Police begin implicit bias training in November

George Floyd killing cited as a major impetus for police education.

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Edgartown Police Chief Bruce McNamee (center) president of the Martha’s Vineyard Chiefs of Police Association, played a big role in putting together implicit bias training for the Vineyard's police forces. Chief McNamee is shown here at a September rally at the Dukes County Courthouse alongside activists Eugene Jemison and Lisette Williams. — Lucas Thors

All members of the Vineyard’s six police departments will undergo implicit bias education provided by the Chicago firm Hilliard Heintze on Nov. 9. 

Martha’s Vineyard Chiefs of Police Association president Bruce McNamee helped put the training together, and said he expects the training to take place in classrooms at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. McNamee said the training was stimulated in large part by the death of George Floyd, and discussions between the chiefs began shortly after they issued their May statement condemning what they described as “the senseless murder” of the man. McNamee said the Vineyard chiefs, along with members of the community, will take the training together. Lieutenants and sergeants will take the training in a separate session. And regular officers, in intervals, will take the training in sessions dedicated to them. 

In a press release issued Thursday by the Martha’s Vineyard Social Justice Leadership Foundation, which donated $7,000 toward the training, former Oak Bluffs Police Chief Joe Carter (who was also a president of the International Association of Chiefs) vouched for the aptitude of the folks at Hilliard Heintze.

“I have worked with the firm,” he stated, “and principals in its law enforcement consulting services division, and affirm they are top-notch.”

In total, $25,000 has been donated to the Martha’s Vineyard Diversity Coalition and dedicated to fund the training. In addition to the $7,000 from the Martha’s Vineyard Social Justice Leadership Foundation, the Permanent Endowment for Martha’s Vineyard gave $17,000, and the Social Action Committee of the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center gave $1,000.

West Tisbury Police Chief Matt Mincone said McNamee has done a terrific job pulling the training together, including helping to fund it. He said the Island chiefs stand behind him in his efforts.

In the release, McNamee stated the training effort may be unprecedented on the Vineyard. 

The training comes in the wake of an incident at Ackee Tree Caribbean American Grocery in Tisbury, when Tisbury Police responded to an incident that turned out to be racially charged. In the aftermath, one Tisbury Police officer allegedly made a racist comment to people who’d just been subjected to a racist rant by someone outside the grocery store. 

For Tisbury, the training comes to a department that rose to notoriety in the late 1990s for racial abuse inflicted on Officer T.M. Silvia. The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) investigated the matter. The town of Tisbury ended up paying out a large sum to Silvia. 

Tisbury select board chair Jim Rogers said he thinks the department has evolved since then.

“I think the T.M. Silvia situation brought a lot of awareness,” he said. He added, “Things got a lot better after that.”

Rogers, who said he worked in the Tisbury Fire Department for 44 years and regularly interacted with Tisbury Police, recalled the police force in positive terms. “I always found them to be polite and harmonious,” he said.

He said he saw the implicit bias training as a good thing, and will expect a report from Police Chief Mark Saloio after it’s over. He hopes to have that report answer, “What did we gain out of it, or what do we need to do differently?” he said.