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Moving past bias with officers and the community

image of Aaron Woodruff

Aaron Woodruff

Building bridges between law enforcement and the community has long been a commitment of Illinois State University Police. Finding opportunities for positive interactions is key to the relationship, said University Chief of Police Aaron Woodruff.

Recently returning from training in Florida, Woodruff is now a certified instructor in fair and impartial police training. “We specifically addressed implicit bias at this training, but we also talked about procedural justice as well,” said Woodruff, who has been studying biases of both police officers and community members.

Implicit bias can be defined as beliefs or stereotypes people carry without realizing it. “It’s on a subconscious level, but it can still influence our decision making and how we react in situations,” said Woodruff.

Limited contact between law enforcement and the community tends to increase the chances of implicit bias, noted Woodruff. “If an officer has never been around a transgender individual, actions are going to be based on what has been gleaned from media or stories,” he said. “In the same vein, people who have never had contact with police, or only had contact through a negative experience like a traffic stop, base their ideas of officers on what they see in the news, or how they were treated that one time.”

Woodruff hopes that community events, like the Behind the Badge, will help people move beyond bias. “That’s an example of trying to forge those positive bonds and reduce implicit bias in decision making. It’s called ‘contact theory,’” he said.

With this certification Woodruff hopes to provide implicit bias training to local law enforcement and the community. “It is in compliance with the law, but we have already been doing trainings like that,” said Woodruff, who added Illinois State officers generally go beyond the 10 different trainings mandated by the state.

Cultural competency training is already a requirement of the department through the Division of Student Affairs, but Woodruff says the insights from this training is geared specifically for officers. “A lot of our other cultural competency based trainings focus on a much broader area than just law enforcement,” said Woodruff. “While that is still important—fair and impartial police training, and specifically implicit bias—can be related much more to what our officers do on a daily basis. It gives them a chance to see why it is important, and how it plays into our everyday lives.”


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