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Fair and Impartial Policing: A Science-Based Approach

Lorie Fridell, PhD, Associate Professor, University of South Florida, and Sandra Brown, Lieutenant (Ret.), Palo Alto, California, Police Department

The fair and impartial policing (FIP) perspective–based on the modern science of bias—is consistent with the profession’s current emphasis on evidence-based policing, whereby policies and practices are based on scientific research. This perspective changes the way experts in the field of policing and bias have been thinking about, talking about, and training on this topic.

The scientific foundation of the FIP perspective comes from the social psychologists who have been studying bias and prejudice since the 1950s. Their research findings tell us two important things: (1) there are differences between “explicit” and “implicit” bias, and (2) bias today is more likely to be implicit rather than explicit.1

With explicit biases, a person associates various groups (e.g., racial minorities, homeless) with negative stereotypes. These associations are based on animus or hostility toward the groups, and the person with these biases is well aware of them and unconcerned about the discriminatory behavior that they produce.2 As an example, an overt racist has explicit biases.

Modern-day bias is most likely to take the form of implicit bias. Implicit biases are similar to explicit biases in that the biased person links individuals to stereotypes or generalizations associated with their group or groups. But, unlike explicit biases, implicit biases are not based on animus or hostility and these “implicit associations” can impact perceptions and behavior outside of conscious awareness. Even individuals, who, at the conscious level, reject prejudice and stereotyping, can and do manifest implicit biases.3

Social psychologists lament that public policy has not been in sync with the science of bias. As two researchers on the psychology of prejudice, Curtis Hardin and Mahzarin Banaji, report, “personal and public policy discussions regarding prejudice and discrimination are too often based on an outdated notion of the nature of prejudice.”4 This has been true in policing, as well as other professions. Police and community members alike envision the “racial profiler” as an ill-intentioned individual who harbors hostility towards certain groups and is unconcerned about his or her discriminatory behavior or its effects. Police chiefs and sheriffs have directed their efforts toward identifying and holding these individuals to account. While this is certainly a laudable effort (that should be continued), the field has neglected the biased policing that can be produced by the overwhelming majority of well-intentioned police professionals. Indeed, the implications of the science of bias are these actualities: (1) even the best officers—because they are human—can perform biased policing; and (2) even the best agencies—because they hire humans to do the work—must be proactive to produce fair and impartial policing.

In policing, implicit bias might lead a line officer to automatically perceive crime in the making when he or she observes two young Hispanic males driving in an all-Caucasian neighborhood. It may lead an officer to interpret the ambiguous behavior of a black male as more threatening than the same behavior on the part of a white male. It may manifest among agency command staff who decide (without crime-relevant evidence) that the forthcoming gathering of black college students bodes trouble, whereas the forthcoming gathering of white undergraduates does not. Although these types of implicit biases pertaining to race and crime or threats are well-documented, there are other biases that might impact police actions or procedures. For instance, implicit bias might lead an officer to be consistently “over vigilant” with males and low-income individuals and “under vigilant” with female subjects or people of means. When there is a motor vehicle crash and the participants tell two different versions of what happened, implicit bias might lead the officer to believe the story of the man in the shirt and tie driving the BMW as opposed to the story of the man in dirty jeans driving a pickup truck.

The FIP Training ProgramTraining programs reflecting the modern science of bias have been emerging in many fields, including medicine, education, and business. The FIP training program, produced with funds from the USDOJ Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office), brings the modern science of bias to police professionals.

The FIP curricula were designed under the leadership of Anna Laszlo, an experienced law enforcement curriculum designer and currently a Senior Police Advisor for the IACP’s Center on Police Leadership and Training (CPLT). The COPS support allowed Laszlo and FIP founder Dr. Lorie Fridell to utilize the wisdom of a curriculum design team. Key members of this team included law enforcement personnel from all levels (from line officer to chief) and social psychologists who have produced research on implicit bias. According to Laszlo, “The researchers made sure we got the science right. The police made sure we got the application right.”5

There are five curricula designed for various subgroups within an agency. The version designed for use with either academy recruits or in-service patrol officers is highly interactive and experiential. The mantra of the session is “policing based on stereotypes and biases is ineffective, unsafe, and unjust.” Trainees learn (1) about the science of bias, (2) how individuals in any profession can reduce and manage their biases, (3) how impartial policing is linked to the concepts of procedural justice and legitimacy, and (4) what they need to do as police professionals to ensure bias-free policing.

First-line supervisors and higher-level managers need additional information; they need to be trained to scan for biased policing on the part of their subordinates and given tools for intervening when bias is suspected. Identifying the appropriate supervisory response to biased policing can be challenging. Not only is biased behavior very difficult to prove, but, for the officers whose biased behavior is not intentional or malicious, punishment would be inappropriate. Since, in many instances, there will be only “indications” and not “proof,” it is important to guide supervisors on when and how they can (and should) intervene to stop what appears to be inappropriate conduct, while keeping in mind the ambiguous nature of the evidence and the sensitive nature of the issue.

The command-level FIP curriculum is arguably most effective when the chief or sheriff invites concerned community stakeholders to participate. Full-group and small-group discussions allow participants to share their views; their perspectives; and, sometimes, their long-held frustrations. Together they learn about the implications of the science of bias for police policies and practices. This program is presented under the heading of the Comprehensive Program to Produce Fair and Impartial Policing, which includes the seven following elements:

  1. Recruitment, hiring, and promotion
  2. Anti-biased policing policy
  3. Leadership, supervision, and accountability
  4. Training
  5. Operations
  6. Measurement
  7. Outreach to diverse communities

After participating in the program, police executives come away from the training with preliminary action plans.

This training program transforms the thinking of the police professionals exposed to it. One mid-level manager wrote on his evaluation form that the training “gave me some eye-opening information. I used to say I wasn’t biased; I can no longer say that. However, this course has given me the opportunity to have an open conversation about this topic.” A command-level participant wrote, “I am leaving the class with a new perspective on my own views and beliefs. I have a new awareness of bias-based policing within my own agency. The presentation of scientific data provided me with a more convincing argument that supported the existence of unintentional, but widespread racial bias, which I was typically quick to dismiss.”

The Sanford Experience

Anthony Raimondo, Captain, Sanford, Florida, Police Department

nder ideal conditions, fair and impartial policing (FIP) is implemented before an event spirals into a full-blown crisis and community trust is eroded. In times of crisis, however, implementation of FIP can help to repair fractured relationships, restore community trust, reinforce the importance of nonenforcement–related community contacts, and promote bias-free policing. The Sanford, Florida, Police Department (SPD) came to FIP during a time of crisis.

In 2012, an African American teenager, Trayvon Martin, was killed by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida. Our department has steadfastly maintained that the attempts to criminally investigate George Zimmerman and the attempts to save the life of Trayvon Martin were conducted in a manner consistent with the highest standards of modern law enforcement. If this is the case, then we must ask how the death of a 17-year-old African American male in a community of less than 60,000 people spiraled into a local crisis and international media spectacle.

While the answer to this question is complex, it must be attributed at least in part to the longstanding disconnect that existed between city leaders, the police department, and the community it served. Those familiar with the Jackie Robinson story may recall that the aspiring African American baseball player was run out of a Florida town when he tried to play on a historically white field—that Florida town was Sanford. Why discuss something that occurred more than 70 years ago? Because events such as these—and the associated emotions—remain just under the surface of communities across the United States, allowing for incidents such as the death of Trayvon Martin to remind us of unresolved issues that must be addressed to heal these communities.

During Sanford’s crisis, a Blue Ribbon Panel was commissioned to make recommendations on how to move the department forward and heal relationships with the community. One of the first recommendations was to revisit the way Sanford officers were trained on the topic of biased policing. Under the leadership of the new chief of police, Cecil Smith, the department selected FIP training. Chief Smith reports that he selected FIP “because it was backed by solid scientific research and it did not point a finger at well-intentioned police officers.”*

Up to that point, the department’s training on bias had consisted primarily of a definition-based “cultural awareness” class that did not help officers develop skills to thwart biased policing. Compounding the ineffective nature of this training was the accusatory tone—pitting one segment of the population against its police force, or, in the worst cases, officers against each other—in which the message of biased policing was often delivered. SPD recognized this type of training as destructive and counterproductive for a police force comprised of highly efficient, well-intentioned men and women who were committed to policing in an effective, safe, and just manner.

The department’s roll-out of FIP started with the community. Chief Smith believes that community involvement in this process is crucial. In Sanford, many department trainings begin as community presentations, and FIP followed this practice. With the community firmly in support of the training, FIP training was next delivered to the command staff, along with some key community leaders. As with any organizational culture change, command buy-in was crucial.

At the conclusion of this training, with the full support of the community and command, the FIP national training team was brought in, supported by funds from the U.S. DOJ COPS Office, to train a core group of department instructors to implement the recruit and patrol and first-line supervisor FIP curricula.

Deputy Chief Darren Scott recognized that many line officers would arrive at a session on this topic with their defensive mechanisms firmly in place. As such, he reports, “The importance of the selection of instructors cannot be understated.” SPD selected men and women who are excellent trainers with credibility among their peers. They were crucial for laying the foundation for the paradigm shift about to occur.

SPD’s FIP trainers then trained every member of the department. This was not a sworn officer–only training. This was an “all-hands” affair, emphasizing the point that these implicit biases transcend all roles in the department and, indeed, all professions. How the person at the front desk interacts with walk-ins or how the records manager deals with civilian colleagues and cops was framed in the same context as the officers engaged in enforcing the law. Currently, only new SPD employees receive FIP as a stand-alone class. After their initial training, employees are consistently reminded of the agency’s commitment to fair and impartial policing via the infusion of FIP messages into all periods of instruction.

Other sweeping reforms were enacted to coincide with FIP delivery. Key promotions were made to ensure the right people were in place to promote the new message. Even the look of SPD changed with new vehicle designs, new badges, and new patch designs. The end result became a new SPD with FIP as part of the organizational culture.

The result was a newly energized workforce that reached out to the diverse populations in the jurisdiction, many of whom had little or no previous contact with law enforcement; an increase in work productivity; and a decrease in crime. While it is difficult to measure biased policing (or lack thereof), we believe that, as a result of the training, our department is more fair and impartial.

The FIP curricula include discussions of the science that shows that positive interaction with diverse individuals can reduce conscious and implicit bias. Such contacts can simultaneously reduce biases against the police. In order to reach out to diverse populations, the department developed a regular practice of community outreach. The chief of police and his officers engaged in “Walk and Talks” through neighborhoods on a weekly basis; citizens were given direct access to command staff through regular meetings like Sweet Tea with the Chief; and officers were encouraged to attend community functions and religious services while on duty. Additionally, the officers were encouraged to engage in volunteer activities, such as Habitat for Humanity and food distribution to those in need. The department sponsored teams in community fundraising events such as charity 5K runs and other tournaments. Chief Smith organized the city’s first formal outreach to the Latino populations and worked diligently to integrate members of the Jewish and Muslim populations into police services and functions. Most recently Chief Smith funded a “Mobile Gym” that can be transported throughout the city to encourage contact with the officers. Now, police officers receive as much credit for playing basketball with the kids as they do for other, more traditional, law enforcement functions. As above, these activities are firmly rooted in the FIP curricula because these close-contact situations allow the officers to override their implicit biases and become better police officers. It also allows the community to change their views of the police.

Finally, while many factors contribute to this fact, the city of Sanford experienced an approximately 10 percent reduction in Part I crimes during the year after introduction of FIP training. This may be due, in part, to the 53 percent increase in officer-initiated activity after the program was started. I strongly believe that the introduction of FIP provided the vehicle to reestablish contact with our community members and gain their cooperation to solve crimes, encouraged our officers to focus on facts versus feelings, and helped to establish an approachable police presence in the community. Most importantly, FIP training taught Sanford officers how to become the solution the community needs rather than be identified as a problem that needed to be solved.

Captain Anthony Raimondo is a 19-year law enforcement officer and veteran of the United States Marine Corps. Because of his strong training skills and dedication to FIP, he is now on the national FIP team.

*Cecil Smith (chief, Sanford, FL, Police Department), personal communication, January 28, 2015.
Darren Scott (deputy chief, Sanford, FL, Police Department), personal communication, January 28, 2015.

When the FIP trainers walk into a room of recruits, patrol officers, or supervisors, they usually face a hostile crowd. Because of the poor way this issue has been addressed in the profession, the defensiveness, and even hostility, around this topic is understandable. But these early-morning negative attitudes in the classroom quickly dissipate as the participants learn about the science and come to understand that the only accusation being made is that they are human, just like everyone else. One academy recruit wrote, “We were told we were going to ‘racial profiling’ class all day and, to be honest, that already put me off, thinking it was going to be the same stuff we always get. I was very, very surprised and happy to receive this training today.” A command-level participant wrote in his evaluation,

At first, I was very skeptical of this training—expecting another liberal academic feeding the perception that all law enforcement action is consciously, racially motivated. Admittedly, I registered for your training… so that I might defend against your brainwashed minions. I was however completely wrong, I misjudged you and your program… You managed to teach an old warhorse a new way to think, and, now—dare I say—[I am] “armed” with the science to address a hot button topic facing the law enforcement profession in a new and comprehensive manner.6

The Kansas Experience

Lorie Fridell, PhD, the chief executive officer of Fair and Impartial Policing, LLC, and the former director of research at the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), is an expert on biased policing. She has authored and co-authored articles, chapters, and books on the topic. Dr. Fridell has been invited on a number of occasions to speak to various chiefs’ and sheriffs’ associations and police accountability groups. She has provided training or consulting services for a number of U.S. police agencies, as well. With funding from the U.S. Department of Justice and with assistance from national experts on law enforcement and the social psychology of bias, Dr. Fridell, with Ms. Anna Laszlo, has produced science-based Fair and Impartial Policing curricula for recruits and patrol officers, first-line supervisors, mid-level managers, command-level staff, and law enforcement trainers. Dr. Fridell is an Associate Professor of Criminology at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Lieutenant (ret.) Sandra Brown is a principal instructor for Fair and Impartial Policing, LLC, leading the firm’s West Coast operations. Lt. Brown brings 29 years of law enforcement experience and served with the Palo Alto, California, Police Department from 1988 to 2011. She held numerous leadership positions within the department, including Internal Affairs Commander, Personnel and Training Coordinator, Media Relations and Department Spokesperson, and Workers’ Compensation Manager. Lt. Brown served as a member of the Fair and Impartial Policing Curriculum design team and was instrumental in developing the supervisor-level curriculum. Lt. Brown continues to conduct training programs with law enforcement agencies nationally on the topic of fair and impartial policing.

Law enforcement leaders in the state of Kansas can be credited for their early and comprehensive commitment to the science-based FIP perspective. The Governor’s Task Force on Racial Profiling first heard about the model in 2009 and subsequently approved funding (with the Kansas Department of Transportation) for a proposal submitted to them by Ed Pavey, the director of the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center (KLETC), a unit of the University of Kansas, to bring the FIP perspective to law enforcement personnel and community members in the state. Under Director Pavey’s leadership, FIP has been disseminated in various forms to multiple audiences. The FIP national training team has implemented three train-the-trainer sessions, two command-level sessions, and one supervisor session in Kansas. Then, using the FIP curricula content, KLETC trained two-person teams to provide six-hour FIP Awareness sessions to in-service patrol officers and supervisors around the state. KLETC also produced engaging, interactive online versions of the recruit and patrol curriculum modules; this format is particularly useful for reaching personnel in small agencies in rural parts of the state that must meet the statutory requirement for annual training on this topic. According to Pavey, “The advent of FIP has moved police training in Kansas to another level, taking the terms ‘racial profiling’ and ‘racist’ out of the conversation by teaching officers how their own personal biases and stereotyping can greatly hinder their ability to deliver fair and effective policing in the communities they serve.”7

Kansas leaders recognize the importance of producing a constructive dialogue between police and community members on this topic, and state legislation supports the creation of community advisory boards to guide and facilitate efforts to implement jurisdiction-specific comprehensive approaches for producing bias-free policing. Advisory board members receive training through the Office of Attorney General Derek Schmidt on FIP and the Comprehensive Program, and, for two years in a row, KLETC has partnered with the Kansas African American Affairs Commission to hold Fair and Impartial Policing Community Advisory Board Training Academies. On the first day of the two-day academies, held at KLETC, community members are educated about law enforcement decision-making processes (e.g., use of force) and an evening dinner session promotes open dialogue between law enforcement executives and community members, addressing why officers respond in the manner they do in various situations. On the second day, the community members and police officials learn about the modern science of bias and start work on the development of science-based community plans to “eliminate bias in policing practices throughout Kansas.” According to Dr. Mildred Edwards, executive director of the African American Affairs Commission, “The adoption of the Fair and Impartial Policing training model is one of the best things that Kansas has done.”8

FIP was also helpful in Sanford, Florida, in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin incident. Chief Cecil Smith joined the Sanford department after the incident and welcomed the support of the U.S. DOJ COPS Office in attempting to reestablish community trust in the agency (see sidebar).


The science-based FIP perspective is wholly consistent with the law enforcement commitment to evidence-based policing. It rejects the traditional way of thinking about the issue of bias in policing—a thought process that has overused the “racist” label, applying it to even the overwhelming number of well-meaning law enforcement professionals who, in fact, aspire to provide fair and just policing in the communities they serve. Both law enforcement professionals and concerned community stakeholders can come together around this common perspective and its associated plans of action for police at all levels of the department. ♦

For more information on FIP and the related training, visit

1For seminal early works detecting implicit biases, see Samuel L. Gaertner and John P. McLaughlin, “Racial Stereotypes: Associations and Ascriptions of Positive and Negative Characteristics,” Social Psychology Quarterly 46, no. 1 (1983): 23–30; and Patricia G. Devine, “Stereotypes and Prejudice: Their Automatic and Controlled Components,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 56, no. 1(1989): 5–18. For a more recent work, see Susan Fiske, “Are We Born Racist?” in Are We Born Racist? New Insights from Neuroscience and Positive Psychology, eds. Jason Marsh, Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, and Jeremy Adam Smith (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2010), 7–16.
2See, e.g., David M. Amodio, and Saaid A. Mendoza, “Implicit Intergroup Bias: Cognitive, Affective, and Motivational Underpinnings,” in Handbook of Implicit Social Cognition, eds. Bertram Gawronski and B. Keith Payne (New York, NY: Guilford Press, 2010), 253–274; John F. Dovidio et al., “On the Nature of Prejudice: Automatic and Controlled Processes,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 33 (1997): 510–540; Jason A. Nier, “How Dissociated Are Implicit and Explicit Racial Attitudes? A Bogus Pipeline Approach,” Group Processes & Intergroup Relations 8, no. 1 (2005): 39–52; Richard E. Petty, Russell H. Fazio, and Pablo Brinol, “The New Implicit Measures: An Overview,” in Attitudes: Insights from the New Implicit Measures (New York, NY: Psychology Press, 2009), 3–18.
3See, e.g., Joshua Correll et al., “Across the Thin Blue Line: Police Officers and Racial Bias in the Decision to Shoot,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 92, no. 6 (2007): 1006–1023; Nilanjana Dasgupta, “Implicit Ingroup Favoritism, Outgroup Favoritism and Their Behavioral Manifestations,” Social Justice Research 17, no. 2 (2004): 143–169; John F. Dovidio, Kerry Kawakami, and Samuel L. Gaertner, “Implicit and Explicit Prejudice and Interracial Interaction,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 82, no. 1 (2002): 62–68; John F. Dovidio et al., “The Nature of Contemporary Racial Prejudice,” in Attitudes: Insights from the New Implicit Measures, 165–192; Anthony G. Greenwald, and Linda H. Krieger, “Implicit Bias: Scientific Foundations,” California Law Review 94, no. 4 (July 2006): 945–967, (accessed April 30, 2014); Petty, Fazio, and Brinol, “The New Implicit Measures.”
4Curtis D. Hardin and Mahzarin R. Banaji, “The Nature of Implicit Prejudice: Implications for Personal and Public Policy,” in The Behavioral Foundations of Public Policy, ed. Eldar Shafir (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013), 13–31.
5Anna Laszlo (Senior Police Advisor, IACP Center on Police Leadership and Training), interview by author, January 13, 3015.
6Anonymous, post-training evaluation, 2014.
7Ed Pavey (director, Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center), email to author, January 12, 2015.
8Dr. Mildred Edwards (executive director, African American Affairs Commission), email, October 13, 2014.

Please cite as

Lorie Fridell and Sandra Brown, “Fair and Impartial Policing: A Science-Based Approach,” The Police Chief 82 (June 2015): 20–25.



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXXII, no. 6, June 2015. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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