How to get ahead of the curve in 2013

Even with the high velocity of ideas and information, it seems like policing is often on the trailing edge of innovation. Whether it is our natural conservatism, lack of centralization, or the legal boundaries that confine us, we seem to borrow trends from the world of business and education about the time they are moving on to something new. 

A trend continuing in 2012 is publication of new research findings about the human brain. My hope for policing is that we will tap into the amazing new discoveries in brain science, and that we will not be the last in line to do so. How can brain science improve the profession?

Here are three areas I’ll be focusing on in 2013 where brain science can make a difference:

Increasing Accuracy of Use of Force
For years the public has expected police officers to avoid using force with subjects by “talking them down”, using verbal techniques for de-escalation. Those of us who have dealt with out of control suspects know that’s easier said than done.

Reasoning with someone involves the assumption of their capacity to reason. Nevertheless, understanding aggression, fear, and trauma thinking can reduce uses of force.

The intricacies of the survival mechanism of both the involved officer and the subject can be better understood and countered for better, safer outcomes.

An understanding of the finer points of neural activity of the brain under stress can help officers recognize genuinely dangerous behavior. There are many verbal intervention techniques used by police officers that our newest understanding of the brain explain and expand.

Words are just part of the milieu of avoiding excessive force. Knowing the chemistry of the brain can refine how officers conduct themselves in ways that can provide more effective calming strategies. The knowledge of the officer's own neural and physiological processes can improve the delivery of swift and decisive force when force is needed.

Increasing Productivity in Work-Life Balance
While stress awareness has increased dramatically in law enforcement training, we now have even better information beyond our basic understanding of how to manage stress. Specific cognitive and lifestyle strategies can improve our health, attitude, and productivity.

Police managers can use this knowledge to engage staff to overcome roadblocks to effective police work.

Can we achieve a more productive workforce while reducing sick time, ethics violations, and citizen complaints? Adding what we know about rebuilding better neural pathways to other sound management principles could make a major difference in a happier, healthier police agency.

Increasing Volume and Retention of Training
There are many findings about learning, retention, and performance that have not made it into mainstream instruction methodology for law enforcement training.

Recent research on optimal learning environments, memory, emotion, and sensory connections show promise in improving learning and behavior. We have the potential to take law enforcement training to a level of efficiency and customization that should excite any police trainer. Maybe we’ll never leave mass lectures and boring power points behind, but what if we improved accessibility and quality of our learning?

With all of our fascination with technology and its benefits to our profession, 2013 might be the year to begin focusing on our most important asset — our own amazing brain!

About the author

Joel Shults operates Street Smart Training and is the founder of the National Center for Police Advocacy.. He is retired as Chief of Police in Colorado. Over his 30 year career in uniformed law enforcement and in criminal justice education Joel has served in a variety of roles: academy instructor, police chaplain, deputy coroner, investigator, community relations officer, college professor, and police chief, among others. Shults earned his doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis from the University of Missouri, with a graduate degree in Public Services Administration and bachelors in Criminal Justice Administration from the University of Central Missouri. In addition to service with the US Army military police and CID, Shults has done observational studies with over fifty police agencies across the country. He has served on a number of advisory and advocacy boards including the Colorado POST curriculum committee as a subject matter expert.

Follow Joel on Twitter @ChiefShults.

Contact Joel Shults

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