The Boulder County District Attorney's Office has secured funding to train its employees on addressing implicit bias, though officials say the application for the grant was made before an incident between a black man and Boulder police officers launched the city into the national spotlight.
Boulder District Attorney Michael Dougherty said his office has been working to secure funding for training since last April, and was recently able to get a grant from the State Court Administrator's Office.
"It's something we've been committed to and something we've been pursuing," Dougherty said. "It's really exciting."
The funding will help pay for training for the district attorney staff on recognizing implicit bias in assessing defendants' risk to the community, bond, charging, pleas and sentencing. It will also cover understanding people's response to law enforcement and racial trauma in the justice system.
That topic is a hot button issue right now, following an incident earlier this month in which several cops confronted a black Naropa student who was picking up trash in front of his own building.
The District Attorney's Office is not involved in the case at this time, as it is still being investigated internally by the Boulder Police Department.
But while Dougherty noted his office applied for the grant almost a year ago, he said the incident with Boulder police and the discussion surrounding the issue of racism in the city just highlighted the need to address implicit bias in the justice system.
"The training will help prosecutors see the historical and systemic bias and how it plays out in decision making in the criminal justice system," Dougherty said.
Boulder County District Attorney spokeswoman Shannon Carbone said the grant is for $7,500 until June 30, when the office will seek additional funding.
"It is a lot of money for a short period, but we want it to be an outstanding training for 90 staff members, some who work different schedules and at different locations," Carbone said.
Boulder defense attorney Jason Savela credited prosecutors with acknowledging training on bias is a need.
"The most important thing is not to ignore it, and to try to learn about it," Savela said. "So I applaud the DA's office for working on that."
But Savela noted that implicit bias is not just a problem for prosecutors.
"I would say implicit bias is on everyone, and I would include defense attorneys, judges, probation officers," Savela said. "Nobody wants to feel like they are racist, and people try to say, 'I'm not biased.' But that kind of ignores the whole idea of 'implicit' bias. I think it's everywhere."
Dougherty noted that a few years ago, he was giving a presentation to about 70 prosecutors in Colorado. When he asked them who thought there was bias in the justice system, all of them raised their hands. But when Dougherty asked them if they, personally, were ever guilty of having a bias?
"Not one hand went up," Dougherty said. "When it comes to implicit bias, it's harder to recognize what unconscious influences are playing a role in the decisions they make. Obviously, in the criminal justice system those decisions are incredibly important, and impact the lives of everybody who comes through the courthouse."