Next time someone pulls me over, I will try to make their jobs easier.”
Citizen’s Advisory Board Chair Baha Safadi said he hoped the training helped start a conversation between the police and the public, and said the board will work to provide more community trainings in the future.
“Our goal is to open the department to the public. We are not the cheerleaders of the police department,” Safadi said. “We have seen there are still a lot of issues to be resolved, but I think we’ve taken a small step toward that.”