How much bias is too much to become a police officer? Experts fear new law might backfire.

An ambitious new law in California taking aim at potential biases of prospective officers has raised questions and concerns among police officers and experts who fear that if implemented inadequately, the law could undermine its own mission to change policing and culture of law enforcement.



a person holding a sign: A billboard in the town of Marysville, Calif., on Saturday, June 20, 2020. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post/file)


© Melina Mara/The Washington Post
A billboard in the town of Marysville, Calif., on Saturday, June 20, 2020. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post/file)

The law, which was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sept. 30, will expand the present screening requirements by mandating all law enforcement agencies to conduct mental evaluations of peace officer candidates to identify both implicit and explicit biases against race, ethnicity, gender, religion and sexual orientation in order to exclude unfit recruits.

While experts, police unions and lawmakers agree on the value of identifying whether those who aspire to become officers carry considerable degrees of biases, it is the lack of clarity on what tools and measures will be used to look for implicit biases that is raising concerns and prompting questions.

“If police departments start to reject applicants because they have implicit biases there will be no one left to hire,” said Laurie Fridell, professor of Criminology at the University of South Florida and founder of the Fair and Impartial Policing program, one of the most popular implicit bias awareness trainings in the country.

Under the new law, the state Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) will review and develop new regulations and screening materials to identify these potential explicit and implicit biases. It will be up to each agency in the state to determine how to administrate them.

POST information officer Meagan Catafi would not say whether implicit association tests will be part of the new screenings, arguing “it is too premature at this point to know what will be assessed and used in our materials.”

Catafi said POST will be working with psychologists and law enforcement experts to incorporate these new required items to the current psychological screening manual and have until January 2022 to complete the process.

The law comes amid a moment of social upheaval where police departments across the country are facing scrutiny and increasing calls for accountability over cases of slayings of unarmed civilians and excessive use of force that predominantly affects minorities.

This has prompted many agencies to ramp up efforts to identify racist and other discriminatory beliefs that could lead to destructive behavior, mostly by incorporating bias, diversity and inclusion training programs for active officers.

None of the experts interviewed by The Washington Post claimed to know of law enforcement agencies that screen for unconscious biases — those that people are unwilling or unable to identify — as a hiring standard. All of them, however, are either wary of such approach or advice against it.

“This is a tough one. What do you do if someone tests positive for racism?” Do you train them again? Do you fire them? There are a lot of unknowns about how this

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The Impacts of Unconscious Bias in Healthcare

 



In mid-March, Karla Monterroso flew home to Alameda, California, after a hiking trip in Utah’s Zion National Park. Four days later, she began to develop a bad, dry cough. Her lungs felt sticky.

The fevers that persisted for the next 9 weeks grew so high — 100.4, 101.2, 101.7, 102.3 — that, on the worst night, she was in the shower on all fours, ice-cold water running down her back, willing her temperature to go down.

“That night I had written down in a journal, letters to everyone I’m close to, the things I wanted them to know in case I died,” she remembered.

Then, in the second month, came a new batch of symptoms: headaches and shooting pains in her legs and abdomen that made her worry she could be at risk for the blood clots and strokes that other COVID-19 patients in their 30s had reported.

Still, she wasn’t sure if she should go to the hospital.

“As women of color, you get questioned a lot about your emotions and the truth of your physical state. You get called an exaggerator a lot throughout the course of your life,” said Monterroso, who is Latina. “So there was this weird, ‘I don’t want to go and use resources for nothing’ feeling.”

It took four friends to convince her she needed to call 911.

But what happened in the emergency room at Alameda Hospital only confirmed her worst fears.

At nearly every turn during her emergency room visit, Monterroso said, providers dismissed her symptoms and concerns. Her low blood pressure? That’s a false reading. Her cycling oxygen levels? The machine’s wrong. The shooting pains in her leg? Probably just a cyst.

“The doctor came in and said, ‘I don’t think that much is happening here. I think we can send you home,'” Monterroso recalled.

Her experiences, she reasons, are part of why people of color are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. It is not merely because they’re more likely to have front-line jobs that expose them to it and the underlying conditions that make COVID-19 worse.

“That is certainly part of it, but the other part is the lack of value people see in our lives,” Monterroso wrote in a Twitter thread detailing her experience.


Research shows how doctors’ unconscious bias affects the care people receive, with Latino and Black patients being less likely to receive pain medications or get referred for advanced care than white patients with the same complaints or symptoms, and more likely to die in childbirth from preventable complications.

In the hospital that day in May, Monterroso was feeling woozy and having trouble communicating, so she had a friend and her friend’s cousin, a cardiac nurse, on the phone to help. They started asking questions: What about Karla’s

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Unconscious Bias Crops Up In Health Care, Even During A Pandemic : Shots

Karla Monterroso says after going to Alameda Hospital in May with a very accelerated heart rate, very low blood pressure and cycling oxygen levels, her entire experience was one of being punished for being ‘insubordinate.’

Kenneth Eke/Code2040


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Kenneth Eke/Code2040

Karla Monterroso says after going to Alameda Hospital in May with a very accelerated heart rate, very low blood pressure and cycling oxygen levels, her entire experience was one of being punished for being ‘insubordinate.’

Kenneth Eke/Code2040

In mid-March, Karla Monterroso flew home to Alameda, Calif. after a hiking trip in Utah’s Zion National Park. Four days later she began to develop a bad, dry cough. Her lungs felt sticky.

The fevers that persisted for the next nine weeks grew so high — 100.4, 101.2, 101.7, 102.3 — that on the worst night, she was in the shower on all fours, ice cold water running down her back, willing her temperature to go down.

“That night I had written down in a journal, letters to everyone I’m close to, the things I wanted them to know in case I died,” she remembers.

Then came a new batch of symptoms in the second month, headaches and shooting pains in her legs and abdomen that made her worry she could be at risk for the blood clots and strokes that other COVID-19 patients in their thirties were starting to report.

But still, she wasn’t sure if she should go to the hospital.

“As women of color, you get questioned a lot about your emotions and the truth of your physical state. You get called an exaggerator a lot throughout the course of your life,” says Monterroso, who is Latina. “So there was this weird, ‘I don’t want to go and use resources for nothing’ feeling.”

It took four friends to convince her that she needed to call 911.

But what happened in the emergency room at Alameda Hospital only confirmed her worst fears.

At nearly every turn during her emergency room visit, providers dismissed her symptoms and concerns, Monterroso says. Her low blood pressure? That’s a false reading. Her cycling oxygen levels? The machine’s wrong. The shooting pains in her leg? Probably just a cyst.

“The doctor came in and said, ‘I don’t think that much is happening here. I think we can send you home,'” Monterroso recalls.

Her experiences in the medical system, she reasons, are part of why people of color are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. She says it is not just because they’re more likely to have front-line jobs that expose them to the virus, and the underlying health conditions that can lead to a more serious COVID-19 infection.

“That is certainly part of it, but the other part is the lack of value people see in our lives,” Monterroso wrote in a Twitter thread detailing her experience.

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Art and medicine essays explore diversity, bias, suffering

It’s a thought-provoking prescription for reflection and learning, and you don’t have to be an artist or a clinician to enjoy it.

Every Monday, the project sends subscribers an email that includes a piece of art work and a short essay that delves into challenging themes that connect the art to medicine. The essays are reflective and wide-ranging, covering uncertainty, death, suffering, salvation and more. Each is accompanied by a list of sources so that readers can learn more.

One recent newsletter included a reflection on permanence and the participation of AIDS patients in their own care tied to “Strange Fruit,” an installation by artist Zoe Leonard that was exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1998. Another featured Henri Rousseau’s “Woman Walking in an Exotic Forest” and tied it to questions of colonialism and diversity in medicine.

In a reflection on Horace Pippin’s 1940 painting “Supper Time,” the team reflects on cultural bias. Pippin, a Black artist who used his work to reflect on racism and slavery, regularly had his work branded as “primitive” and “tribal” by art critics. The essay connects the art world’s disquieting reception to Pippin’s work to clinicians’ implicit biases and the use of terms like “noncompliant” or “unmotivated” to describe patients.

“We’re trying to weave an interesting multidisciplinary lens of clinical medicine and anthropology and social justice,” Lyndsay Hoy, assistant professor of clinical anesthesiology and critical care at Penn Medicine and the co-creator of the project, told the Daily Penn.

Sign up to receive the weekly email yourself — or just tool around the intriguing list of themes the consortium has already explored — at rxmuseum.org.

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