Force Science News

Force Science News #175: Bath salts abuse, Controversy over forensic evidence and more.

In this issue:

I. ED expert seeks your experiences with “bath salts” drug abusers

II. New report explores controversy over forensic evidence reliability

III. 2,000 U.K. police to hear Force Science presentation

IV. Reprint Reminder

I. ED expert seeks your experiences with “bath salts” drug abusers

An expert on excited delirium is reaching out through Force Science News for first-hand accounts from officers who have encountered suspects high on so-called “bath salts.”

At least one LEO—a sheriff’s deputy from Mississippi, responding to a disturbance call—has been killed, reportedly by an offender under the influence of psychoactive bath salts. In that case, 6 men allegedly were needed to subdue the assailant, who at one point broke free of heavy medical tape and straps binding him to a gurney.

Other abusers of this latest “designer” drug have also exhibited dangerously out-of-control behavior that is very similar to what officers have confronted in trying to deal with ED subjects. These cases include:

    • An indiscriminate drug experimenter who wrote a letter to a newspaper warning others to steer clear of bath salts after he repeatedly slashed his face and abdomen with a skinning knife while under their influence.

    • A middle-aged female who burst into her mother’s bedroom, swinging a machete and “trying to kill” the elderly woman. This, after she spoke of “hearing voices,” raced “back and forth to the window to see who was outside,” and dug frantically in her backyard in search of “jewels.”

    • An extended skirmish in which a would-be burglar was Tasered twice—and twice yanked out probes while continuing to fight violently. “The guy was an animal,” the involved officer said. “In 8 years on the job, I’ve never dealt with anybody like that—never. He still had a lot of fight in him when we had him handcuffed.”

    • A 21-year-old male, the son of 2 physicians, who slashed his throat, then shot and killed himself after 3 sleepless days and nights on a bath salts high. Paranoid and intermittently delirious, the last night he hallucinated that the family’s house was surrounded by police helicopters and dozens of squad cars.

Like ED subjects, bath salts abusers in worst-case scenarios exhibit signs of profound paranoia, agitation, hallucination, super strength and energy, exceptionally high pain tolerance, cognitive disconnection from their immediate environment, and potentially lethal combativeness and aggression toward themselves or others, says researcher Chris Lawrence. Recognized as one of the leading law enforcement authorities on ED and in-custody death, Lawrence is an instructor at Canada’s Ontario Police College and a faculty member for the Force Science Institute’s certification course in Force Science Analysis.

“Right now, most of what the policing community at large knows about the bath salts problem is what’s been said in the media,” Lawrence told FSN recently. “I want to hear from officers who’ve been directly involved so we can identify recurring themes from a broad sector and begin to establish the nature and parameters of this kind of event.”

Ultimately, the goal is to help officers protect themselves and innocent civilians while dealing with afflicted subjects as a medical emergency that requires prompt intervention by medical professionals, Lawrence says. “Similar to ED, the outcome is uncertain and whether or not the subject will survive the event cannot be predicted.”

He touched on the bath salts problem recently in a presentation on ED during a mental health conference sponsored by the Delaware State Police.

“The ‘bath salts’ we’re talking about aren’t what you’d buy at Walgreen’s or see advertised on TV from legitimate manufacturers,” Lawrence points out. Instead, they’re packets or containers of fine-grained powder or crystals typically sold online and at head shops, truck stops, discount tobacco stores, gas stations, pawnshops, tattoo parlors, and convenience stores under a variety of brand names such as Blizzard, Ivory Wave, Purple Wave, Red Dove, Blue Silk, Zoom, Bloom, Bliss, Cloud Nine, Ocean Snow, Charge+, White Knight, Pure Ivory, Lunar Wave, Vanilla Sky, White Lightning, Scarface, Snow Leopard, Star Dust, Ocean Burst, and Hurricane Charlie. Sometimes the product is marketed as plant food or herbal incense, as well as a “soothing” bath additive.

“It’s marked as ‘not for human consumption,’ which removes the product from drug regulation,” Lawrence explains. “Because of certain synthetic stimulants in the powder—pyrovalerone, mephedrone and the chemical MDPV—the ‘salts’ can produce a high somewhat akin to methamphetamine or cocaine when snorted, smoked, swallowed, or injected.”

Poison control centers and ERs, particularly in the South, have reported sharp spikes recently in overdose distress calls and visits related to bath salts. Some states and municipalities have banned the product, but in most it is still legal and use appears to be rapidly spreading.

“If you haven’t encountered this yet, you soon may,” Lawrence says.

In terms of field reports, he would appreciate receiving the following information from officers who’ve dealt first-hand with persons known or suspected of abusing bath salts substances:

• Brief narrative of the incident

• Agency name [confidential; asked only to identify possible duplications. Officer name(s) not necessary]

• Event specifics: date; time started; indoor or outdoor; subject age, gender, height, weight

• Subject descriptors (yes or no on these elements):

Unusual behavior

Violent behavior

Pain tolerance

Constant/near constant activity

Lack of responsiveness to police presence

Superhuman strength

Rapid breathing

Lack of fatigue

Nakedness/inappropriate clothing

Profuse sweating

Tactile hyperthermia (hot to the touch)

Attraction to glass

• Outcome:

Did suspect survive? If not, what were circumstances of death.

Was subject taken to hospital?

Were police or public injured or killed?

• What worked/didn’t work in controlling the incident.

Send your data to Lawrence at: cl@forcescience.org

We’ll report further on this as warranted. Meanwhile, for media accounts of the problem, Google “bath salts abuse.” You’ll get more than 25,000 references in less than a second.

II. New report explores controversy over forensic evidence reliability

If you’ve been following the national controversy over alleged deficiencies in various forensic science disciplines, you’ll be interested in a new report on that subject that appears in the current issue of the University of Illinois Law Review, accessible free of charge at: clicking here.

In a 38-page article, Paul Giannelli, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University with a master’s degree in forensic science, offers background documentation on why the prestigious National Academy of Sciences 2 years ago issued a scathing report that raised troubling questions about the scientific basis of crime evidence derived from “fingerprints, handwriting, ballistics, and other common forensic techniques.”

The Academy concluded in 2009, after 2 years of study, that “some forensic science disciplines are supported by little rigorous systematic research to validate [their] basic premises and techniques.” Indeed, the Academy declared, “only nuclear DNA analysis has been rigorously shown to have the capacity to consistently, and with a high degree of certainty, demonstrate a connection between an evidentiary sample and a specific individual or source.”

Based on NAS recommendations, a proposal is currently before Congress to establish an independent National Institute of Forensic Science that would control funding and research in the field. Because it would diminish law enforcement’s control over forensic sciences, this proposal has been vigorously opposed by some policing professionals.

Although the NAS report asserted that the DOJ, through the FBI Crime Laboratory and the National Institute of Justice, has failed in its obligation to improve forensic science, the Academy did not provide specific details of this failure. Giannelli’s article supplies behind-the-scenes descriptions, documenting, in his view, how government agencies “manipulated science at the expense of both science and justice.”

“Scientists with impeccable credentials should conduct the needed research” to determine the validity of various forensic sciences, Giannelli argues. “Moreover, they should be independent of law enforcement.”

Under the status quo, he claims, “the government has…thwarted efforts” at scientific evaluation by “shaping the research agenda, limiting access to data, attacking experts who disagree with its positions, and ‘spinning’ negative reports.” He supports the NAS’s recommendation for a new federal forensic-oversight agency, which he believes “would be the most important development in forensic science since the establishment of the crime laboratory in the mid-1920s.”

The original NAS report, the 352-page Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward, can be accessed at: clicking here.

[Our thanks to Chris Lawrence, a faculty member of the certification course in Force Science Analysis and instructor at the Ontario (Canada) Police College, for bringing Giannelli’s report to our attention.]

III. 2,000 U.K. police to hear Force Science presentation

Next month an estimated 2,000 peace officers from the United Kingdom will hear a major assessment of current police training presented by Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Institute.

The summary report, featuring highlights of nearly 3 years’ work, will be given May 18 in Bournemouth, England, at the annual conference of the Police Federation of England and Wales. The organization represents 141,000 constables, sergeants, and inspectors from more than 40 law enforcement agencies in the U.K., including London’s Metropolitan Police Service.

In 2008, the Federation engaged FSI to conduct an in-depth study of British use-of-force training, focusing particularly on the extent to which existing instruction reflects modern principles of psychomotor science. Lewinski will present key findings, which will be elaborated on in an extensive written report.

“Our review was done to surface areas for improvement in training to help the performance of the constable in the street,” Lewinski says. Force Science News will cover the results in a future transmission.

IV. Reprint Reminder

A request to reprint a recent Force Science News Transmission arrived in our inbox recently from the Kentucky Dept. of Criminal Justice Training. Abbie Darst, the program coordinator there, wanted to publish our latest report on cognitive interviewing in the next issue of the quarterly magazine Kentucky Law Enforcement, which circulates in print and online to the state’s entire law enforcement community, plus prosecutors, legislators, and others professionally concerned with deadly force issues.

This reminds us to remind you: We strongly encourage the widespread distribution of FSN articles to legitimate audiences. Many agencies now read our reports at roll call, publish them in newsletters and magazines, or post them on law enforcement-oriented websites.

As a courtesy and to comply with copyright regulations, we ask only that you request permission before reprinting. There is no charge, and we’ll respond without delay. Just contact Scott Buhrmaster, VP of operations for the Force Science Institute, at: scott.buhrmaster@forcescience.org

Written by Force Science Institute

April 8th, 2011 at 12:07 pm

Posted in Force Science News