How to apply Force Science findings to policy and training

Practical application of Force Science research has obvious and identifiable prerequisites, but the benefits in officer safety may be immeasurably great


Policing the nation’s streets provides officers with constant opportunities to test the limits of human performance. These limitations are explained through the science of cognitive psychology and have been expanded specifically to law enforcement through Dr. Bill Lewinski’s Force Science Institute

Concepts such as inattentional blindness, selective attention, visual saccades, slip and capture, as well as breakthrough studies in action /reaction time are all part of the cutting edge research conducted by Force Science Institute. 

This information has been beneficial in our understanding of officer(s) actions under stress and has ensured officers are not held to inhuman standards of performance. Yet, the question should be posed as to whether administrators and trainers are using FSI’s research to adequately adjust tactics and policy in order to limit exposure to overwhelmingly-stressful situations.

Research on Human Factors
In an article titled “A survey of the research on human factors related to lethal force encounters: implications for law enforcement training, tactics, and testimony” Dr. Audrey Honig and Dr. Lewinski discuss adjusting police training based on human performance deficits. Their recommendations for increasing officer performance under stress include: reality-based training, repetitive training, positive self-talk, and the establishment of muscle memory.  

These suggestions are based on sound scientific knowledge and are often included in quality training programs; however, the specific tactic to be trained is not often addressed from a scientific standpoint. We’ve learned so much about the aftermath; isn’t it time to begin working on the front end of an event in order to attempt to prevent some of the tragedy Lewinski and the FSI team have explored?

One suggestion for “working on the front end” is a review of tactics and policy regarding human performance. The method of review is similar to a scientific case study and uses proven management techniques for successful implementation. The first step is to select a tactic (including policy) for review. 

Selection should be based on internal statistical data (officer injured, OIS, etc.). FBI LEOKA data can then be used to compare your agency’s data to the national statistics. This comparison is helpful on multiple levels, one of which is showing national trends that directly indicate highly dangerous situations and times.

The tactic should then be viewed through the eyes of a Force Science-certified analyst who conducts a breakdown of all human factors associated with the tactic and the environment in which it is used. 

Certain tactics will provide correlated local and national statistical data of being highly dangerous and thus high stress. Using previous scientific studies readily available, a certified Force Science analyst can determine whether an association exists between the high stress involved in a tactic and the subsequent poor performance of an officer. The analyst can identify the main human factors (action / reaction, stress, visual abilities) involved and can suggest, through the use of scientific evidence, modifying the tactic in order to mitigate the stress level. 

Testing and Evaluation
Tactics modified with information gleaned from previous scientific studies in human performance still require an “experimental” phase in which they are tested in a controlled environment. The best environment for this phase is reality-based training (RBT). 

This is not scenario training. RBT follows a strict set of guidelines set out in Ken Murray’s text, “Training at the Speed of Life.” 

Murray’s methodology of RBT ensures that any tactic studied will be done under the most realistic — and yet controlled — situations, thereby providing the optimal environment for review.

Once a tactic has been modified through science and tested through RBT, the officers should be retrained in the new tactic. Of course, no change should be made without a managerial oversight program. Oversight should include a review of the modified tactic at least quarterly. The intent of the review is to determine effectiveness and should include an internally driven statistical analysis along with some type of survey data from officers who have used the tactic. 

Although recurring oversight of how we conduct business should never stop, a tactic should be considered static once statistical data proves its success over a significant amount of time. If changes do need to be made to a modified tactic, they should be done so using the same methodology as discussed and reviewed again until the implementation is deemed successful.

In conclusion, a solid training program should review statistics internally (use of force, officer injuries, and the like) and externally (LEOKA), while keeping Force Science Institute’s research in mind. 

Using this methodology, tactics and supporting policy may be modified using human factors as the backbone, while keeping mindful of risk versus gain. Although we cannot remove stress from every encounter, trainers have a responsibility to increase survivability by mitigating factors that decrease officer advantage. A review of all tactics, keeping FSI concepts in mind, is paramount to officer success in high-stress environments.

About the author

David Blake retired from a northern California police department after 15 years of federal and local police. He is a Force Science Certified Analyst with instructor certifications in DT, Firearms, Force Options Simulator, and Reality Based Training. His career included duties within SWAT, Force Options Unit, Field Training, Gangs, and Narcotics. He currently teaches Human Factors and Force Encounters Analysis for the California Training Institute as well as being an adjunct professor of criminal justice, police academy instructor, and owner of the Blake Consulting and Training Group. Blake holds a BS in Criminal Justice Management and a M.Sc. in Psychology.

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