Force Science News #147:
Readers respond to officer-involved video viewing issues
In this issue
I. A salute to Chuck Remsberg on 30 years of keeping officers safe
30 years ago this month, in April 1980, law enforcement changed forever. On that day the iconic textbook, Street Survival: Tactics for Armed Encounters by Force Science advisor, editor and friend, Chuck Remsberg, was released and the approach taken to officer survival training was forever altered and immeasurably improved.
“It’s impossible to fully explain the profound impact Chuck has had on law enforcement,” said Dr. Bill Lewinski. “Before he entered the scene, survival information for officers was typically limited to the personal knowledge and experience of a local trainer. In many instances, that information proved to be inadequate if not inaccurate or misguided.
“The approach Chuck took to researching, refining and disseminating the kind of candid and crucial survival information that was so desperately lacking back then was not only revolutionary but life-saving. He realized that officers were literally dying for this knowledge, so he dedicated his life to making sure that they got it.”
The response to Street Survival was extraordinary, and shortly after its debut, the Street Survival Seminar was launched, two additional training textbooks, The Tactical Edge and Tactics for Criminal Patrol, both authored by Chuck, followed and a collection of training films were produced, all under the Calibre name and crafted with Chuck’s expert touch. To this day, this powerful arsenal of renowned training resources continues to educate and protect officers worldwide.
“What makes Chuck so unique is his amazing ability to hone in on new, cutting-edge information that can help officers stay safer and more effective and to present it in a way that’s practical, understandable and memorable,” said Lewinski. “So much of what we do today at the Force Science Institute and in the law enforcement training community in general is the direct result of his ground-breaking work that started three decades ago and continues today.
“There are officers reading this right now who are alive because of Chuck Remsberg. To my thinking, there is no greater reward for your life’s work than that.”
Congratulations, Chuck! And from the bottom of our hearts, THANK YOU!
II. Officer-Involved Video Issues Draw Reader Questions, Comments
In Transmission #145, sent 3/12/10, Force Science News explored the fact that video recordings from head cameras and dash-cams may not always jibe with how involved officers remember a life-threatening, high-stress force encounter. And we recommended a cautionary Video Advisory than can be given to viewers to alert them that significant differences between officer perceptions and recorded evidence may legitimately exist.
Here are 3 responses that typify reactions we received from readers, plus additional comments from police attorneys:
How should video/memory discrepancies be handled?
We have already had issues with video recordings and officers’ recollections of an incident being different. When an officer writes his report, should he write: 1) What he/she actually remembers; 2) What the video depicts happened (basically writing a story of what he/she is watching); or 3) What he/she remembers and then later in the narrative address the discrepancies between the recollection and the video?
I understand that the officer should bond the 2 versions together, but if the officer truly believes he/she acted in response to a suspect’s action and the video shows otherwise, the report and the video will contradict, yet both could still be considered truthful.
Sgt. Denny Corbett
Riverside (CA) PD
John Hoag, a member of the Force Science National Advisory Board and a police attorney with the law firm Snyder and Hoag, LLC, of Portland, OR, responds:
I’d recommend #3. The report must be truthful, so if the officer perceived something different from what is shown in the video, that’s what the officer should report, then if possible address the video record. If there is an explanation for the difference that the officer feels qualified to make—for example, tunnel vision or diverted attention that caused the officer to look elsewhere and miss something the camera captured—then give that explanation. However, don’t engage in pure speculation. If the speculation is proven wrong, then things will get worse for the officer.
William Everett, also a member of the Force Science National Advisory Board and an attorney with the law firm Everett & VanderWiel, PLLP, of Buffalo, MN, agrees and elaborates:
There is a definite disadvantage to having an officer view the video and try to consolidate the video record with his or her recollections into one report. This kind of report can make it look like the officer, at the time of acting, knew about each and every aspect of the encounter that was recorded on the video. This simply isn’t reality.
Imagine a situation where a suspect is pointing a gun at you, and your partner is standing a few feet to your left. At the moment you encountered the threat and shot, you may have had no awareness at all of your partner’s presence—it was information in your theoretical field of vision, but it just didn’t register in your brain in the process of making an immediate decision or in forming memories of the event later. You were focused instead on the subject and the gun.
So combining the video with your own memories in your report creates a false impression of your reality, which is what your report should convey. The problem here is that your report could be used in an effort to hold you accountable for information that never entered into your decision-making process or memory.
Perhaps the better approach is to write the report, based on your recollections, then supplement it with comments about the video. In your supplement, it is important to be very clear and to plainly describe each important aspect of the video, as to whether it refreshes your recollection (i.e., triggers an actual memory), or whether you are observing things on the video for the first time that you didn’t notice at the time of the event.
In the end, the key is for people reading the reports, or questioning officers, to remember that the video and the officer’s recollections may very well be different. This difference between the digital account and the officer’s account is not necessarily an indication of deception. It may instead be a reflection of the reality that we evolved as a species to pay attention to the information we need to survive, not to recall and recount details later with mechanical accuracy.
Whatever approach an agency chooses to follow, it is important to do things consistently from one case to another. Inconsistencies from case to case, or departures from accepted practice, feed the suspicion mill later about whether an officer or agency was trying to “cover” something up.
Those judging officers’ actions should view tapes in real time
I concur with your suggested Video Advisory regarding officer-worn cameras. I encourage you to go one additional step. The initial viewing by any trier of fact should be limited to the “real time” of what the officer viewed, and the jury (or judge, if a bench trial) should be admonished to then make an initial evaluation regarding what was just viewed without the benefit of continuing review.
Additional review may take place after the initial evaluation, but that first “snapshot” viewing should not be disregarded, because that is closer to what the officer perceived than repetitive replay.
Maj. R. F. Borger
Adams County (ID) SO
City lawyer finds multiple uses for Force Science Video Advisory
I sent the Video Advisory to our Enforcement attorneys to use as a jury instruction, or to incorporate into officer testimony about in-car videos, or in their closing arguments, and/or all of the above.
Margaret P. Bloemers
Asst. City Atty., Police Legal Advisor
Director of Civil Litigation
City of Grand Rapids, MI
III. Force Science Featured in Ground-breaking Leadership Academy
For the first time, Force Science findings have been framed specifically in a leadership context so supervisors and command staff can better understand what officers experience during and after major use-of-force confrontations.
A new, 4-week, cutting-edge Leadership and Career Development Academy launched this year by the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Dept. recently hosted a day-long presentation by Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Institute, to its first class of 43 law enforcement personnel. The training was held on the University of Indianapolis campus.
The group, consisting primarily of sergeants and above and drawn from IMPD and selected guest agencies, awarded Lewinski a standing ovation when he concluded his detailed documentation of what scientific research is revealing about the ways in which biology, physiology, and psychology influence officers’ perception, performance, and memory in high-stress, life-threatening encounters.
“Misunderstanding or ignoring these behavioral elements in controversial cases can easily destroy involved officers and their careers,” Lewinski said. He offered 2 real-world examples at the outset.
One concerned an officer who was accused of deliberately hurling a subject down a flight of stairs during an altercation inside a crowded dancehall. “His chief immediately announced to the media that the officer would be terminated and charged criminally,” Lewinski said.
Yet after Lewinski was called into the case as an expert, a radically different picture emerged. Based on his 45 years’ experience in the martial arts and on research into how suspects and officers are able to move during force confrontations, Lewinski knew it was “biomechanically impossible for the subject to have been thrown by the officer in the manner that was claimed.”
Indeed, a meticulous frame-by-frame examination of video of the incident revealed a pair of hands coming out of the crowd behind the officer and shoving the citizen. Eventually, a bouncer admitted that he had pushed the victim, and the officer’s insistence that he had, in fact, tried to prevent the man from falling was substantiated.
The officer was saved, but because of the chief’s initial statement, voiced “without understanding simple biomechanics,” the department’s line officers were left alienated and “the community was left believing the criminal justice system protects officers no matter what.”
The second case involved a motor officer who shot and killed a female prescription-drug abuser who tried to run him over with her car. In the eyes of his administrators and a zealous prosecutor, the officer had not been in any jeopardy and, in fact, had run after the woman’s car, caught up with it, and unjustifiably fired the fatal shots through her driver’s window in anger, not in self-defense. He was fired and eventually tried for second-degree murder, after the chief and the city’s mayor promised her family they’d be “well-compensated,” even before the case went to a grand jury.
In that case, the officer was ultimately exonerated, largely because of a Force Science reconstruction of the confrontation that again challenged the credibility of accusations made against him. Before that, the officer and his family suffered horrendous condemnations and indignities, including blunt suggestions by a lieutenant to the officer’s wife that she should abort her pregnancy “because the father of your child is a murderer.” [Click here to read Force Science News #1 which explains the case and click here to read Force Science News #129 which talks about this officer’s battle back to law enforcement.]
As Lt. Rick Snyder, who heads up the IMPD Leadership Academy, told the trainees: “Not everything is always as it appears on the surface.”
Yet, Lewinski pointed out, “too often command personnel make a snap decision about what happened and then, because of ego, they don’t back off from their initial assumptions. Once an administrator moves down a particular track, he or she is unlikely to come back. Even when confronted with scientific findings, they think, ‘I can’t be wrong, so the research must be wrong.’ ”
From the 2 gripping case histories, Lewinski led the class deeply into the behavioral science components of officer-involved shootings. He likened Force Science analysts “doing for gunfights what accident reconstructionists do for vehicle collisions, working backwards to figured out what happened.”
Administrators and other departmental leaders, he said, “need to understand the dynamics of force encounters from a Force Science perspective. How are you going to judge what happened unless you understand the behavioral science behind the officer’s actions? It’s an important responsibility of administrators and supervisors to take time to look at an incident from this perspective before pronouncing on it. Even in what appear to be really weird circumstances, we are asking you to take time to check things out before publicly or internally passing judgment.”
True leaders, he said, “understand very well that success lies in suppressing their own ego and dedicating themselves to the goals of their institution.”
Among other things, Lewinski stressed the importance of allowing an involved officer time to de-stress and rest before requiring a statement after a shooting. He cited cases in which departments have insisted on interviewing officers even though they’ve been awake for more than 32 hours after a near-death experience. This, despite the fact that research has shown that even with 19 hours of wakefulness a person can have cognitive impairment equal to a BAC reading of .08 (above the legal limit in most states).
Lewinski also urged the group to support more realistic firearms and decision-making training. “When officers are trained only to qualification standards, we are not preparing them for a gunfight,” he said. “Gunfights occur at a different speed than range shooting, and most current training never brings officers to the speed of a gunfight.”
In conclusion, he praised Snyder and the IMPD for the principles being stressed in the Leadership Academy. “I value the goals you are striving for and appreciate the opportunity to be part of this unique program,” he said. The Academy will be repeated this fall, with Lewinski again addressing participants. Snyder hopes the program will continue indefinitely as an ongoing service of the department. To apply for enrollment as an outside attendee, contact Snyder at: S8626@indy.gov
For more details on the Academy and its content, click here to read a PoliceOne article on the program written by Chuck Remsberg.
Written by Force Science Institute
April 10th, 2010 at 4:30 pm
© 2017 Force Science Institute Ltd.