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Phoenix City Council OKs funds for police to take anti-bias training

(Facebook Photo/City of Phoenix Police Department)

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Police Department will be going through cultural-competency and implicit-bias training.

The City Council approved the $150,000 instruction in a 6-2 vote last week.

Vice Mayor Jim Waring was one of the no votes.

“I’m not expecting perfection from our officers,” he told the council during Thursday’s vote. “I really don’t know that I’m going to stand, unless there’s incontrovertible evidence the officer was totally in the wrong, and judge that person and their reactions.”

Councilman Sal DiCiccio also voted no.

“(The training) just falls in line with the entire national rhetoric we’re seeing, on anti-police,” he explained. “I’m not sure when police became the bad guy.”

The department plans to start the training this fall, with instructors from the National Training Institute on Race and Equity. The group uses experts in psychology and sociology, and works with police officers, educators and healthcare workers. Officers will learn — among other things — about implicit bias and why it’s an issue.

The one-year program could be extended for an additional two years if necessary.

Councilman Daniel Valenzuela — who’s running for mayor this year — said he supported the training.

“It’s a few hundred thousand dollars,” he said. “If it prevents one shooting, I think it’s a step in the right direction.”

The Phoenix Police Department has attempted such training before. In 2015, the department instituted mandatory 40-hour training for enhancing officer decision-making. Eight hours of that was reserved specifically for “cultural consciousness.” Former ASU professor Matthew C. Whittaker secured that $268,000 contract.

There were issues from the start. First, Whittaker began instruction before the City Council was notified he’d been hired. (They approved the contract nonetheless.) He also was accused of plagiarizing course materials from a Chicago police officer.

Eventually, Whittaker — who was demoted to associate professor after superiors found significant attribution and use-of-source problems with various materials he’d written — resigned the contract. He won in abitration when the city sued for a refund. The arbitrator found there was insufficient evidence of plagiarism in the presentation.

Last May, Whittaker resigned from his tenured position at ASU.

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