The science of implicit bias has revealed tremendous insights about how humans tick.
I've personally worked on a few of these studies - including a 2019 meta-analysis on the predictive validity of the IAT (the Implicit Association Test). This is the measure used to assess implicit bias.
The IAT has its uses, and it has its abuses.
Researchers familiar with this measure have long cautioned against its use as a diagnostic tool, citing a lack of reliability as a primary concern.
While many agree there is a need for better training and bias-reducing policies among the nation's law enforcement, what exactly this should look like is the more difficult question.
One thing is clear: California's recent law that requires IAT-based screenings for police sits at odds with the advice of scientists and those most familiar with implicit bias. It also stands to frustrate the law enforcement community.
What Does Work
Instead of instituting the policy above, California's legislators might want to take a page out of neighboring Las Vegas's playbook. Their police department successfully implemented real steps last year to reduce negative police-citizen incidents.
"In an effort to cut down on high-adrenaline encounters—where police officers are more likely to rely on stereotypes—Goff urged the Las Vegas Police Department to bar officers involved in a foot pursuit from handling suspects when the chase ends. The policy led to a 23% drop in use of force at the department, an 11% reduction in officer injury and a simultaneous drop in racial disparities in use of force data" (Abrams, 2020).
Goff, referenced above, is psychologist Phillip Atiba Goff, PhD., of Yale University, who works with the Center for Policing Equity (CPE) to develop practical strategies that have helped departments across the US meet their goals for more equitable, evidence-based policing.
Read more about these promising developments in a recent release from the American Psychological Association (APA)'s Zara Abrams, who breaks down "What works to reduce police brutality" in an October 2020 issue of Monitor on Psychology.
See For Yourself - Try an IAT Online
You can take an Implicit Association Test (IAT) right now at the website Project Implicit.
This is a screenshot of an implicit association test (IAT) in progress on the website Project Implicit. The IAT utilizes response latency as an indicator of the strength of a mental association. Therefore, the test is based on the assumption that the strength of a mental association is manifest in one’s reaction time when making associative categorizations using keys on a keyboard. For instance, if Charlie is faster at categorizing European-American images with European-American labels when they’re paired with the word “Good”, than he is at categorizing African-American images with African-American labels when they’re paired with the word “Good”, then Charlie is said to have a more positive implicit attitude toward European than African-Americans.
When police encounters turn violent, which citizens face the highest risk?
Data from 2013-2018 reveal that black men face a higher risk of being killed by police than any other racial or ethnic group (and it's not even close). A black man's risk of being killed by police is approximatly 1 in 1,000 over the course of the lifetime, which is about 2.5 times higher than the risk for white men (see figure below). For every racial/ethnic group in this study, men have a much higher risk of fatal encounters compared to women, and these patterns are quite pronounced (Edwards, Lee, Esposito, 2019).
"Lifetime risk of being killed by the police in the United States by sex and race–ethnicity for a synthetic cohort of 100,000 at 2013 to 2018 risk levels. Dashes indicate 90% posterior predictive uncertainty intervals. Life tables were calculated using model-based simulations from 2013 to 2018 Fatal Encounters data and 2017 National Vital Statistics System data." Original source: Edwards, F., Lee, H., & Esposito, M. (2019). Risk of being killed by police use of force in the United States by age, race–ethnicity, and sex. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(34), 16793-16798.
This post features research from Frank Edwards, Hedwig Lee, Michael Esposito. Their analyses draw on data from the website Fatal Encounters, a national database managed by journalists and cross-validated with multiple sources. For more detail, feel free to view the authors' full open-access article at the link below:
"Risk of being killed by police use of force in the United States by age, race–ethnicity, and sex"
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Aug 2019, 116 (34) 16793-16798; DOI:10.1073/pnas.1821204116.
When it comes to police use of force in the United States, this work reveals the risk of death to civilians during these interactions varies systematically. Clear disparities exist - based on sex and on race.