A growing number of police departments in America’s largest cities told CBS News that they’ve added implicit bias training. Nevertheless, hundreds of officers in multiple states have recently been exposed for racist social media posts attacking minorities and promoting racial stereotypes.
In St. Louis, Missouri, one sergeant whose department has officers at the center of the controversy said that the culture among her department’s top brass is allowing bad cops to slip through the cracks.
“Do you think that there are white supremacists on the police force?” asked CBS News correspondent Jeff Pegues.
“Yes” said Heather Taylor, an almost 19-year veteran on the St. Louis Metro police force.
“You didn’t even pause,” Pegues said.
“Have you seen some of the Facebook posts of some of our suspended officers right now?” Taylor responded. “Yes.”
Taylor pointed to the recent report by the Plain View Project that flagged thousands of racist and derogatory social media posts, including some from 22 current St. Louis Metro officers. One of the posts from a St. Louis officer compared Black Lives Matter to the KKK.
As president of the Ethical Society of Police — a predominantly black local union — Taylor’s mission is to root out racial discrimination among police.
Protests in Ferguson took place about 10 miles from St. Louis Metro PD headquarters, and led to changes in training there. SLMPD told CBS News in a survey that implicit bias training has been mandatory for officers once a year since October of 2014, two months after Michael Brown’s death. But Taylor said that the training was optional, and that it’s “pretty obvious” that it hasn’t worked.
Lt. Cheryl Orange, a patrol officer for the department, says she doesn’t remember taking it either.
“Wasn’t it mandatory?” Pegues asked.
“Not that I recall,” Orange responded. “But it may have been.”
The St. Louis Metro police department has repeatedly declined CBS News’ request for comment on the investigation. But the man who hired the police chief, St. Louis Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards, said he’s “not surprised” that Taylor said there are white supremacists on the force. “My job is to root that person out,” he said.
Edwards insisted that implicit bias training is mandatory for all officers. When asked about the two officers who said they don’t remember taking it, he said he didn’t know what was going on.
“That’s a good question for them,” he said.
“That’s odd,” Pegues responded.
“It is odd,” Edwards said.
Still, Edwards says use of force incidents are down in St. Louis city, which he credits to new training. But he also concedes police have a long way to go before he can assure a black mother he met that changes have taken hold in the department.
“She asked me… ‘Can you change our police department? Because every time my little black boy encounters a police… I think one or two things is going to happen. That my child will lose his liberty and go to prison or that my child will die.’ We have challenges. But we’re overcoming those challenges a bit at a time,” he said.
Taylor said that the department should include better screening of applicants and breaking down what some have called the blue wall of silence – a term for police cover ups of internal wrongdoing. She added that she’s not afraid of the backlash she could face for speaking out.
“When you know you’re doin’ right you can hold your head up…” she said. “I don’t think that all of our department is bad… But… instead of complaining about me, how about you do something to change the culture that you know exists?”
It’s still unknown whether any police training technique could impact trends in use of force, in part because there has never been a federal use of force database to study.