Kenosha Police are launching a new training program for officers this month to combat implicit bias in policing.
A new certification program is in the works for three of its members who will ultimately train the department’s entire force. The department’s nearly 200 officers will undergo training next year, Chief Daniel Miskinis said Thursday.
The move comes in the wake of major civil unrest following the shooting of a Black man by a white Kenosha Police officer in August, and a series of listening sessions called by Mayor John Antaramian to discuss the public outcry and how the community can move forward.
The department has a two-year contract with Fair & Impartial Policing, a Tampa, Fla.-based organization providing specialized instruction in bias awareness for law enforcement.
The City Council and the Finance Committee unanimously approved the “train the trainers” contract with Fair & Impartial Policing, Inc. during special sessions Wednesday night. Miskinis said two supervisors and an officer within the department would attend a two-day course at Gateway Technical College and would become certified trainers before the end of the year.
“Over the next six months we hope to hit all officers in the department,” he said.
The use of Fair & Impartial Policing’s curriculum was selected in partnership with Gateway Technical College, he said.
“We had discussed this at an advisory committee meeting with the leadership at GTC and they were able to find Fair & Impartial Policing as a vendor,” he said. “We were all on board in addressing implicit bias and trying to increase the training with that.”
Implicit vs explicit bias
The organization’s curriculum is based in the science of bias.
According to its website, early bias research had focused on explicit bias or that which is expressed consciously, often out of ill-will. Biases in modern-day society, however, have since evolved from the explicit to implicit, which, in turn, affect perceptions and actions. Such implicit biases affect even those who make the conscious effort not to be prejudiced.
Police officers are no different.
“Fair & Impartial Policing is focusing on implicit bias and how it exists and how it exists in the minds of police officers and the people they deal with,” Miskinis said. “It’s good stuff. It’s very helpful. It isn’t just race driven. It addresses how the brain fills in gaps and develops biases.”
According to information provided by Fair & Impartial Policing to the city, the training program aims to address topics without “finger-pointing or blame,” while reducing defensiveness that officers may bring to the classroom.
The skills they learn, according to the agency, look to enhance their ability to engage in their work “more safely, justly and effectively.”
CEO Lorie Fridell, a University of South Florida criminology professor and a former Director of Research at the Police Executive Research Forum, leads the agency’s 22-member national training team, which includes retired Madison Police Chief Noble Wray. Wray is currently serving as an independent consultant in an ongoing review of the Wisconsin Department of Justice investigation into the Aug. 23 shooting of Jacob Blake by Kenosha Police Officer Rusten Sheskey.
Community outcry, listening sessions
Blake, a Black man, was shot in the back by Sheskey, a white officer, who discharged his weapon seven times as he attempted to arrest Blake on an outstanding warrant. The police shooting resulted in protests calling for the firing and arrest of Sheskey for attempted murder. Protesters called for better police training, noting differences in the treatment of whites vs Blacks or people of other racial backgrounds.
Just two months earlier, protests also occurred in Kenosha after George Floyd, a Black man, was killed by a white officer on the streets of Minneapolis. A video that went viral showed then-Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck as he struggled to breathe. Floyd’s death unleashed waves of demonstrations with protesters locally denouncing police brutality in a nationwide movement calling on government to defund law enforcement and address systemic racism.
That sentiment intensified in Kenosha in the wake of Blake’s shooting. During listening sessions in September and October, many expressed dissatisfaction with how local police interact with communities of color.
“We really need to look at that and see how we can better give our police department more training so they can help to serve and protect and actually fulfill their job,” Alvin Owens, a local barber and activist, said at the first session Sept. 21.
At the same listening session, one man questioned how authorities failed to arrest Kyle Rittenhouse, the white 17-year-old accused of shooting and killing two men and injuring a third, during the third night protests on Aug. 25.
“I couldn’t imagine if a young Black man walked out on the street with that same automatic weapon,” he said. “What would happen to him? He would not have been able to walk 50 feet without police officers surrounding him.”
At a session at Second Baptist Church, Associate Minister Steve Ingram, echoed Owens.
Recounting how someone called the police on a Black businessman who had entered his own car in Downtown Kenosha, Ingram demanded police undergo diversity training for racial profiling and that the community at-large also be educated.
“We have to re-educate the community that everyone is treated equally … there was no good reason to call that cop because the brother had not committed a crime,” he said.
Dominique Pritchett, a Kenosha clinical psychologist who spoke at another session said mental health evaluation and training must be continuous — not just when tragedies occur.
“Officers and everyone in political office need to be evaluated continuously. Because what we see is that they, too, are embedded in the issues that we are faced with every day as Black and brown people and it only comes to light when something traumatic happens,” she said.
Adopted new policy, work groups next
Last month, the police department adopted a policy that addresses not just racial profiling, but one that looks at reducing implicit bias in policing, according to Deputy Chief Eric Larsen. He said the police department a year ago began looking at training for officers to address how they are affected by implicit bias.
“Events as they were happening throughout the nation made things much more important,” he said. “We’re taking initiative in moving forward in training people. We’ve also had a group of officers get together with our inspector to express ways the department can improve itself internally.”
Larsen said law enforcement leaders, including Miskinis, will meet in the near future with work groups formed to address the police relationship with diverse communities — work groups which were initially assembled at the behest of Antaramian following the Floyd protests. They will also be meeting with leaders of clergy, grassroots groups, such as, Peace in the Streets, Black Lives Activists of Kenosha, and the community’s youth, said Antaramian.
City Administrator John Morrissey said the training is a start.
“This does appear to be a good model, one that’s widely accepted,” said Morrissey, a former Kenosha Police chief. “I think it’s all part of the listening sessions we’ve had and the training that’s needed. It’s just one more step in trying to make sure the community understands that we’re listening. The police department is listening.”