Winnipeg police are getting schooled on new ways to deal with bias and racism on the job.

Officers were trained on Thursday on fair and impartial policing — essentially how to identify internal biases and stereotypes and prevent them from impacting their policing.

Det.-Sgt. Kathy Antymis

Det.-Sgt. Kathy Antymis, a 15-year veteran of the Winnipeg Police Service, took the fair policing training on Thursday. (Meagan Fiddler/CBC)

"We all have it," said Det.-Sgt. Kathy Antymis, a 15-year veteran of the Winnipeg Police Service who was in the training. "It's just that when we're policing, we deal with so many people, day in and day out. Perhaps those implicit biases can be a little bit more visible than the bank teller or the clerk at the store. I think that's where it becomes really applicable for us."

Retired Wisconsin police chief Noble Wray, who is leading the sessions, speaks to law enforcement agencies across North America about racism and implied bias.

He looks specifically at stereotypes and prejudgments that officers may not even be aware are a part of their thinking.

"We know that, in our business, we take action, and it's rapidly evolving. It's quick, and we do understand that officers do have to take action," he said. "If there are opportunities to slow things down, to get more information, then we want them to avail themselves of that."

Everyone makes snap judgments based on stereotypes, but they can be harmful, Wray said. Officers are being trained to identify their own biases and are given training to help them not act on those preconceptions.

Danny Smyth with retired Wisconsin police chief Noble Wray

Winnipeg police Supt. Danny Smyth with retired Wisconsin police chief Noble Wray on Thursday. Wray lead a session on fair and unbiased policing in Winnipeg on Thursday. (Meagan Fiddler/CBC)

"What we're trying to obviously address are those times when you may not know it. You may have a bias. It may have an adverse impact on your work," he said. "It may have an adverse impact on life, because again, it's a human thing."

Wray said he tells officers to slow down, gather as much information and deal with each person as fairly as possible.

"We look at people and we don't know all about them," said Antymis. "We fill in those gaps with whatever we've got in our own head, and sometimes that can lead us to making perhaps a poor judgment on that person and maybe that affects the way that we deal with that person."

She said she likes the way the program directly addresses day-to-day police work, and she thinks it can make a difference in the force.

"I think if people are conscious about what they're doing, how they do it and why they do it, then it can make a difference one person at a time," she said.

'Good timing'

Supt. Danny Smyth said the training has been in the works for a long time, but it's coming at a good time for officers who are focused on improving the city's relationship with the indigenous community.

"Our aim is to have the trust of the community and the respect of the [Winnipeg] community, and the way we treat the community is important," said Smyth. "It is good timing. It wasn't planned — I would like to take credit for that — but certainly we set this in motion last year even before the Maclean's article."

Maclean's recently published an article dubbing Winnipeg the most racist city in Canada, sparking a national conversation about race and launching an anti-racism summit headed by Mayor Brian Bowman.

Damon Johnston, president of the Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg, was pleased to hear about the training and hailed it as another indicator that the Winnipeg Police Service is serious about changing its relationship with his community.

"Chief [Devon] Clunis and his team are 'walking the talk' in many different ways and are truly reaching out to community to co-develop these leading-edge solutions," Johnston said in an email.

Thursday's program was specifically for senior officers and trainers on the force, but Smyth said the plan is to eventually extend it to all officers.