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FBI director: Police officers must recognize their racial biases

FBI Director James Comey gave a speech Thursday acknowledging the "hard truths" about racial disparities in police use of force and the criminal justice system.

Comey spoke frankly about improving the police's relationship with young black men:

Those of us in law enforcement must redouble our efforts to resist bias and prejudice. We must better understand the people we serve and protect. By trying to know, deep in our gut, what it feels like to be a law-abiding, young black man walking down the street and encountering law enforcement. We must understand how that young man may see us. We must resist the lazy shortcomings of cynicism.

Comey's speech attempted to invoke a middle ground in recent debates about racial disparities. He argued that police officers "are overwhelmingly doing the right thing for the right reasons." But he also said he's not trying to "let law enforcement off the hook."

Comey said police must develop processes to overcome their subconscious biases against minority groups. Research shows this bias is real: studies prove that officers are quicker to shoot black suspects in video game simulations. Josh Correll, a University of Colorado at Boulder psychology professor who conducted the research, previously said it's possible the bias could lead to more skewed outcomes in the field. "In the very situation in which [officers] most need their training," he said, "we have some reason to believe that their training will be most likely to fail them."

Comey also argued that the FBI and police must improve the ways they collect data on arrests and shootings, echoing a call made by US Attorney General Eric Holder. Currently, the federal government doesn't collect comprehensive data on people killed by police or officers killed in attacks. The FBI gathers some data, but the figures are generally viewed as the minimum numbers, since reporting by police departments is voluntary.

Racial disparities in police use of force and the criminal justice system have received a lot of attention in the past year, particularly after the police killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City. The shooting of Brown set off a nationwide movement to raise awareness about the death of young black men, under the banner, "Black Lives Matter."

Comey's full speech is available at the FBI's website.

Video taken from Time magazine.