Force Science News #131:

FS finds common theme in peak performance & New project seeks “reliable”

tool for measuring OISs

In this issue:


I. Force Science finds common theme in peak performances across variety of force encounters


II. New project seeks “first reliable tool” for measuring performance in OISs


III. Force Science training news




I. Force Science finds common theme in peak performances across variety of force encounters; details soon


“Startling revelations” about police performance in force encounters will be revealed shortly by representatives of the Force Science Research Center at a gathering of cognitive and behavioral scientists from throughout the world in Rome, Italy.


The findings are expected to have “profound implications” for future law enforcement training, according to FSRC’s executive director, Dr. Bill Lewinski.


Addressing the 4th International Conference on Spatial Cognition Sept. 14-19 at Europe’s largest university, La Sapienza of Rome, Lewinski and Dr. Joan Vickers will reveal results of their unique research into officers’ scan patterns and attentional focus before and during life-threatening confrontations.


Vickers, an internationally acclaimed authority on “the quiet eye” and other aspects of the relationship between vision and peak performance, is the founder of the Neuro-motor Psychology Laboratory at Canada’s University of Calgary and a faculty member for the popular Force Science certification course for law enforcement.


Nearly a year ago, as a part of broad-based research into use of force, she and Lewinski conducted complex research under FSRC auspices in Belfast, Ireland, that for the first time meticulously and extensively tracked eye movements of police officers during the build-up and eruption of deadly force conflicts.


Volunteers—some of them officers with only basic firearms training and little experience and others who were members of elite, highly seasoned tactical teams—were outfitted with small, sophisticated corneal reflection “eye-tracker” that allowed researchers to record where their eyes were focused at each phase of the action.


One at a time, the officers, armed with training guns, then were introduced to a live-action scenario and told to react as they thought appropriate. The role-play involved the officers witnessing a citizen profanely confronting a government employee in a dispute about a passport. As the citizen’s anger escalated, he pulled a pistol or a cell phone from his waistband, spun around, and fired (or appeared to fire) at the officer being tested.


Background details of the investigation and its goals were reported in Force Science News Transmission #104 sent 11/7/08 [Click here to read it now]. But the results were not then known.


In the months since the experiments, Vickers and her staff have been carefully analyzing the eye-tracker data. They now know precisely what each officer looked at, in what order, and for how long as he or she experienced the scenario, made decisions regarding the proper force responses, and then delivered deadly force or chose not to engage.


“Their focus of attention, body positioning, judgment, speed, and shooting accuracy have all been evaluated,” Lewinski says. “And most important, from the massive amount of data gathered, we now have identified the critical differences in scan patterns between ‘elite’ and ‘ordinary’ officers and can report which patterns seem to correlate most closely with good judgment, speed, and accuracy—in short, with successful performance.


“Force Science has now measured successful behavioral elements across a variety of high-stress performance situations, from high-speed pursuits to deadly force encounters, and a common theme among great performances has clearly emerged.


“Some of the findings are startling revelations, and the implications for training are going to be profound. Among other things, this information will help officers learn to better predict suspect actions so they have a greater advantage in reacting and will help trainers take officers to their highest personal level of performance in crisis situations. We have learned a great deal from this research about human performance that will significantly impact subject control and officer survival.”


Precisely what has been learned and what it means to you will be reported in Force Science News after the conference in Rome.


Meanwhile, Lewinski again expressed his gratitude to the Police Federation of England and Wales, which helped fund this vital research.



II. New project seeks “first reliable tool” for measuring performance in OISs


A new research project getting underway at Washington State University in Spokane aims to develop a means to “dramatically improve the ability to measure police officer performance in deadly force encounters, and thus evaluate the impact of management and training practices.”


The result “has the potential to help save lives” as well as to “increase government efficiency,” according to an abstract describing the project.


The study is headed by Dr. Bryan Vila, a CJ professor at WSU, director of the Critical Job Task Simulation Lab there, author of the insightful book on police fatigue, Tired Cops, and a LEO and trainer for 17 years.


Currently, says Vila, there’s “a critical lack of scientific evidence” about whether or to what extent “deadly force management, accountability, and training practices actually have an impact” on how officers perform in lethal confrontations and “whether alternative approaches would be more effective.”


Vila intends to create what he calls a Deadly Force Scenario Performance Metric, a “measurement scale” for evaluating life-threatening encounters.


When refined, he says, this tool will make it possible to consistently grade police shootings according to their complexity and “difficulty” and to compare officer performance across multiple departments and situations.


The project was launched recently with a 2-day meeting of a focus group in Spokane, facilitated by Vila. Some 20 experts with diverse perspectives on “deadly force judgment, decision-making, and performance” from across the country attended—veteran trainers, academics, command and supervisory personnel, police association leaders, researchers, and veteran street officers regarded as elite performers by their peers. Among the participants was Dr. Bill Lewinski of the Force Science Research Center at Minnesota State University-Mankato.


The group brainstormed extensively on 3 subjects, Vila says:


1. What objective elements tend to add to the complexity or difficulty of a deadly force encounter, making it harder for an involved officer to bring about an “optimum outcome” (i.e., the officer accurately identifies a threat, and neutralizes it lawfully, while minimizing harm to innocent bystanders and officers);

2. What skills, actions, or decisions by an involved officer tend to lead to an optimum outcome;


3. What relative weight, on a scale of 1-11, should be assigned to these various factors in terms of overall importance.


A sophisticated technique known as “concept mapping” was used to filter the group’s comments and produce a consensus of core ideas.


“Such things as light-level, number of suspects, the distance between officer and subject, and the types of weapons involved were agreed upon in the first category,” Vila told Force Science News. “The second included use of cover, command presence, the ability to clear a malfunction rapidly, and clear communications.


“With the collective experience and expertise of the people in the room, I’m confident we captured the major issues that need to be considered.” To be certain, however, the opinions of deadly force instructors from across the US will be sampled through an online survey in the near future.


From all the data, Vila and his colleagues hope to compile a list of about 100 items that can be the basis for measuring a confrontation’s difficulty and an officer’s performance. That template will then be pilot-tested with officer volunteers confronting a variety of deadly force situations in simulator exercises and ultimately be refined into a valid checklist in printed form.


The eventual goal, Vila explains, is not so much to rate any individual officer’s performance but from aggregate numbers to determine a baseline, develop performance standards, and see how scores might be affected for better or worse by changes in training and policies and by other pertinent variables such as officer fatigue, multi-tasking, duty hours, and so on.


Having reliable measurements, Vila says, “is vital for evaluating organizational performance and developing effective deadly force training.


“People have strong opinions on the best way to teach rules of engagement. But in order to test these opinions scientifically, there has to be a means of measuring them in a context of scenario difficulty and officer performance. What we hope to produce for the first time is that measurement tool—something more precise, objective, and reliable than anything currently available for use by researchers, trainers, and police managers.”


Beyond that, he speculates that a proven scale for measuring a confrontation’s difficulty could also have implications in court. “Applied to a case at issue, it could help explain the challenges an officer faced in making reasonable decisions in the midst of dynamic, rapidly unfolding, ambiguous circumstances,” he says.


Vila hopes to have an elements list in draft form for testing by the end of this year, followed by at least another year of pilot experiments. The research is being funded by a grant from the National Institute of Justice.



III. Force Science Training News


The next Force Science Certification Course, sponsored by the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office, is scheduled for October 26-30, 2009 at the agency’s training center just outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Information on the course can be found at:


If you’re interested in registering to pursue certification as a Force Science Analyst, please e-mail your name, rank, agency and full contact information to You can also fax this information to: (773) 913-6205 or you can call Scott Buhrmaster at (773) 481-4964. Tuition is $1,500 per student and a deeply discounted hotel rate is being offered to Force Science students by a nearby hotel.


Important note: This class is very near capacity. Please do not make travel arrangements prior to receiving confirmation that you have been accepted at this location. You will be notified immediately as to the status of your request to register and those who are not able to be accepted into the Milwaukee class will be put on an early notification list for upcoming courses.


[For more information on other Force Science training, including a two-day program agencies can purchase for their officers and officers from surrounding areas, e-mail]


Written by Force Science Institute

August 28th, 2009 at 7:28 am

© 2017 Force Science Institute Ltd.