Two years ago, a documentary film crew visited the Simulated Hazardous Operational Tasks laboratory on the Washington State University Spokane campus.
There, they filmed Lois James and Stephen James, a married couple who have doctorates in criminal justice and created what’s known as the Counter Bias Training Simulation to provide bias training to law enforcement.
On Sunday, footage that crew captured will be shown as part of the Spokane International Film Festival, during a screening of Robin Hauser’s film “Bias,” which explores the scientific underpinings of unconscious bias and its effect socially and in the workplace.
“We’re running officers through these scenarios where the suspect’s characteristics are not predictably related to the outcome,” Lois James said of the simulation program. The aim, she added, is “counter-conditioning.”
The Counter Bias Training Simulation program also analyzes law enforcement officers’ responses to scenarios and asks them questions about the rationale behind their decision-making.
“It really kind of is a way of getting officers to uncover their own biases,” Lois said. “When they actually discover it for themselves, it can be more powerful.”
When it comes to bias, law enforcement is often one of the first groups to be criticized. The Jameses said their research received significantly more attention after the shooting of Michael Brown in 2014, which brought attention to police violence and the Black Lives Matter movement.
The film, like the couple’s research, explores the science behind unconscious bias and takes it a step further by presenting other research on how it affects people both socially and in the workplace.
“I think people’s reaction to it is fairly universal, which is ‘Wow, I’m used to feeling maybe perhaps a victim of bias or unconscious bias and now I have to look inward and try to decide what role I am playing in all of this,’ ” Hauser said. “Because we are playing a role in it – every one of us.”
Implicit bias is built up over a lifetime of experience and simply talking about those biases does very little to counter act a lifetime of lived experience, Stephen James said.
The real problem arises when those biases are inappropriately driving behavior, he said.
“That’s what we’re trying to do: make officers aware of how any potential biases are feeding into their behavior, into the decision-making, into how they’re treating people,” Stephen James said. “So they can stop it.”
Not long after Hauser discovered the Jameses’ research her film crew came to shoot with a pair of cameras in the simulator on WSU’s Health Sciences Campus in Spokane.
Both Jameses earned their doctorates at WSU.
Lois James, a researcher in the College of Nursing, has been primary investigator or co-primary investigator on about $6.5 million of grant-funded research in her time at WSU.
“For me, nursing as a profession is about the treatment of the human response,” Lois James said. “For me, that’s the most fascinating piece of it all and it fits so well in everything we do.”
Stephen James started running the Simulated Hazardous Operational Tasks Laboratory after the lab’s founder and the couple’s mentor, Bryan Vila, retired. Stephen James has worked on about $4.5 million of grant-funded research during his time at WSU.
The Jameses are continuing their research on bias, though with a different focus. They hope to look at how health care providers are disparately treating patients based on characteristics like sex, race or socioeconomic status and how that treatment affects health care outcomes.
Hauser, meanwhile, is working on a new documentary called “$avvy” about the historically male-dominated field of finance and why it’s important for women to understand and take control of their own finances.
While Hauser won’t attend Sunday’s showing of “Bias,” the Jameses will present at the screening and hold a question-and-answer session afterward.
“I think certainly for me there’s a little bit more pride having it come here,” Lois James said. “There were three universities that were part of this documentary, and they were Harvard, Stanford and Washington State University. So for me, that’s a big deal.”
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