The 'Lizard Brain' and police officer safety

The amygdala is tasked with regulating emotions and activating the body's earliest warning system for danger so survival actions can follow

Editor’s Note:

Editor’s Note & UPDATE: About two hours after I posted this item, I heard from one of the two co-creators of the below video (I had emailed them through YouTube asking someone to call me) and have updated the below tip with what I learned in that brief call.

I’ve received this link from perhaps 20 people in just the one week I’d spent in New York City for the 10-year anniversary of 9/11. The video below, posted to YouTube by a user called ‘unleashing respect’ some four months ago, has received a more than 2,200 views but remained unknown to me until the hail of email I got about it while in Manhattan. So, upon my return from NYC, I watched it, and once I got past the fact that it’s presented in a cartoon format, I realized this to be a really valuable video.

At some point in your training you very likely have heard (or read) about something called the Lizard Brain — a.k.a. the amygdala — which the video describes as regulating emotions and activating the body's earliest warning system for danger so survival actions can follow. Dropping names like Kevin Gilmartin and phrases like hypervigilance, and alluding to the effects of tunnel vision and auditory exclusion (the video specifically mentions the instances in which a female subject fires on an officer focused on the male she’s with, a subject about which I have previously written), this video is at once entertaining and informative.

Check out the video now, and then scroll down for more on the men who created it.

New Information Available
When I first posted this item, I did so simply because of the sheer number of PoliceOne Members who sent this to me and my own subsequent analysis of its usefulness. About two hours after I posted this item, I heard from one of the two co-creators of the below video (I had emailed them through YouTube asking someone to call me). Jack Colwell, a retired Kansas City (Mo.) police officer who worked with Charles ‘Chip’ Huth in making the video you just saw, called me at my desk. We spoke for several minutes, and during that discussion I learned that there are even more resources out there from this duo that can benefit law enforcement.

“The goal of this was to teach some pretty high-level brain science in sort of a 7th-grade, non-confrontational fashion,” Colwell told me. “There are people out there who have a negative perception of police because of what they see on YouTube, or maybe what they’ve seen on the street, and the last thing they want to have happen when they’re already upset is to have someone lecture them. They’re far more likely to respond to something like a cartoon that teaches them something than somebody lecturing them on the same subject. We wanted to use language and ideas that anybody would understand—everybody has been startled in their own home, so everybody can relate to that idea.”

In essence, this video — and others that will soon follow from the same team of people — brings to the Internet much of the materials discussed in a book co-authored by Huth and Colwell. Entitled Unleashing the Power of Unconditional Respect: Transforming Law Enforcement and Police Training, the book (available on Amazonwhere I just ordered my copy) “examines ways to effect organizational change that helps police officers inspire community trust and support with every citizen contact.”

Colwell and Huth will soon be releasing additional videos, and also have a blog you can check out here. Now that we’ve connected, I’m confident that Jack and I will speak again in coming weeks.

One last item of note. Toward the end of our call, Colwell solved for me the mystery as to why so many people emailed me the same link in such a short span of time. Apparently, my good friend and PoliceOne colleague Chuck Remsberg had written in the Force Science Newsletter about this thing shortly before my departure for New York. In my email inbox I don’t have that particular edition (and don’t see it posted yet in the online archives) but that would definitely explain how I got flooded with email on it!

About the author

Doug Wyllie is Editor at Large for PoliceOne, responsible for providing police training content and expert analysis on a wide range of topics and trends that affect the law enforcement community. An award-winning columnist — he is the 2014 Western Publishing Association "Maggie Award" winner in the category of Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column — Doug has authored more than 900 feature articles and tactical tips. Doug is also responsible for planning and recording the PoliceOne Podcast, Policing Matters, as well as being the on-air host for PoliceOne Video interviews. Doug also works closely with the PoliceOne Academy to develop training designed to prepare cops for the fight they face every day on the street.

Doug regularly represents PoliceOne as a public speaker in a variety of forums and is available for media interviews — he has appeared on numerous local and national radio and television news programs, and has been quoted in a host of print publications. 

Doug is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers' Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

Contact Doug Wyllie

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