Improving Police-Community Relations with a Social-Psychological Intervention for Reducing Racial Bias in Policing

Awarded Scholars:
Calvin K. Lai, Washington University in St. Louis
Project Date:
Dec 2019
Award Amount:
Project Programs:
Decision Making and Human Behavior in Context

Racial inequities in policing have eroded trust between police and communities, and implicit biases have been identified as a mechanism underlying these racial inequities (Jones, 2015; Spencer et al., 2016). In response, some police departments have sought to promote equitable police treatment of citizens with bias training programs. A recent survey of 155 police departments in large metropolitan areas indicates that 69 percent have some type of implicit bias training program. However, these programs have not been evaluated and are often not informed by psychological research on bias reduction or lasting behavior change. 

To address this gap, social psychologist Calvin Lai will conduct a randomized controlled trial (RCT) to test a social-psychological program for training police officers to interact with citizens in a more racially-equitable manner. The program will draw on social psychological research regarding interventions to address racial bias and effective behavior change. In collaboration with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a nonprofit that trains approximately 15,000 law enforcement professionals annually on bias-related issues, Lai will recruit about 1,600 patrol officers belonging to about 200 police beats (i.e., distinct areas where officers patrol), as well as 1,500 community members. He will assess a range of key psychological and behavioral outcomes: (1) officers’ reports of their own behavior, (2) community perceptions of officers, and (3) administrative data. Examining efficacy across three types of criteria will allow the PI to triangulate aspects of the intervention that are effective from the varying perspectives of police, citizens impacted by police behavior, and administrative data on crime and citizen complaints against police.


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