Julia Nagel/Sun Senior Photographer

In the past month, the Ithaca Police Department went through a round of Procedural Justice training.

April 9, 2024

Procedural Justice and Implicit Bias: Ithaca Police Department’s Newest Training Focus

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Procedural justice and implicit bias, two critically important concepts in law enforcement, have recently become the central focus of training at the Ithaca Police Department, as highlighted in the March 6 Common Council Agenda which stated that training had begun earlier that week.

This one-day training program has been strongly supported by Chief of Police Thomas Kelly, who recently assumed the role of chief back in November. Prior to his service in Ithaca, Kelly served 22 years in the Schenectady Police Department and was a lead instructor for Procedural Justice and Implicit Bias for the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.

“Procedural justice is really what good police officers do. And generally, what other government agencies and businesses do when they’re responsive to the needs of the community,” Kelly said. “It’s about giving people a voice. It’s about being neutral in decisions, hearing all sides of whatever the situation is and making an impartial decision.”

The training itself is not a new concept for law enforcement. Developed by Yale professors Tracy Meares and Tom Tyler back in 2016, procedural justice training was later conducted in Ithaca after it was adopted by the New York State Department of Criminal Justice, according to Kelly. 

“New York State stepped in and said, ‘Well, we want to do this program for New York State,’” Kelly said. “So myself and five other instructors became the lead instructors for the Department of Criminal Justice Services. And we were going around the state doing this training when the murder of George Floyd happened. That became kind of a catalyst to really ramp up participation.”

As explained by Thomas Condzella, president of the Ithaca Police Benevolent Association, training is divided into modules which focus on different pillars of procedural justice, implicit bias and the importance of having legitimacy

“The four main concepts surrounding procedural justice are giving people a voice, remaining neutral in our interactions, being respectful and gaining trust through being transparent in our processes,” Condzella said. “It really just is a good reminder for the officers to essentially treat folks like they would their family members or loved ones.”

While the training aims to ensure a better future for officers and the community, acknowledging the past and present are important aspects of the training process.

“There’ve been several other incidents in the past involving police officers that have created a very negative stigma about our profession and uniform,” Condzella said. “So we also really want our officers to be aware that even though some of those things may not have happened locally, our profession is still viewed in a certain way depending on who they’re interacting with and what that person’s experience with police might be.”

Kelly explained that alongside police officers, community members also participate in the training. Through community feedback, the training is altered and improved. 

“One day, we had 10 different members of the community come in from different groups and participated in the training,” Kelly said. “We got a lot of really positive feedback. They said they learned what types of things that officers experience that they really didn’t think about.”

Shirey Kane, chair of the Community Police Board, was one of these community participants. 

“[The training] focused on understanding and wellness.” Kane said. “People opened up and told their stories of bad or uncomfortable interactions with police. Police told stories about horrible things that they saw and how difficult it is for them to go through those awful things and then have to continue with their shift and go home to see their families.”

Another focus of this training is on implicit bias, with a psychological understanding of the concept being one of the priorities.

“The training is basically recognizing what bias is, and what the difference between implicit and explicit is,” Kelly said. “There’s a number of different exercises that are done in that training to demonstrate the shortcuts that your brain takes when it’s reacting to a situation. [The training helps participants] recognize [that] everybody has bias that’s shaped from your personal experiences, from your education and from social media.”

Thus far, community members have expressed support for the IPD’s procedural justice training, a sentiment which Kelly appreciates and hopes will expand in the future.

“[Positive feedback] is so good to hear. I’m guessing this is going to stay. I hope to see [procedural justice training] become even more nationwide.”

As the summer approaches, initiatives aimed at fostering community-police relations are in the works at the department. 

“What we’re doing now is work with the CJC, the Community Justice Center, and community conversations,” Kelly said. Something that’s going to be rolling out this summer is actual meetings at different locations in the City with officers from the police department, including myself, to have conversations. I think that a key component in building trust is being able to talk to officers and ask questions.” 

Condzella believes that the future looks bright for the Ithaca community, but there is always room for growth and improvement.

“I’m really proud of the work that the community and the officers are doing together and the conversations that we’re having,” Condzella said. “The progress that we’ve made in the past year and a half to two years in terms of building trust and relationships, I’m very happy about, but there’s still a lot more work to be done. We’re going to keep moving forward.”