Protest Response – How to Fill the Policy Gaps and Train for Bias-Free Situational Awareness

Protest Response – How to Fill the Policy Gaps and Train for Bias-Free Situational Awareness


The nation exploded into protests and violence after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police officers during the spring and summer of 2020. Covered heavily by the media, image after image showed police in riot gear, buildings on fire, citizens under arrest, and heightened tensions. Protests were conflated with violence across the political spectrum, with liberal media focusing on police violence and conservative media focusing on violence by protestors. The nation was at ideological war, and the police were front and center in the conflict.

In New York City, Mayor Bill De Blasio repeatedly defended the conduct of the NYPD during protests, even as stories broke about officer aggression. Now, a New York City Department of Investigation report has been released, and the following statements, among others, call into question the police training and the police strategies during these critical incidents. According to the report, the department

  • “…lacked a clearly defined strategy tailored to respond to the large-scale protests of police and policing.
  • …deployed officers who lacked sufficient, or sufficiently recent, training on policing protests.”

De Blasio responded in a video statement. “It makes very clear we’ve got to do something different, and we’ve got to do something better.”

NYPD officers did receive implicit bias training—training meant to educate officers about implicit associations and how they can negatively affect interactions and responses—during 2018-2019 using the Fair and Impartial Policing (FIP) curriculum. However, a report on the outcomes of this training pointed out that, within a few months after completion, almost half of the officers reported that they did not attempt to apply their FIP training in their law enforcement duties. During the 2020 protests, this was glaringly clear, as police showed up in riot gear at peaceful demonstrations, implicitly associating protestors with violence, and responding to demonstrations with force.

The FIP training that the NYPD participated in is an 8-hour long program, where officers learn about the science of bias. It teaches officers to become aware of their own biases and learn to “manage” them. But heightened awareness is not enough, and one-time “educational” training events are not sufficient. Neuroscience tells us training must be spaced out for retention, not delivered all at once. Training must be immersive, iterative, emotion-generating, and differentiated for each officer based on their actions and responses. Training only sticks when these criteria are in place, and when officers can debrief and reflect after-action.

De Blasio was right: agencies need to do something different, something better. Implicit bias awareness is important, but it is not enough. MILO Range Simulation Training Solutions offer users the ability to create custom scenarios for immersive simulation training in protest scenarios, with tools to facilitate after-action debriefing and trainee performance analysis.

With MILO Range, separate scenarios are designed for practicing less-lethal police tools, critical incident response, situational awareness, community policing, judgment skills, and de-escalation. Officers can practice these skills during protest scenarios, work to challenge their implicit biases, and learn how to approach and distinguish different types of demonstrations with the confidence of their well-trained response.

When tensions are high, highly trained, and highly responsive local law enforcement have the opportunity to build community. Calling for training is a start, but the right kind of training—something different, something better—is imperative in order to protect the right to peaceful protest as well as the safety of the protestors and protectors.


Photo by AJ Colores