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Police Training Aims to Build Community Trust

Sandra Averhart
WUWF Public Media

In response to grand jury recommendations following the fatal police shooting of an African-American man last summer, officers with the Pensacola Police Department are now receiving implicit bias training.

“It’s not just about race, it’s not just about gender,” says Dr. Cedric Alexander, clarifying that the training he’s providing covers all areas of diversity.

“It’s sexual orientation. It’s religious beliefs. It’s what makes us a diverse community, diverse country. And, the whole point of it is that it raise our level of awareness around differences.”

Alexander, a Pensacola native with four decades of law enforcement experience, has been back in his hometown for about a year now.

Since his return, he’s been appointed to the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority, filling the District 3 seat left vacant by the death of long-time board member Elvin McCorvey.

Additionally, he’s been hired to provide consulting and training for the Pensacola Police Department.

“We wanted him to help us,” said Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson Monday in reference to Alexander’s hiring.

“He’s worked in a number of different communities in law enforcement. He’s also worked, not only in the police force, but also worked on the administrative side that’s been in charge of the police force. So, he brings some experience that we thought very good.”

Alexander’s positions have ranged from chief of police in Rochester, New York to a stint with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security overseeing security at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

Along with a PhD in clinical psychology, it seems he’s the right man for the bias training he’s been asked to conduct.

He says the first phase of this training is to define the difference between implicit and explicit bias. Explicit bias is more overt, conscious and deliberate.        

“But, the implicit bias is the one that oftentimes trips all of us up, because all of us certainly do have some type of bias towards something and may not be aware of it,” Alexander explained.

Currently, Pensacola Police officers are receiving two hours of classroom training, including instruction on the science of implicit bias.

The goal is for officers to become more aware of their biases, so they are able to apply what they’ve learned and hold each other accountable.

Alexander shared the following example of two cops responding to a call, “If we go to a call for service and he noticed something about my behavior that may be off or my interpretation may be off, then we have a shared responsibility for him to be able to say to me, ‘Hey Cedric, hey partner, did you think about this? Did you see that? Do you understand what I’m saying?’”

In addition to training for the rank and file, Alexander has been conducting executive leadership training with Chief Tommi Lyter and his upper management team.

And, there’s more leadership training to come.

“Because with good leadership training, I am the role model. I set the example,” declared Alexander, noting that on a daily basis the sergeant or lieutenant conducting morning rollcall sets the tone for what’s expected based on their own attitude toward the community.

As for his law enforcement philosophy, it generally can be found in President Obama’s Task Force for 21st Century Policing final report. Alexander helped to write the report as a member of the task force, which was created in the aftermath of the fatal police shooting of African-American Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

He points to the report as a good road map to best practices, built on six pillars, beginning with trust and legitimacy.

“One of my greatest missions is make sure I’m trying to continue to build that trust with the community I’m interacting with,” said Alexander. “But, that road runs on a two-way street, right? But, the community also has to be willing to support, has to be willing to be there with their police departments, because it’s a joint mission."

Restoring the Pensacola community’s trust is one of the objectives of Alexander’s work in the aftermath of the July 5 fatal police shooting of 28-year-old Tymar Crawford, who was black.

But, on the question of whether this new bias training will prevent another such incident?

“I cannot say that. No one else can stand here and say that, either,” answered Alexander. “But, what we can hope for is that through this training, it does – along with everything else that we learn – helps us to wholly be more efficient in the way we do our job, to be more aware in the way that we do our job and to remind ourselves that training is so important to everything that we do.”

Currently, officers are only required to complete a two-hour course.

Meantime, Alexander plans to work with Chief Lyter to build into the department further opportunities for bias training and feedback, which he says should be ongoing.

“We have to constantly, constantly, be moving in a direction of elevating and role-modeling where it becomes behavioral. And, once it becomes behavioral, it becomes second-nature to us, just like muscle memory does in firearms training,” he declared.

Aside from implicit bias and leadership training at the Pensacola Police Department, Alexander has been asked to help Mayor Robinson establish a Citizens Advisory Committee.