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Policing and Racial Bias

Researchers Rebecca Hetey and Jennifer Eberhardt reported in 2018 that evidence is sufficient to establish that racial bias exists in the criminal justice system. Blacks are more apt to be arrested, convicted and sentenced to more time than Whites.

The Association for Psychological Science (“APS”) July/August Observer reports that Heather Kleider-Offutt, Alesha Bond, and Shanna Hagerty went further to say that this racial bias is even more pronounced if the person’s features are more Afrocentric, i.e. darker skin, wide nose, big lips, etc. They report these racial responses may be more automatic than conscious and therefore completely unavoidable.

Writing in Current Directions in Psychological Science, APS Fellow Keith Payne found that if a subject were to make a decision about potential firearms in conjunction with Black or White males at their own pace, their accuracy was not affected. However, if the decision must be made quickly, subjects studied were more apt to confuse a hand tool with a firearm if they were shown a Black person in conjunction with it.

He said, “Such a bias could have important consequences for decision making by police officers and other authorities interacting with racial minorities, even for those who are actively trying to avoid it.”

Reinoud Kaldewaij, Saskia Koch, Wei Zhang, Mahur Hashemi, Floris Klumpers, and Karin Roelofs showed that a combination of an aggressive personality coupled with high testosterone levels led to poor emotional control and bad decision making in challenging situations.

These researchers believe that extensive firearms training, practice in weapon identifying, and conscious counterstereotyping training will help to combat poor policing practices. They said the only way to establish trust between police and the community they serve is through legitimacy of their actions, and the only way to do that is if police make fair decisions and treat everyone with equal fairness. 


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