Justice Department training St. Louis officers to police without prejudice

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SUNSET HILLS, MO (KTVI) - The U.S. Department of Justice comes to St. Louis to teach police officers how to police 'without' prejudice.

For two days, commanders from the St. Louis County, St. Louis City and Ferguson police departments have been learning how to make sure they are treating civilians fairly.

It is the result of a request from St. Louis County police chief Jon Belmar, who back in August asked the Justice Department to review county police practices to see what is working and what is not.

The bias training is part of that process.

'Even the overwhelming number of well-intentioned officers have biases that can impact on their perception, their behavior and produce discriminatory behavior,' said Dr. Lorie Fridell, a criminologist from the University of South Florida, who was one of the trainers.

And she says what they teach is not always about racial prejudice.

'Focusing on that low-income car without reason to focus on that car can be a bias about low income individuals,' she said. At the last training we had (elsewhere), there were a lot of individuals nodding with disbelief, saying they hadn`t thought about that before but focusing on those cars is bias.'

The training program is called Fair and Impartial Policing.

One of the Justice Departments recommendations is more community policing.

'You to know the neighbors in a non-enforcement capacity before the demonstration, before the skirmish line.' said Ronald Davis, the head of the Office of Community Policing at the Justice Department.  'I  get to know you because to know you helps break down that stereotype,' he said.

The initial findings about practices at the county police department will be released in six months with a follow-up report in a year. The county can choose to follow or ignore and of the recommendations.

A similar Justice Department examination, known as a "patterns and practices" review is being done on
Ferguson Police. That one however is not voluntary and its  recommendations will be enforced by the courts.

Davis says all departments should be examining their practices, even if they have few complaints of bias.

'Silence is not satisfaction,' Davis said. 'Just because people are not yelling and screaming at you does not mean they don`t feel disenfranchised or disengaged."