Force Science News #143:

New Study: Cocaine Abuse and Sudden Death…and more.

In this edition:


I. New Study: Cocaine Abuse and Sudden Death


II. Training officer’s initiative brings commendation, cascading benefits


III. Force Science to highlight POLICE-TREXPO-West


IV. 9 “lessons learned” from recent federal decision in Taser case


V. Force Science News to be translated for French-speaking officers



I. New Study: Cocaine Abuse and Sudden Death


Sudden deaths, which are often seen as an in-custody police problem, in reality occur with significant frequency from “natural causes” in the general population and are related to cocaine abuse in at least 3 out of every 100 cases, according to a new study.


Researchers analyzed 668 sudden deaths across 32 months, and in none did they report police tactics or equipment causing the fatalities.


“The media and family survivors often connect sudden deaths with police actions, such as Tasering,” observes Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Institute. “But this study indicates that people die suddenly more often than is generally realized—and totally independent of police involvement. They’re predisposed to die by their physical condition which is aggravated, in some cases, by their personal decision to use dangerous illegal drugs.”


Even occasional “recreational” users of cocaine in small amounts, said by street lore to be largely “safe” from harmful side effects, increase their risk of sudden death, according to the researchers.




The study, conducted at the Institute of Legal Medicine in Seville, Spain, surveyed forensic autopsies of 1,114 natural deaths. Roughly 60% (668) met the criteria for being sudden and unanticipated.


Of these, cocaine was found in blood and/or urine of 21 (3.1%), all males with an average age of 35. (Men are 7 times more likely to experience sudden death than women, says the study director, Dr. Joaquin Lucena, and more likely to abuse cocaine. Overall, nearly 4% of the European population between 15 and 64 years old is thought to consume cocaine, the most commonly used illicit drug besides marijuana. In the US, an estimated 2,000,000 people currently use it. Here a lifetime prevalence of at least recreational cocaine use is estimated at about 15% of the population.)


The cocaine users among the sudden deaths were the focus of the researchers’ attention. The causes of their abrupt demises were found to be cardiovascular (related to the heart and circulatory system) in 62%, cerebrovascular (involving the brain and blood vessels that feed it) in 14%, “excited delirium” in 14%, and “respiratory and metabolic” in 5% each.




Their cardiovascular problems detected on autopsy included heart enlargement, heart tissue damage from an inadequate blood supply, a narrowing of blood vessels due to plaque buildup, and clotting of congested blood—all of which were significantly more pronounced among the coke users than the researchers found among “control” cases involving males of similar age who had died suddenly in traffic accidents or suicides but who had no history or evidence of cocaine use.


The vast majority of the cocaine users also smoked cigarettes and/or drank alcohol along with their coke abuse. This tends to substantially increase the negative impact of cocaine on the body, the researchers say.


“Any amount of [cocaine] can be considered to have the potential for toxicity due to the fact that some [subjects] have poor outcomes with relatively low blood concentrations,” the researchers report. There is no such thing as “safe” recreational use of small amounts of the drug, Lucena says. “Pharmacologically, it’s more dangerous than heroin and other opiates.”




According to Dr. Lewinski, who was not involved in this research, the study has implications for law enforcement beyond documenting that sudden deaths occur in profusion quite apart from any police involvement:


1. “Line officers should recognize that anyone who abuses cocaine, including occasional, casual users, is a potential candidate for sudden, unexpected death. When you know or suspect such involvement, consider engaging medical personnel as a possibility.” The same risk, he says, is likely to pertain where methamphetamine use is involved.


2. “Coroners and medical examiners need to be encouraged to perform thorough forensic autopsies in cases of sudden death. This should include screening blood and urine for evidence of cocaine and other illicit drugs. At present, we do not have good data on sudden death in this country, gathered from a uniform, mandatory autopsy protocol, and this information is necessary for us to fully understand the factors involved in this phenomenon.”


3. “It is important to note that among the causes of death listed by the investigators in this study is excited delirium. They do not elaborate on this, other than to describe it as ‘a syndrome characterized by psychosis or delirium accompanied by agitation and hyperthermia.’ But they do tacitly acknowledge that it does exist as an identifiable condition, capable of resulting in death, the same as heart, brain, respiratory, and metabolic disorders.”


The full report of the Seville study, “Cocaine-related Sudden Death,” appears in the European Heart Journal. Click here to read it.


[Our thanks to Wayne Schmidt, executive director of American for Effective Law Enforcement, and Michael Brave, president of Liability Assessment & Awareness International, Inc., for alerting Force Science News to this study.]



II. Training officer’s initiative brings commendation, cascading benefits


A training officer who collaborated with a liability insurer to acquaint his department and others with the principles of Force Science has received a special commendation from his chief and is seeing results from his efforts continue to deepen.


Earlier this month, Sgt. Craig Allen, in charge of training for Hillsboro (OR) PD, was recognized with the Police Chief’s Commendation, a special award presented periodically for exceptional performance at the discretion of the agency’s chief, Lila Ashenbrenner. (Hillsboro, a suburb of Portland, has the 5th largest police force in Oregon, with 124 sworn.)


In presenting the honor, Ashenbrenner noted that Allen, training supervisor for 4 years, “has put countless hours into developing a training program” that emphasizes decision-making and equips “our officers with cutting-edge police tactics.” In particular, she mentioned his initiative in bringing Force Science training to Hillsboro’s command personnel and to representatives from other departments in the area.




Last year Allen, a graduate of the first US certification course in Force Science Analysis, wanted to host a 2-day seminar on Force Science research findings, featuring Dr. Bill Lewinski of the Force Science Institute.


Allen’s contact with his department’s insurer, City County Insurance Services, a self-insuring trust that covers some 150 Oregon LE agencies, resulted in CCIS agreeing to be a funding partner in presenting the program. The insurer agreed to pick up the cost of tuition and lodging for representatives who attended from any of its client agencies.


Chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors, city attorneys, risk managers, human resource managers, trainers, union representatives, and other stakeholders in officer-involved shooting investigations showed up for the seminar from multiple agencies. Well over half were funded by CCIS.




Student tuitions not covered by the insurer left Hillsboro PD with a surplus after the seminar. That money, the department decided, could best be used by Force Science to further its unique research into law enforcement use-of-force concerns. This month, Hillsboro donated $8,400 to the Force Science Institute, the first such gift from any police agency in the US.


“We are honored to receive this grant, which will be used to help law enforcement everywhere,” Lewinski says. “Hillsboro is to be commended for its dedication to the law enforcement community and to the advancement of scientific inquiry.”




Within the next few weeks, that contribution will be used to help launch a new research project for the Force Science Research Center. Under Lewinski’s direction, researchers will explore in depth and with scientific controls the threat posed by suspects who are proned on the ground with hands tucked under their body at chest or waist level.


“Specifically,” Lewinski says, “we’ll be establishing precisely how fast these subjects can move to produce a hidden deadly weapon, how long it takes the average approaching officer to perceive and react to such a threat, and what tactical measures officers can take to minimize risk and maximize control.”


This is the culmination preliminary studies on this subject done at FSI in Mankato, MN, and at the Northeast Wisconsin Technical Center in Green Bay. The new field experiments for the project will be conducted in Oregon, with Craig Allen and other Hillsboro personnel helping to coordinate the work. Findings are expected to be analyzed and reported within the year, Lewinski says.




Meanwhile, at the southern end of the State, Lt. Greg Lemhouse, a certified Force Science Analyst from Medford PD who attended the seminar in Hillsboro, has arranged for a similar 2-day program with Lewinski to be hosted at his department next May 20-21. Lewinski will team-teach with Force Science staff instructor Joshua Lego, a sergeant with St. Paul (MN) PD.


Again, the insurer CCIS will be picking up the lion’s share of the cost and providing free tuition to representatives from its client agencies. “It’s a great benefit to have an insurer who understands the value of this training,” Lemhouse told Force Science News.


In addition, the lieutenant intends to leverage a unique personal situation: Besides being a Medford cop, he’s a city councilman in the neighboring community of Ashland. He is encouraging “people from the political world in the area” to attend the training, too.


“So many don’t understand anything about the reality of officer-involved shootings,” he says. “They only know what they see on TV shows. If they can learn what Force Science research is revealing, it may keep them from pressuring departments inappropriately and help them educate the public when police shootings go down.”


After the seminar, Lewinski will also appear as the keynote speaker at Medford PD’s annual awards banquet.



III. Force Science to highlight POLICE-TREXPO-West


On Mar. 31, Dr. Bill Lewinski, co-founder and executive director of the Force Science Institute, is also scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the POLICE-TREXPO Western conference.


The conference, sponsored by Police Magazine, will be held at the Long Beach (CA) Convention Center Mar. 29-Apr. 1 and is billed as the “leading first-response training conference and exposition for law enforcement, military, security, corrections, and federal agencies.”


Lewinski’s half-day presentation will address “New Force Science Findings into the Human Dynamics of Deadly Force and Other High-Stress Encounters.”


Other training highlights at the conference will include sessions on:


• The critical skills of defending against edged-weapon attacks


• Krav Maga defensive tactics for law enforcement


• Active threat response


• Tactics for using the patrol rifle


• Female suicide bombers


• Concealed carry options


• Tactical truths and tips for patrol officers and SWAT operators


• Criminal gangs in the military, and more.


For registration and additional details on the conference, click here or visit



IV. 9 “lessons learned” from recent federal decision in Taser case


Recommended reading:


The February issue of the AELE Monthly Law Journal thoroughly analyzes a federal appellate decision from California in which an officer was ruled to have used excessive force in Tasing an uncooperative motorist during a vehicle stop.


The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that employing an electronic control device, which it characterized as “intermediate-level” force, can only be justified to control an “immediate” physical threat. The article offers 9 “lessons learned to be gleaned from this decision.


Access the article free of charge by clicking here.


V. Force Science News to be translated for French-speaking officers


LEOs whose native tongue is French will soon be able to read Force Science News in their own language, thanks to an arrangement between the Canadian Police Research Centre, the Quebec National Police School, and the Force Science Institute.


The 2 Canadian organizations will translate forthcoming issues of the newsletter and post them in French on the CPRC website at


“Force Science News is recognized in the Canadian police community as a reliable source of information on the evolution of knowledge about the use of force in law enforcement,” Pierre Brassard, a consulting analyst with the Police School, told the FSI in proposing the arrangement.


“Most of the police forces in the province of Quebec (some 14,000 sworn officers), as well as others distributed throughout Canada, have French as their mother tongue. Quite often the knowledge imparted through Force Science News does not reach these officers” because it is not available in French. “And even if it does reach them, understanding the finer points may sometimes be uncertain,” Brassard said.


The translation will be done on an issue-by-issue basis, and as time permits past editions will be translated and posted, as well. The service will be a “valuable resource” for the police community, says Steve Palmer, executive director of the CPRC.


“We appreciate the effort that the people behind this development are willing to make to strengthen police education,” says Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Institute. “Our newsletter circulates in many countries abroad, and we would welcome hearing from other sources who may be interested in providing translations for officers who are grounded in other languages.”




Written by Force Science Institute

February 11th, 2010 at 2:41 pm

© 2017 Force Science Institute Ltd.