Independence Police Department offering bias training

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- New - and mandatory - training at a metro police department, aims to help the men and women in blue see beyond black and white.

Luis Virgil is a 14-year veteran of the Independence Police Department.  

“My dream was to become a police officer,” Virgil said. 

It’s a dream that derives from a nightmare experience in high school. 

“I was mistreated because of the color of my skin," he recalls. "I had an officer who thought I matched a description; at one point had me on the ground with a gun near my head. I remember feeling that, and when he was done and realized he had the wrong person, he didn’t even say he was sorry.  He just said you’re free to go. Well it altered me.” 

Virgil says that experience altered him to not be that kind of officer. 

“I just truly believe that the biggest thing we can do is just talk.”

That’s why Virgil and the department’s more than 200 officers can oftentimes be seen on the streets, community policing.  

Officers say building trust is one of the biggest factors in solving crime. 

In addition to hitting the streets, officers are also hitting the classroom for bias training. 

Officer John Syme teaches those classes.  

“The explicit stuff we can control: Someone’s running around saying racial slurs and stuff, they’re done," Syme said. "The implicit stuff’s a lot harder.” 

Syme says it creates just as much tension. 

“On a crash scene, does the officer first go to the nicer vehicle that was involved in the crash and get their side of what happened first before the vehicle that isn’t so nice?”

The Independence Police Department just expanded the training in 2018. 

Syme says eliminating the ‘not so in your face biases,’ means officers can quickly de-escalate a situation for everyone involved. 

“We also have to talk to the cops and explain why is it that people look at us in a certain way,” Syme said.

It’s something Officer Virgil wishes officers did regularly when he was a teen. 

Every officer in the Independence Police Department must take this training yearly. 

It’s offered once a month. 

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