University of Pittsburgh
November 16, 2015

Reducing Implicit Bias in Prosecution

Pitt law professor David A. Harris provides expert insights to White House conference on enhancing public trust in American law enforcement agencies
Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH—University of Pittsburgh legal scholar David A. Harris—a national authority on police procedure—will lend his expertise to a White House conference on enhancing public trust in the criminal justice system Nov. 18. The conference is part of the 10th Anniversary National Prosecution Summit, a collaborative environment for sharing ideas on how prosecutors can serve as leaders on criminal justice reform.

Harris will speak as part of a discussion titled “Reducing Implicit Bias in Prosecution.” The session will explore how prosecutors can encourage the utilization of procedural justice tenets to promote fairness, efficiency, and integrity in their work. In addition to Harris, the panelists are John Chisolm, district attorney for the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office, and Melba Pearson, president of the National Black Prosecutors Association. The moderator will be Carter Stewart, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio.

“The science concerning implicit bias shows that race can influence us on the unconscious level, affecting our actions even when we David A. Harrisdon’t know it. Understanding implicit bias will be crucial as we work towards a better and fairer justice system.” said Harris. “The opportunity to speak about the impact of race on the justice system, and to do this at the highest level of government, doesn’t come along every day. I’m grateful for the chance to take part in this national discussion and to help prosecutors and others in the criminal justice system understand the impact of race on their work.”

Throughout his legal career, which spans more than 30 years, Harris has thoroughly explored aspects of systemic inequality in the American legal system. He has provided testimony against racial profiling procedures and related issues before the U.S. Senate and numerous state legislative bodies. Harris frequently offers professional training for law enforcement agencies and presents his work regularly in academic conferences across the country.

National news organizations have cited Harris’ insights in the high-profile police-involved shooting deaths of Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, and others. His commentary on such incidences has appeared in the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal amongst numerous others.

Harris’ 2012 book, Failed Evidence: Why Law Enforcement Resists Science (NYU Press), explored the reasons that police and prosecutors often fail to incorporate science on eyewitness identification, interrogations, and basic forensics into their daily work. The book was a direct challenge to police and prosecution leadership that tends to overlook the benefits that modern science has the potential to supply to routine police work. In 2005, Harris published Good Cops: The Case for Preventive Policing (The New Press), which makes the case that crime prevention-based strategies nullify the public perception that personal liberty must be sacrificed for safety. In Profiles in Injustice: Why Racial Profiling Cannot Work (The New Press, 2002), he made the case that profiling is not only legally and morally wrong but also ineffective at preventing crime. The book, along with Harris’ related scholarly articles, influenced the national debate on profiling, leading to federal legislation to address the practice as well as internal efforts within police departments nationwide.

At the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, Harris is a Distinguished Faculty Scholar and a professor of law. He also has been named the Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney Scholar for 2015-2016. His scholarly research focuses on issues related to racial profiling as well as police behavior and regulation, law enforcement, and national security issues. A faculty member at Pitt since 2008, he teaches courses on criminal procedure, criminal law, evidence, homeland security, and criminal justice policy. Before beginning his legal teaching career in 1990, he worked as a public defender in the Washington, D.C., area. Harris also has served as a litigator in Philadelphia and a federal law clerk in Wilmington, Del.

The White House conference portion of the 10th Anniversary National Prosecution Summit is a follow up to the Obama Administration’s 2015 Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The task force produced a range of recommendations for changing American police procedures following the events in Ferguson, Mo., in the fall of 2014.