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Our View: Owning our biases

The new police chief of Ferguson, Mo., hired to head the troubled department after the shooting of Michael Brown, decided to become a police officer after he experienced unfair treatment in his youth.

What Delrish Moss encountered was officers who assumed he was up to no good because he was black. Ashland Police Chief Tighe O'Meara is launching a training program for his officers aimed at "implicit bias": the tendency we all have to categorize people by appearance and to judge them based on that bias.

Ashland is not Ferguson. The racial divide that plagues that city is less of a factor in this homogeneous community. But implicit bias still can color police attitudes toward specific groups, such as homeless people, and how officers approach those groups influences how effectively they address problems.

O'Meara has undergone implicit bias training, which involves recognizing and acknowledging one's own biases and learning how to counteract them. After two training sessions, one of which he attended with Jackson County Sheriff Corey Falls, O'Meara is ready to implement what he learned in his own department.

Implicit bias is unconscious, the result of the socialization we all experience, and everyone has it to some degree. As O'Meara notes, it creates "a problem for anyone who is not a white, straight, Christian male."

Ashland officers taking the training, he says, are "eating it up," and he is optimistic that the program will help begin to restore public confidence in law enforcement.

Chief Moss in Ferguson would approve.