Crime & Justice

LA supervisor wants more implicit bias training at sheriff’s department

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas wants more implicit bias training at sheriff's department.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas wants more implicit bias training at sheriff's department.

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A week after the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department admitted a deputy accidentally killed an innocent black man in Compton, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas called for more implicit bias training for deputies.

“Things continue to happen that are minimally of a questionable nature,” Ridley-Thomas told KPCC Tuesday. He said implicit bias “is not addressed to the extent that it should be” at the sheriff’s department.

Ridley-Thomas’ district includes Compton.

Donnell Thompson, 27, died on July 28 after a deputy with the sheriff's Special Enforcement Bureau shot him with a high-powered rifle from an armored car. He allegedly was charging toward deputies.

Originally, sheriff's officials said Thompson was a carjacking suspect who had possibly shot at deputies earlier that morning. Officials also said he “matched the description” of the suspect: male, black, 20-30 years old, wearing dark pants or shorts and a basketball-type jersey.

“You have to remember we are talking about a rapidly evolving event,” said Captain Steve Katz.

But Thompson was unarmed and had nothing to do with the carjacking.

On Tuesday, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion by Ridley-Thomas to ask the sheriff’s department for a detailed report on how much training it provides to deputies on implicit bias – often described as unconscious bias.

That report is due back in 45 days.

Ridley-Thomas said he began working on the motion before the shooting of Thompson.

“There is no denying there is a crisis of confidence in law enforcement” that preceded the shooting, the supervisor said.

A sheriff’s official at the board meeting said the department added implicit bias training in the wake of controversial police shootings of black men across the country.

There is no one course devoted to the topic, and it's not required of all deputies, said Commander Mike Parker, who oversees training. Instead, implicit bias is addressed across other types of training.

“We’ve infused implicit bias training into all aspects of our training,” said Parker. “This is definitely one of the topics we have made a priority.”

“More needs to be done,” said Ridley-Thomas.

A KPCC investigation found police in Los Angeles County fatally shoot black people at triple their proportion in the population. The pattern is not reported in any other racial group.

KPCC’s analysis of district attorney summaries and medical examiner data between 2010 and 2014 revealed law enforcement officers with the sheriff’s department, LAPD, and dozens of smaller police agencies fatally shot at least 187 people. Among them:

Police leaders have maintained officers are trained to shoot only when they feel their lives or the lives of others are in danger — and that race has nothing to do with those decisions.

The supervisor’s inquiry into implicit bias training comes as California prepares to implement a new law that requires police agencies to track and report complaints alleging racial profiling against officers.

An annual report of the data must then be submitted to the California Department of Justice.

That law also created a new Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board under Attorney General Kamala Harris. 

Alex Johnson sits on the board and addressed the supervisors Tuesday.

“We must challenge the insidious perception that criminal and dangerous are synonymous with black people and people of color,” said Johnson, who also serves as executive director of the Children's Defense Fund in California.