Edmonton police to take mandatory unconscious bias training course

·2 min read

Unconscious biases are the topic of a new mandatory training course for Edmonton Police Service employees.

The course is an online learning module currently being rolled out to all EPS employees. The training was discussed at a police commission meeting on Thursday.

The module's objective is to give staff the chance to reflect on how unconscious biases can negatively impact their work, while offering strategies to manage those biases.

As part of a presentation to the police commission, Matthew Cheung, a methods analyst in the EPS equity, inclusion and human rights branch explained that unconscious biases can influence who is deemed suspicious, what kind of questions are asked to them, and ultimately who is arrested. He cited how numerous studies show this disproportionately affects marginalized communities.

"While eliminating bias is not entirely plausible, it is essential for people to understand its pernicious aspects and how it can produce unintentional consequences," Cheung said. "Particularly for those who work in law enforcement who hold social power and have the ability to practise discretion."

While education on the topic has been delivered to new recruits since 2012, this is the first time the course has been made available to the entire EPS staff. However, the course isn't the same one that was offered in 2012. EPS said the new training module has been updated incorporating input from BIPOC-focused non-profits and post-secondary representatives.

EPS is planning to introduce other educational resources to complement the module, including anti-discrimination, anti-racism and gender-based learning.

Police Chief Dale McFee reiterated the importance of maintaining discussion around unconscious biases as a priority for the police force. The module is about being inclusive and accepting, he said, and those lessons have to be a constant reminder for EPS staff with the expectation they all educate themselves to make better decisions.

"This will be something that isn't one and done. It has to be right at the forefront. It's just going to maintain as our priority going forward," McFee said.

Cheung also said he hopes in-person discussion and aspects of this training will be introduced after the COVID-19 pandemic has ended.