Addressing Implicit Bias Countywide

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Testifying before the Board on implicit bias training. L-R: Susan Burton, A New Way of Life; Probation Commissioner Cyn Yamashiro; and Patricia Guerrera of Community Coalition. Photo by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion by its chairman, Mark Ridley-Thomas, to enhance the training of Los Angeles County employees to stifle implicit biases and subconscious prejudices that adversely affect public service.

“As a Board, our mandate centers on a commitment to social justice for all as an administrative responsibility,”Board Chairman Ridley-Thomas said before the vote. “As the environment in which we work and serve becomes more diverse, we simply need to up our game.”

“This should not be construed as a stick, but more of a tool to help respective County departments, and the employees therein, to do their jobs more effectively,” he added. “We seek to root out prejudicial dispositions, and do it in a way that celebrates the dignity and worth of every single person with whom our employees come in contact.

Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis spoke out in support of the motion, as did Inspector General Max Huntsman and Probation Commissioner Cyn Yamashiro and several others.

Centinela Youth Services director Jessica Ellis told the Board, “As experts in conflict resolution, we know how easy it is for all of us humans to unconsciously label each other. We also know the damage that this does, particularly when a person who is in a position of power, who is in control of resources, is unaware of their biases with respect to the people they are meant to serve.

Melanie Ochoa, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, also applauded the motion, saying biases can do serious harm, particularly in law enforcement. “When law enforcement targets individuals because of their identity or responds more severely to harmless or ambiguous conduct by minorities than by whites, it impedes effective policing,” she said.

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In foreground, Jessica Ellis of Centinela Youth Services. Photo by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors.

“Biased policing is a public safety concern,” she added. “As we have seen, many instances involving African American civilians that culminate in officers’ uses of force – deadly or otherwise – evolve from situations where an individual who was not actually engaging in criminal activity was nonetheless viewed as suspicious and approached by the police, or were engaged based on minor infractions that elicited more aggressive policing actions than the same infractions committed by others.”

In August 2016, the Board approved a separate motion by Board Chair Ridley-Thomas to examine implicit bias and cultural competency training within the County’s law enforcement departments and agencies, and to study the best constitutional policing practices in the nation. The County’s Chief Executive Office found that few departments and agencies in County government mandate regularly scheduled training on implicit bias and cultural competency, and none evaluate the effectiveness of such training in operations and contact with the public.

The directives in Board Chair Ridley-Thomas’ motion include developing and enhancing protocols to examine employees’ limitations with cultural competency, and the root causes and impact of prejudices.

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In foreground, Sunny Kang of St. Luke’s Presbyterian Church, sitting beside Melanie Ochoa of ACLU. Photo by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors.