DiversitySMALLLLLLLLLRepresentatives of Just Communities of Arkansas (JCA) held a workshop at the Benton Police Department recently about implicit bias/unconscious conditioning in an effort to improve communication between officers and citizens.

“Police Officers are just like everyone else, so probably the most important thing - in terms of diversity and inclusion - is for all of us to understand that we must recognize differences and respect them,” said Ruth Shepherd, JCA executive director. “Every single person has implicit bias, so if we are aware of our bias, we are able to interact without letting those bias get in the way. We’ll then be interacting on an equal basis, and no matter what our differences are, and we want to recognize those differences.”

Shepherd and JCA Representative Dennis Davis discussed a multitude of issues concerning implicit bias/unconscious conditioning and how to use the D.I.E. (Describe, Interpret, and Evaluate) Model of Communications. Both said the goal of the workshop is to improve the level of trust in the community. Davis said that is first accomplished when one becomes aware of their unconscious conditioning.

“We all have biases and that doesn’t mean we are good or bad people, it just means we have been conditioned from childhood to either think positively or negatively about a different group,” Davis said. “We aren’t going to be able to remove that, but we can become aware of it and manage it so it doesn’t get us jammed up in our interactions.”

He added, “Jamming up, meaning having a negative outcome because you already have, in your mind, determined who this person is based on your history and you have preconceived notions, so you have expectations of the way the behavior or interaction is going to go.”

Davis also discussed with participants about how the unconscious conditioning can cause snap judgements, whether right or wrong, but that recognizing biases can change the wrong snap judgements.

“The reality is that it’s a workshop so a whole lot of change is not going to happen in those two hours, but hopefully we planted a few seeds,” he said. “Hopefully this will be an opportunity for people to try to connect on a deeper level. Because if we really want to get rid of these challenges that we have with different groups, you have to have equitable relationships with people from those groups.”

“Then you’ll see the humanity. Then you’ll see the commonness, and that we are a whole lot more alike than we are different. And that shifts the manner in which you deal with people from those groups.”

Shepherd said her hope is that the workshop participants left with more understanding of the diversity within the human family and that understanding helps them to be safer.

“And to do a better job of not only getting the bad guys off the street, but also with preventing bad things from happening through their interaction with members of the community,” she said. “We want officers to have more positive interactions with every single person they work with. And you got to know that officers are often working with people who are at a really bad place in their life, so it is incumbent on the officer to be the one who reaches out. We hope this workshop helps officers be proactive in building relationships in the community with everyone.”

Shepherd and Davis said they have worked together for about 15 years through JCA programs. Davis said they speak to multiple entities and groups of people, and that the workshop can be tailored to the group, time restraints and what are the group objectives. For more information, visit