Pennsylvania State Police aims at improving underserved communities with implicit bias, use of force training

HERSHEY, Pa. (WPVI) -- Law enforcement officers train for weeks, months, and years to make decisions within a split-second.

"Less than, sometimes," said Sgt. Timothy Fetzer. "You have milliseconds to make a decision in a lot of these incidents that result in police utilizing deadly force."

Sgt. Fetzer corralled members of the media into an auditorium this morning to broadcast his perspective from the Pennsylvania State Police, or PSP.

He asked, per show of hands, what percentage of police interactions resulted in use of force. One answered, "Seven percent." Another guessed, "Two percent."

Fetzer revealed the actual statistic, saying, "Less than 1/10th of one percent resulted in the police having to use force."

The revelation sent shockwaves through the room. It comes from a study conducted in 2018 by William P. Bozeman in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery.

"We don't hear that," Sgt. Fetzer said. "We think that's the norm for police and it's certainly not...even if they have to take someone into custody, it's normally done with very little force at all, if any."

His presentation comes in the wake of heightened scrutiny for law enforcement across the country. Specifically, the deaths of individuals such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have caused outrage directed at the police.

Thus, the recent expansion of the PSP's Heritage Affairs Section seems rather timely.

"The Pennsylvania State Police is dedicated to changing the dynamic and the misunderstandings between law enforcement and underserved community members and groups," said Lieutenant William Slaton, Commander of the Heritage Affairs Section.

The issues of cultural sensitivity, racial profiling and implicit bias get slotted under this section's microscope. It was recently expanded to hire four full-time liaison officers. Corporal Timothy Greene is one of them.

"We all have it," Cpl. Greene said about implicit bias. "It's just a matter of knowing what you do with it and how you channel that."

The concept of each individual's deeply-rooted perspectives is not lost on the PSP.

"As the Heritage Affairs Section, we actually do training on that not just for our cadets and troopers, but also for local law enforcement agencies and agencies outside of law enforcement," Cpl. Greene said.

Despite the continued efforts to improve law enforcement officers as individuals, Lt. Slaton recognizes the path forward is a two-way street.

His section provides training and resources not only to members of law enforcement, but also to community leaders and organizations at no cost.

"We're hoping to educate both components, so, that way they can have an understanding of each other," Lt. Slaton said. "And help bridge the gap and have amicable relationships."

According to the PSP, the following are all measures you can take to improve your encounter when pulled over by a law enforcement officer: safely slow down and stop, activate flashers, place hands on top of the steering wheel, refrain from making sudden movements, and simply cooperate.

To learn more about the Pennsylvania State Police and its Heritage Affairs Section, visit their website.

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