Police Training Institute works to reform biases


Photo Courtesy of Michael David Schlosser

Academy members train during a courtroom scenario.

By Jess Peterson, Staff Writer

Mike Schlosser, director of the Police Training Institute since 2012, explained that white privilege, with respect to his experience, is having more opportunities than others because of the color of his skin.

At the Police Training Institute on campus, there are classes required by Illinois and additional coursework designed to help recruits understand their own racial biases before they enter the field. Schlosser said that his normal Biggie Smalls ringtone probably would be surprising to some. He ties this moment back to reinforce the idea that people naturally draw biases and assume things about one another.

“See, you didn’t expect that, right? (That’s) implicit bias,” he said.

Schlosser received his PhD in education and the intersection of police and race from the University. Policing in a Multiracial Society is a course designed by Schlosser and a team of researchers with different specializations regarding history and race, to provide recruits with the opportunity to take further steps towards police reform in the 21st century.

Jesse Marsh, a recruit who completed the academy this June, said the course facilitated for difficult conversations and pushed recruits to think about race differently.

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Marsh said that the course challenged him to be “open-minded that people come from all different places and attitudes.”

An “us vs. them” mentality has grown in tandem with media coverage of police using force. Schlosser said that police officers cannot expect to work efficiently unless they have the support of the communities they are working with. By taking the time to develop relationships with people who are not like them, Schlosser believes stronger bonds will be built between community members and their respective police force, leading to a heightened level of trust.

“When we know that there are incidents where police officers are accused of using excessive force … then we need police reform. When we see that we have issues of mistrust in the community, specifically the African American community, we need to work harder at gaining that trust,” Schlosser said.

Working to remain transparent and accessible to the community as a department requires taking extra steps. Deputy Chief Troy Daniels of the Champaign Police completed his Police Training Institute training in 1985 and worked with Schlosser before he was director of the Institute.

Daniels explained when force is used by an officer in the field, the Champaign department goes through a process that many other departments do not use.

Once the use of force has been reported, a first line supervisor is sent to the location to gather additional information. After the report is reviewed by the department, officers also study the report to see what can be learned from it.

“If police don’t police the police, then who will?” Daniels said.

Although force is used in policing, Daniels said within the 60,000 reports the Champaign department deals with every year, just over 200 deal with force. He said there have been instances of abuse of force within the U.S., but to base one’s perceptions of the police solely off of these reports disregards the majority of work that officers are doing.

“Imagine any other profession being judged by the mistakes of the few,” Daniels said.

Daniels reinforced the idea that officers are also members of society, and thus have grown up within specific racial beliefs that have created different biases. In response to the knowledge of these biases, the Champaign Police Department has a program called “Unleashing the Power of Unconditional Respect,” which officers are required to partake in. The program is meant to instill that it does not matter the race, gender, criminal history or sexual preference of the individual an officer may be dealing with; all people deserve respect.

Acknowledging that one may hold an implicit racial bias is the first step, but Schlosser said understanding that having a bias does not make someone a bad person is just as crucial to the learning process.

The recruits at the institute come from all parts of Illinois, some from predominantly white communities. Varying exposure to diversity leads individuals to unique levels of understanding their own race and the identities of those around them. Marsh said recruits’ different histories impacted the conversations within the classroom.

“(There are) officers who are one-sided and not open to conversations (about race). But not any more than people who aren’t cops,” Marsh said.

Once officers have addressed their biases and reached better understanding, they can move forward and a connection between communities and officers can take place. By being open about their actions in the field and pursuing community interactions outside of law enforcement, Marsh said the “us vs. them,” mentality can be diminished.

Facilitating for transparency will positively impact communities as “more people understand what we do and why we do it,” Marsh said. 

The additional ten-hour course is offered for free at the institute, with the goal being for recruits to have more empathy and respect for the individuals they work with, spurred by a raised awareness about racial identities. Schlosser leads the institute with the hopes to produce next generations of police officers that maintain the desire to develop relationships with people who aren’t like themselves.

Schlosser said the Police Training Institute continues to update training, but that there is also a need to continue training throughout an officer’s career in order to keep these values intact. Through this preservation, the lessons taught at the Police Training Institute not only affect one officer but can spread to the recruit’s future department.

“I’m finding out that it doesn’t end in the classroom. That what we’re doing is actually planting a seed,” Schlosser said.

Reform cannot be achieved by one program in Illinois, but the ripple effects that follow and the motivation to continue improving are certainly a place to start.

“I think we have a long road to go, but I’m a very optimistic person, and I think we’ll get there,” Schlosser said.

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