Force Science News #206:
Bath salts, "best tactics" for high-risk, weapon confusion, & more
I. First roundup of “weapon confusion” cases now available free
In at least nine incidents in the U.S. and Canada, officers have mistakenly drawn their sidearm—thinking they were deploying their Taser—and unintentionally used deadly force against uncooperative suspects.
In at least two cases, the subjects have died, while others have sustained serious injuries. Often in these unfortunate events, the involved officers have become central figures in make-or-break legal action, fighting for their careers or freedom. One such officer was sentenced to prison for involuntary manslaughter, a verdict upheld this month [June 2012] by an appellate court.
Now the first compendium of “weapon confusion” cases has been compiled and discussed in the online Monthly Law Journal published by Americans for Effective Law Enforcement and accessible without charge by clicking here.
It’s a valuable document for trainers, police attorneys, and street officers, drawing on real-world cases to explain how these mistakes have occurred and offering suggestions for how they might be prevented in the future. Among the contributing sources is Force Science Analyst Greg Meyer, former head of the LAPD Academy and an internationally recognized expert in less-lethal weaponry.
Links are provided to four full civil court decisions that reflect the issues typically involved in weapon confusion cases. The article also displays links to more than 20 other resources related to electronic control weapons, weapon confusion, and civil liability, including a report in Force Science News #154 that analyzed the infamous BART shooting in which a California transit officer fatally wounded a suspect by firing his pistol instead of his Taser during an altercation on a train platform.
In the latest development in that case, the California Court of Appeal on June 8 sustained the jury’s verdict that Ofcr. Johannes Mehserle was guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of suspect Oscar Grant. Among those testifying in the original trial as expert witnesses on Mehserle’s behalf were Greg Meyer and Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Institute.
Although their testimony helped Mehserle avoid a conviction for murder, he was found to have been “criminally negligent” and sentenced to two years in prison for involuntary manslaughter. You can link to the appellate decision, as well as trial court documents in that case, via the AELE article.
Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Institute, and some other observers with expertise in human behavior and a familiarity with the Mehserle case expressed disappointment in the court’s ruling for failing to acknowledge important, scientifically established factors regarding physical and mental performance under stress that could have influenced the officer’s actions. Force Science News intends to explore this decision in greater detail in a future edition.
II. New training aid reinforces “best tactics” for high-risk calls
A new electronic publication that captures the essence of “best tactics” for handling a wide range of high-risk encounters in just 30 pages has been issued by the IACP’s National Law Enforcement Policy Center. It’s a handy resource for crafting refresher reviews for academy, in-service, and roll call training.
The practices and procedures recommended in Officer Safety and Risk Management: Avoiding and Mitigating Officer Deaths, Assaults, and Injuries are not new, but “the increase in officer deaths and assaults over the past several years suggests that they need reinforcement,” the IACP notes.
Focusing on “the most common situations that can lead to officer injuries and deaths,” the document offers specific pointers on 10 topics: ambushes and surprise attacks, body armor considerations, police vehicle crashes, vehicle stops, arrest contacts, warrant service, off-duty arrests, foot pursuits, building searches, and uses of force.
The manual can be ordered in PDF format for $9.25. Click here to go to the order page.
In another development related to the IACP, Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Institute, has become a member of that organization’s Police Psychological Services Section. That group, whose members all have PhDs in the behavioral sciences, exchange professional information and provide training and consultation to law enforcement agencies on a wide variety of topics related to police psychology.
III. A sergeant’s gritty book brings the street to the page
We don’t often recommend novels about cops, but here’s an exception: Black & White, by Det. Sgt. Wes Albers, a 23-year veteran of San Diego PD.
Skillfully crafted, it’s exactly what reader reviews on Amazon say it is: “Something different, something authentic and gritty”…“enlightening about just who those guys in those uniforms and black and white cars actually are as people”…“a mystery, a police procedural, and drama all in one”…perhaps, in a retired detective’s words, “the most realistic cop book ever written.”
Albers, now 46, made a name for himself on San Diego PD right off the starting blocks, recalls Dr. Bill Lewinski, who taught him as a law enforcement student in the 1980s at Minnesota State University-Mankato. As a rookie on the street, Albers took special interest in a series of rape cases, beyond what his patrol assignment warranted. Drawing on what he’d learned from Lewinski in a sex crimes course, he tried to offer seasoned investigators a profile of the likely culprit and the identity of a possible subject. “They laughed at him at first,” Lewinski says, “but ultimately he was proved right.”
In Black & White, the protagonist, a long-time patrol dog and FTO, digs into a gruesome and puzzling murder case between 911 calls and eventually determines whodunit. Along the way, he traverses the street experiences, the nagging take-home emotions, the communal pranks, and the maddening departmental politics that any officer with a few years under his gunbelt will recognize in spades.
“The murder involves elements of a homicide in real life that I went to,” Albers says. “People never envision street cops being powerful in solving major crimes, but I couldn’t not draw from my own experiences. That’s where I get the strongest edge.
“I wanted to tell a cop story and show how the job influences and impacts us professionally and personally without distorting it or having to resort to unreality to create false drama.”
He started the book about nine years ago, often sitting at his laptop the rest of the night and into the day after getting off work at midnight. Sometimes he got no more than a paragraph done the way he wanted it. But during a period when he was on medical leave after being injured in fights with violent border crossers, he hit a groove when polished chapters seemed to pile up on the hour.
Now he’s working on a second novel, which will continue with some of the same characters, develop themes planted in Black & White, and convey the same sense of authenticity. He’s determined to use his writing ability “to pass on what I’ve seen and what I’ve learned, particularly to cops who need to know that the things they see and the way it impacts them is something that is shared by other cops.”
Lewinski confirms the importance of that mission. “In our pervasive popular culture of movies, tv shows, and fiction that predominately present a distorted picture of law enforcement, Wes offers officers a validation that the world as they personally experience it on the streets is, in fact, what’s real,” Lewinski says. “There’s a strong psychological benefit from having that affirmation.”
And a fine story to enjoy in the process!
IV. After grisly attack, Canada acts to ban bath salts
After the recent incident in Miami, where an attacker chewed flesh off of the face of a homeless man before being shot dead by police, Canadian officials have announced plans to make the active ingredient in so-called “bath salts” illegal. And Miami authorities have warned officers to be “extremely cautious” around disorderly suspects who, like the slain “cannibal,” may have consumed the powdery stimulant.
Force Science News first warned of the dangers of bath salts more than a year ago in Transmission #175, which carried a report on the subject by Chris Lawrence, an instructor in the certification course in Force Science Analysis. [Click here to read the original Force Science News article.]
The report stirred no response at the time. But in the wake of the Miami episode and a growing number of encounters elsewhere (including Canada’s maritime provinces) between police and offenders high on salts, the Canadian government announced this month that MDPV, a key ingredient of the drug, will be added to that nation’s Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in the same category as heroin and cocaine. It is expected to become officially illegal in the fall. Click here to read a release.
In Florida, after the face-gnawing attack, police confronted another bath salts suspect who was reported shouting obscenities in a restaurant. The 21-year-old “growled and grunted like an animal,” tried to bite an officer’s hand, threatened to “eat two officers a week,” and had to be transported in a bite mask and leg restraints.
Bath salts, synthetic cannabis, and excited delirium syndrome all are currently mixed in discussions of bizarre suspect behavior, Lawrence notes. “More research needs to be done before we can determine, for the safety of officers and the public alike, the physiological and symptomatic differences, if any,” he says.
You can help by sharing your experiences with unusually combative and aggressive subjects who appear to be influenced by bath salts, similar chemicals, or ExDS. If you encounter or know of suspected incidents, please contact Lawrence by clicking here.
V. Tactical tip for homicide investigators?
Also in the national news of late has been the cold case suddenly turned hot of Etan Patz, the 6-year-old New York City boy who disappeared on his way to a school bus stop 33 years ago. A middle-aged man has confessed to strangling the child and leaving his body wrapped up for trash collectors, but detectives and prosecutors have so far been stymied in finding physical evidence to corroborate his story, including any of the victim’s remains.
Still, they’ve figured a way to deliver some extra impact to a jury, if the case proceeds that far.
According to New York newspapers, investigators during interrogation showed the suspect a missing-child poster bearing a photo of Etan. “He kept looking away,” one law enforcement official was quoted. But as part of a videotaped confession, his questioners persuaded him to sign his name across the picture and write “I killed him” or “I strangled him,” according to the source.
In the absence of physical evidence, this blunt handwritten statement “could emerge as one of the more memorable courtroom exhibits if the case were to go to trial,” the New York Times noted. In lieu of shocking body shots, it could constitute “visual evidence that might prove compelling to jurors.”
Written by Force Science Institute
June 15th, 2012 at 1:29 pm
© 2017 Force Science Institute Ltd.