Justice Department Mandates ‘Implicit Bias’ Training for Agents, Lawyers

Julia Edwards, Reuters, June 27, 2016

The U.S. Justice Department will announce on Monday that more than 33,000 federal agents and prosecutors will receive training aimed at preventing unconscious bias from influencing their law enforcement decisions, department officials told Reuters.

The training will bring Justice Department employees in line with many local police departments across the country that have implemented bias prevention plans following a spate of shootings of unarmed black men by white police officers.

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The department had been criticized for not developing its own policies to combat bias after recommending local police do so at the direction of a task force created by President Barack Obama after riots in 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri.

In a memo to Justice Department employees obtained by Reuters, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said the program targets “implicit biases”–subtle, unconscious stereotypes or characterizations nearly everyone makes about certain groups of people.

“But implicit bias also presents unique challenges to effective law enforcement, because it can alter where investigators and prosecutors look for evidence and how they analyze it without their awareness or ability to compensate,” Yates said in the memo.

The training will be mandatory for all Justice Department agents and prosecutors and will be rolled out over the next year, Yates said.

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Asked why the Justice Department only now has begun such training for its employees, Yates said success in local jurisdictions caused the federal government to consider it as well.

“This program has been so well-received by our state and local counterparts, we thought it was something we should be offering to our federal agents, frankly, to get our own house in order,” Yates said in an interview with Reuters.

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