Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who died after a confrontation with police during a traffic stop earlier this month in Memphis, has become the latest face in a racial justice and police reform movement fueled by a string of similar cases in which Black men have died from injuries sustained while being taken into custody.
While these cases have spurred calls for greater law enforcement investment in diversity training, new research from Washington University in St. Louis suggests that the daylong implicit bias-oriented training programs now common in most U.S. police departments are unlikely to reduce racial inequity in policing.
“Our findings suggest that diversity training as it is currently practiced is unlikely to change police behavior,” said study lead author Calvin Lai, PhD, an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.
“Officers who took the training were more knowledgeable about bias and more motivated to address bias at work,” Lai said. “However, these effects were fleeting and appear to have little influence on actual policing behaviors just one month after the training session.”
Published Feb. 3 in the journal Psychological Science, the study evaluates the experiences of 3,764 police officers from departments across the nation who participated in one-day bias training sessions provided by the nonprofit Anti-Defamation League.
The interactive workshops, which emphasize discussion and active learning over lecturing, were designed to help officers understand how their worldview is shaped by their identity and culture and to appreciate how these biases may affect their behavior.
Lai’s evaluation of the program, which covered 251 training sessions held between July 2019 and January 2022, is based on police officers’ self-reported responses to surveys conducted before training, immediately after training and one month later.
When officers were asked to describe their thoughts about the training, many reported that it was surprising and insightful. For instance, one officer wrote “it has opened my eyes to the bias we all have as human beings” and another said, “I really liked the course because it opened my eyes to implicit biases I never knew I had.”