New cops are learning a strategy called fair and impartial policing, which aims to help them evaluate their biases before they take to the streets.
At a May 13 six-hour course, Albemarle’s Lieutenant Mike Wagner and Master Police Officer Dana Reeves taught 13 recruits from the county, Charlottesville and the University of Virginia police departments.
“Our officers should understand what biases are and that all people have them,” Wagner says.
On February 11, local attorney Jeff Fogel filed three lawsuits, accusing Albemarle officer Andrew Holmes of unlawfully targeting African-American males in stops and intrusive searches.
The fair and impartial policing program is being implemented across the nation and was developed to help officers understand their own implicit biases and correct them before entering their field of duty. It recognizes that officers can sometimes become defensive when their biases are questioned.
If police think only racist officers engage in biased policing and if they think those officers are “few and far between the members,” says Wagner, then police may think they are being unfairly scrutinized and that only those few ill-intentioned officers should be reprimanded.
“We need to do our jobs based on the facts and what we see and what we hear,” Wagner says, adding that officers should “make arrests and decisions based on facts and fair and legitimate policing.” In the coming months, every county police officer will go through the same training.
Clifford Fortune, a city police recruit taking the training, says recognizing biases may be challenging, but it’s important to do so in a place like Charlottesville, where people from all walks of life live in close proximity.
“Just because this person has a Ph.D. and this one doesn’t,” he says, “you can’t treat one not as fair as the other.”