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WSHU's Charles Lane follows the different paths taken by Suffolk and Nassau counties on Long Island to undergo mandated police reform.

Suffolk Police Deputy Commissioner Mention-Lewis Will Talk Implicit Bias With Ferguson, MO

Suffolk County Deputy Police Commissioner Risco Mention-Lewis
Courtesy of SuffolkCountyNY.gov
Suffolk County Deputy Police Commissioner Risco Mention-Lewis

Suffolk County Police Department is heading to Ferguson, Missouri, next month to lead a training on implicit bias in policing.

This comes after the Ferguson Police Department was investigated by the U.S. Justice Department and entered into a consent decree regarding its unfair policing of African Americans. It also comes just four years after the Suffolk County Police Department entered into a very similar agreement regarding unfair policing of Latinos.

Charles Lane, WSHU: Joining me now to discuss this upcoming training is a Deputy Police Commissioner Risco Mention-Lewis.

Risco Mention-Lewis: Good afternoon.

CL: So tell me about the training. How did it come about? And what does it entail exactly?

RML: So the training has been— we've been working on the training for a number of years actually. And the idea behind the training is that we all have bias, right? However, because the majority of the population is Caucasian, the majority population’s biases, there are more jobs and more professions. Their bias, the cultural biases, racial biases, are prevalent because they have more power to exercise those biases.

And what a bias is, we all have them. It's thoughts in your mind or predispositions that you don't even know exist, that if you knew existed, you would not even agree with them.

CL: And how did you get to Ferguson? Like did Ferguson come to you? How did you guys connect?

RML: Because we, first of all, the Suffolk County Police Department police academy did an amazing job creating this training. They did a lot of training, went to other trainings — NYPD, brought in Chicago Police Department’s training — looked at all the trainings and then came up with Suffolk County Police Department training. And the exciting thing is, the Department of Justice that has seen them all, and decided ours was the best. And that's a pretty exciting thing.

And I think the reason why is because of the way we designed it. But also because we took the best research out there and put it in the training.

How we got connected with Ferguson, the Department of Justice, as I said, chose Suffolk County out of all the other trainings and said this training that they've seen is the best one to transplant.

CL: I know, my editor was surprised, and I think some of the listeners might be surprised that Suffolk County sort of has this authority to lead this training.

The department from what I understand is still working through the settlement agreement with the Department of Justice. Is that correct?

RML: Yes, it's mostly done. It's really pretty much done. But certainly on implicit bias training is one of the categories and that not only is it done, it was done to a superior level.

CL: And part of the agreement with the Department of Justice is that the county would collect data on traffic stops. And I think it's the county's own data suggests that Black and brown drivers are stopped and searched at a higher rate than white and Asian drivers — did you want to correct that?

RML: This is only shown after is indicated after the stop. And remember, we hired the Finn Institute to do that data research. But yes, that's true.

So remember, a bias training is not about immediately stopping behavior. It's about merely learning like any of us, I don't care if you're trying to lose weight, right, and you start you're going to Weight Watchers, you're probably still gonna have a cookie that first night, it's gonna take time for your mind to change.

Now we remember it's only one aspect of change, right? Implicit bias as change is introduced to the idea that you might be biased. But other aspects, for instance, traffic stop data. There’s other solutions, remember, so this implicit bias stuff, there’s cultural changes, right?

And then you're going to have procedure and process changes to make changes, right. And so putting the two of those things is how you get change. It is not just through an introduction to an idea.

And people who think that implicit bias doesn't work. What I like to say to people is well, forks don't work if you try to eat soup with them. So we're not trying to eat soup with them. Meaning, we're not trying to cure the whole thing. With implicit bias training, we're trying to introduce people to an idea that bias exists in America, and probably within themselves.

CL: And so you would say it's totally unreasonable for a police officer to go take an implicit bias class, and to have them immediately transformed, removing all the bias into actual see fundamental change. It's not a magic pill.

RML: It's a multi pronged approach. I mean, we're not curing a Suffolk County problem. We're trying to change an American problem.

CL: Right now, Suffolk County is wrapping up a series of listening sessions about transforming or reimagining policing and accounting. Given the fact that it's not a magic pill, do you think it should be offered as one of the proposed reimagining or reforms coming out of out of the police reform task force?

RML: Of course, they should continue implicit bias training. That's just the first level of implicit bias training. As a matter of fact, the next level of implicit bias training for the entire department should include the traffic stop data.

CL: What do you mean?

RML: Because see, I can teach you about implicit bias generally, right? But then when you look at the actual data of your department, now it's getting a little closer to home. Right?

You just think, wow, these numbers don't make sense to me. I don't, I never thought we would. This is what's happening. That's just a step. That's just one of the steps, right? One of the initial steps, but it is not the panacea, there's going to be a plethora of things we're going to introduce to address these issues. Because we must.

CL: Now Suffolk County is wrapping up these listening sessions sessions and one of the co-chairs of the task force said that a report would eventually be issued that attempts to form a consensus of all the stakeholders. And I'm thinking that this might be difficult, this ideal of consensus among the people who want more reforms, and perhaps those who are happy with the way that policing is working right now.

Do you think finding this consensus is going to be difficult?

RML: First, I don't believe she would have said a consensus among stakeholders. I think it's the consensus among the task force members.

Because they're going to be the final arbiters in a sense. They're going to take in the information from the stakeholders. They're going to take in the information from the police department. It’s gonna take in the information from the researchers. We're bringing them to the table to learn from them. We have brought in researchers from across the country for them to hear from and they're going to come up with a plan that they can that they agree with.

So do I think it's possible that they're going to come up with a consensus. Maybe I'm not sure I have to really Google the word consensus in particular, doesn't mean we all agree, what does consensus mean, we all give up something to get the best product we all think is the best product.

And so I think that's what's going to happen. There's going to be compromise.

CL: And you said compromise. Do you think it's going to be difficult at times?

RML: I really don't know. I'll be perfectly honest with you. I really don't know if it'll be difficult. I can't say at this point. Because there's not a lot of people giving their opinions at this point. Right now it's listening.

Risco Mention-Lewis is the Deputy Police Commissioner of Suffolk County Police.

Charles is senior reporter focusing on special projects. He has won numerous awards including an IRE award, three SPJ Public Service Awards, and a National Murrow. He was also a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists and Third Coast Director’s Choice Award.