Berkeley cop watchdog suggests 'sensitivity training' for officers

A study by several professors purporting to demonstrate racial disparities in police use of force is prompting suggestions that police should undergo sensitivity and bias training.

A team of academics, including professors from the University of California, Berkeley and New York University, helped conduct the study released last week by the Center for Policing Equity (CPE), which analyzed data from 12 police department across the U.S. with different racial and ethnic demographics and rates of crime.

Of the 19,269 incidents reported by the departments between 2010 and 2015, the study found that officers are 2.5 times more likely to use force on black residents compared to the average civilian, and 3.6 times more likely to use force on blacks than on white residents.

Notably, though, Berkeley Police Review Commission chairman George Perezvelez told The Daily Californian that use of force is defined rather broadly as “the involvement of physical restraint from a member of law enforcement to gain control of an unruly person or situation,” and can range from straightforward arrests to discharging a firearm.

And while the data reviewed for the CPE study appear to contradict the claim that higher rates of crime cause observed racial disparities, the authors caution against “overgeneralizing” their findings, “because of the relatively small number of departments and because we do not know very much about what residents did during the interactions that turned forceful.”

Still, the results indicate that racial disparities cannot be explained solely by differences in crime rates, leading Perezvelez to opine that departments should focus on sensitivity training, bias training, and community outreach to reduce policing bias, as well as emphasize to officers their “obligation” to fill out use of force reports for every incident, regardless of severity.

A recently released Harvard study, on the other hand, concluded that there is no evidence of racial bias in police shootings, despite allegations that unjustified shootings of black civilians by police are an epidemic.

[RELATED: Harvard study:no racial differences in police shootings]

"It is plausible that racial differences in lower level uses of force are simply a distraction and movements such as Black Lives Matter should seek solutions within their own communities rather than changing the behaviors of police and other external forces," the Harvard study states.

The CPE researchers hope the findings can “produce new insights into old problems” by giving communities the information to address these problems and make a change.

“The point is not to say that police are evil or bad,” Perezvelez said. “It is that the practice is bad. You say you are not biased but the data says otherwise and this is how to change it. That’s what this should do. It should be the trigger which starts the conversation for change.“

Statistics suggest that police may have their own incentives to explore new approaches to their interactions with the populace, as well.

According to FBI data, 40 percent of cop killers are black, while Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute notes that police officers face an 18.5 times greater chance of being killed by a black male than an unarmed black male has of being killed by a police officer.

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