Force Science News #159:
Unique new Force Science study tests officers’ endurance in fights
A Force Science research team recently conducted unique tests with police volunteers to determine how long officers can typically endure in all-out fights with suspects and how a desperate struggle can affect memory.
The results are expected to have important legal implications regarding the use of force.
Administered under the guidance of Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Institute, the tests involved 52 officer volunteers from the Winnipeg (Manitoba) Police Service in Canada. A detailed report on findings should be completed in about 3 months, Lewinski told Force Science News.
Lewinski had been contemplating research into officers’ capacity for sustaining a physical fight-for-life since he was consulted months ago in a case in which a West Coast cop was overpowered and handcuffed by a violent EDP. He decided to push ahead with the project after Cmdr. Jeffry Johnson of Long Beach (CA) PD published an article questioning just how long the average officer can fight to control a combative suspect before succumbing to fatigue. [See FSN Transmission #155, 7/30/10.]
During a certification class in Force Science Analysis, trainers attending from Winnipeg volunteered their academy facilities and assistance, so Lewinski decided to conduct the research there across 3 long days earlier this month.
The testing, funded by FSI, was “very simple yet complex,” Lewinski says. “The goal was to see how long it took an officer to drive himself or herself to exhaustion and to measure the physiological and cognitive consequences.”
BAG BEATING. First the street officers who volunteered to participate—male and female, with a spread of ages and experience—were divided into subjects who would initially be “exerted” and a control group.
During an introductory briefing by Patricia Thiem, the Institute’s chief operating officer, all were given a crime report to read. This included details about the m.o. and descriptions of an armed robbery crew that had attacked a bank, an armored car, a jewelry store, and possibly a private residence. (Later the officers would learn that this information was part of a memory assessment.)
One pair at a time, a control subject and an exerter next went to a gym, where both were fitted with heart monitors and the exerter also was equipped with a VO2 mask to measure oxygen consumption and gas exchange. The activity there was supervised and monitored by Justin Dixon, an exercise physiologist with the London (England) Metropolitan Police.
The exerter was told to beat full-force on a 300-lb. water bag with fists, palms, elbows, and knees until he or she no longer had enough energy to continue or until told to stop because the officer’s cadence had become so slow and weak as to be ineffective. The control subject stood by and observed the process, which was timed and videotaped by 2 high-definition cameras.
UNEXPECTED STIMULI. Once maxed out on hitting, the exerter then had to sprint upstairs and outside to a trailer positioned nearby. En route, the subject passed by a male (Cst. Dave Blocksidge of the London Metro Police) wearing a “shockingly bright” European rugby shirt and holding a bright yellow cordless drill—another stimulus for which memory would later be tested, although the participant did not know that at the time.
Upon entering the trailer, the volunteer was confronted by an angry and profane occupant, role-played by Lt. Lee Edwards of Minneapolis PD who has portrayed bad guys in previous Force Science experiments. Edwards verbally berated the test subject for 5 seconds, with an array of weapons, ranging from knives and pistols to an automatic rifle, plainly visible in the immediate surroundings.
Once the exerter left the trailer, the control partner went through the same gauntlet, then was brought back to the gym for his or her own fight-to-exhaustion turn at the heavy bag.
BLOOD & MEMORY. After a 3-min. rest, Dixon drew blood samples from participants to measure the lactic acid levels produced by their exertion. Memory tests were also administered by Dr. Lorraine Hope, a leading memory researcher and cognitive psychologist from the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom.
Participants were tested to see how much—if anything—they could accurately recall about the initial crime report descriptions, the struggle against the heavy bag, the male worker encountered on their run from the gym, and the confrontation with the suspect in the trailer, among other things.
Finally, the test subjects were debriefed by Scott Buhrmaster, vice president of operations for FSI, and awarded certificates of appreciation for their participation.
WHAT’S AHEAD. In the months ahead, the data gathered will be meticulously analyzed at Force Science headquarters in Mankato, MN, and at Dr. Hope’s facilities in England.
“In the end,” says Lewinski, “we should have some important base-line measurements of how long a typical officer can maintain an intense physical struggle before reaching a point where his muscles simply no longer are capable of responding. Once exhausted, of course, an officer is perilously vulnerable.
“Knowing how long it is likely to take to reach that point may help guide and explain an officer’s decision to escalate the use of force to end a physical struggle against a powerful and persistent suspect. And the fact that exhaustion appears to occur in a very short period of time should remind officers of the importance of pre-contact assessment and tactical decision-making.
“The findings may also influence the expectations regarding officers’ memories in use-of-force investigations. To what extent does the intensity and physiological effects of a protracted fight impact the ability to remember important details of what happened before, during, and after an encounter? We hope to provide fresh documentation that extreme stress does adversely affect memory.”
With the volunteers’ permission, a production crew from the Canadian Discovery Channel filmed some portions of the testing, which will be televised on a date yet to be announced.
Also present and assisting with the testing were: Bill Everett, a Minnesota police attorney and charter member of FSI’s national advisory board; Christa Redmann, a researcher from the FSI staff; Long Beach’s Cmdr. Johnson; and a coordinating team from the Winnipeg academy, Sgt. Jason Anderson and constables Steve Davies, Sami Haddad, and Julio Berzenji.
After the testing, Lewinski conducted a special 4-hr. session on Force Science research for the command staff and investigators from Winnipeg Police Service, in appreciation of the department’s cooperation and support.
“The commitment, dedication, and all-out effort by everyone involved was a credit to the law enforcement profession,” Lewinski says. “The results will potentially benefit officers world-wide.”
FS News Extra: Our readers write
Regarding FSN Transmission #156 [8/15/10], which concerned research related to the value of an officer being allowed to rest before an OIS interview to enhance his/her memory:
Sleep is an important factor of accuracy
Without exception, the officers I have represented or assisted after an OIS have told me they were far better able to ACCURATELY reconstruct their memory of the event after 1 to 2 days. Sleep appeared to be the most important factor, sleep being a restorative of wellness, as I saw it. Wellness is not being sleep-deprived and adrenalized with a racing heart rate and a highly elevated blood pressure.
I was challenged on my beliefs by investigators some years back and my response was that I could not “prove” that I was correct but that as counsel to the officers we would proceed accordingly. We were not going to sit down for an in-depth interview until the officer was rested. In most cases the Chiefs I dealt with were educated, understood the issues and what was involved, and agreed.
The method I worked with was and remains: Where possible/feasible, at the scene get the basic information as to offender’s description, escape direction and means, injuries, weapons, evidence, and witnesses as quickly and efficiently as can be and then remove the involved officer(s). The “what” of the crime is needed now…the WHY of the use of force can and must wait.
The officer should be transported to the hospital (in the early years none wanted to go as it was viewed as being “weak”) to be assessed for external and internal dangers. Some who were injured were totally unaware of any injury and experienced no pain…until later; some had very high blood pressure and were potentially at risk from that.
After medical attention, they were taken home, never allowed to drive themselves, and went through 1 to 2 sleep cycles to return to as near normal a heart rate and respiration/body function as able. Most said they had a very difficult time getting any sleep initially and some required assistance.
Some key issues:
In recent years, 24 hours of sleep deprivation has been likened to being under the influence of intoxicating beverages; and that is without the highly potent chemical cocktail that stress releases into the body in a threat-to-life event.
It may take but split-seconds in an attack to elevate the officer’s heart rate to over 180-200 bpm, but it will take hours and rest to return to the “regular” non-stress rate.
Before an officer makes any statement that his or her life/family/career, as well as the community’s understanding of the facts, may depended on we should wait until the officer is capable and competent to be detailed and accurate.
A number of years ago I spoke with a sergeant involved in an OIS who was kept up for 36 hours without rest and then ordered to give a statement of events. He told me the statement was incomplete, as he could not focus and was truly exhausted. He was troubled at the way he had been treated by an unknowing and uninformed administration whose approach was “get it now and get it fast.”
As a result of that type of thinking, officers have often been put through a disordered and flawed process that served no one’s best interest.
In recent years much has changed. We have come a long way but there is far to go.
Thanks to Force Science and all those who have dedicated their professional lives to search for the truth even when the truth is not popular. Because of their continuing efforts we have a basis for developing protocols to deal with investigation of OIS events in a humane, fair, impartial, and ACCURATE manner.
Chief Jeff Chudwin, Olympia Fields (IL) PD
President of the Illinois Tactical Officers Assn. and a former prosecutor and police attorney
5 months to figure out what happened
Six months ago I was involved in an accident on my motorcycle after leaving work late at night. A vehicle cut me off at a roadway/gore point, then lost control, fishtailed quickly, and ended up stopped in my lane before I could figure out a safe course of action. I was launched from my motorcycle while slamming my brakes on.
It has taken me a full 5 months, through physical therapy and crippling pain, to resolve in my mind why this event occurred the way it did, and why I could not have reacted differently. Had I given a statement immediately after the accident, I would not have been able to explain the situation, which was significantly more complex than my recorded images seemed to reveal.
I suspect that many officers undergo a similar experience, where information is occluded by highly stressed portions of the brain.
Mechanical engineer, R&D Dept., Taser International
Regarding FSN Transmission #158 [9/10/10], which mentioned the need for more input on the efficacy of tourniquets in treating wounded officers in the field:
We had a deputy survive a rifle shot to the leg last summer and his life was saved because his fellow SWAT members applied a tourniquet. The deputy ended up losing his leg, but medical personnel said he would have bled out if the tourniquet had not been applied.
Det. Tasha Townsend
Snohomish (WA) Regional Drug Task Force
We have a combat application tourniquet and Israeli pressure bandage in every patrol unit in our county as part of our shooting trauma kit. Just a few weeks ago, one of our deputies used the Israeli bandage on a suspect they shot to stop gunshot bleeding.
Cpl. Mike “Ziggy” Siegfried
San Bernardino County (CA) SD
Written by Force Science Institute
September 25th, 2010 at 10:18 am
© 2017 Force Science Institute Ltd.