Target Practice: Racism and Police Shootings Are No Game

Are Denver cops trigger-happy for minorities? A video game might hold the answer.

For Keesee and other veteran police officers, the shooting studies seem to prove that training reduces instances of biased shootings. But the research also raises other questions. What part of the training is most successful? Is it something cadets learn at the academy or on the job? "There are still a lot of questions that have to be answered, and a lot of things need to be done," says Keesee. "Why do these perceptions still continue? Why have the [shooting] events occurred? Why do they continue to occur? Is there something that is in the training? The studies just give us another direction on where to look, another jumping-off point. Where do we go from here?"

In his 2003 research, Anthony Greenwald determined that while more sophisticated simulators, such as MILO, make people more sensitive to weapons, that training doesn't undo unconscious race stereotypes or bias; he recommended that police receive bias-awareness training that would give officers the chance to discover and counteract automatic stereotypes that could interfere with the best performances of their duties. Correll has started working with Meggitt Defense Systems, a company that develops police-training simulators, to create videos that will test if officers are showing race bias. Officers will then get printouts of their results so they can see how any hidden prejudices might be influencing their shooting choices.

The DPD is hoping to use CUSP's research to help develop a training program that could be a national model for other departments. Keesee would like to see the department create a research consortium with other law-enforcement agencies, to ensure that critical questions continue to be asked — and police officers continue to take a long, hard look at themselves.

Commander Tracie Keesee took the Denver Police Department to a new level when she suggested working with CU.
tony gallagher
Commander Tracie Keesee took the Denver Police Department to a new level when she suggested working with CU.
Bernadette Park and other researchers at CUSP are using a video game to test a deadly serious issue.
tony gallagher
Bernadette Park and other researchers at CUSP are using a video game to test a deadly serious issue.

Details

Are you a trigger-happy racist? Find out here.

"There's a lot of interest there, but there's a lot of fear there as well," Keesee says. "Especially from a chief's standpoint, from a liability standpoint. Would you open yourself up to do that? At some point as leaders, you have to take that risk to answer the question."


One simulation at the DPD's shooting range involved a call from other officers about a suspicious man near a bus stop. He was sitting on the grass, kind of hunched over. There were children standing behind him, and one of the other officers told the kids to move to the other side of the street. A bus was pulling around the bend in the back right as the man stood and began ranting about not passing school and losing his girlfriend. He turned to face us and his sweatshirt flapped open, revealing something long and cylindrical underneath his belt.

Rybkowski stopped the tape. "Now, what do you see here?"

"Is it a bomb?"

"Maybe," he replied. "Or maybe not."

I looked harder. It could have been a bomb, or a thermos or a package. Rybkowski moved the simulation forward frame by frame. The bus was pulling up directly behind the man.

"Now, I've had officers refuse to shoot because they said they didn't want to miss and hit the school bus," he said. "We often discuss the morality of it. Yeah, it may be a legally justified shooting, but is it morally justified? Did you actually have to do that? And that's something that everybody had to decide in their head."

He pushed "play," and the man detonated the bomb in a fiery explosion.

Was that man black or white?

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