Inside the Milwaukee Police Department's effort to reduce officers' bias

By its very nature, police work can put officers in the middle of highly-charged situations that sometimes run the risk of escalating into violence. Now, one police department is looking to better train its officers to keep such confrontations from getting out of control.

The Milwaukee Police Department's effort to address bias is a consequence of many highly-charged confrontations that have landed officers in court, reports CBS News correspondent Dean Reynolds.

"Be careful not to get sucked into what they're calling about," explained police trainer Rondon Powell to a room full of recruits. 

"If a person calls and says there is a black person sitting in a car outside my house, are you going to be sucked into that person's bias?" Powell asked.

"Black people can live in communities where predominantly white people live, so are you going to stop every person who is opposite of what that community looks like?" one woman responded.

Another man said, "Be aware of your biases but also be aware that part of the employment here is to investigate things that are out of the norm." 


Randon Powell teaches recruits

CBS News

"I grew up in a neighborhood in the inner city of Milwaukee, where police and community relations [were] not good at all, and I found out that there are certain things that I viewed when I was a kid that really wasn't true and as I became more of an experienced police officer, I began to obtain a desire to come to the academy and teach recruits," Powell said. 

"I think in the last five years what we've seen is a great deal more attention being paid to what's called de-escalation skills," said Milwaukee police chief Edward Flynn. "It won't always work, but we do want to give them those skills so that they have time to employ it."

Staci Steen has been teaching recruits there for five years.

"Ideally we want as police officers to gain your cooperation through words," Steen said.


Police chief Edward Flynn

CBS News

The recruits have to pass state tests covering more than 1,000 hours of training.

"There's no other occupation in government -- none, including the military -- that puts so much responsibility on the shoulders of the lowest-ranking member of the organization," Flynn said.

Angela Kluenker and Lorenzo Maholmes are two of those recruits.

"I live here in Milwaukee and I plan on living here throughout the rest of my life. So why wouldn't I want to be on the forefront of doing something good for the city?" Maholmes said.  

"If you come into contact with somebody and you treat them with respect, and, you know, you treat them like you'd want to be treated, I think that can go a long way towards kind of building trust between the community and the police department," Kluenker said. 

And as those recruits cross the stage and become officers, they get one final reminder from their chief.

"No matter how many scenario-based training you do, no matter how many skill sets you do, sooner or later they are applying this in a dynamic, stressful, ambiguous set of circumstances. And that's the true test," Flynn said. 

And that's when character takes over.