Force Science News #268:

 What locations are riskiest for you? New study IDs worst sites

Training notes: Congratulations to the graduates of last week's Force Science Certification Course hosted by the Columbus (OH) Police Department. We are proud to welcome this excellent group into the ranks of Force Science Analysts worldwide. Special thanks to the outstanding staff of the Columbus Police Academy whose assistance was deeply appreciated.


Click here for upcoming Force Science Certification Courses or visit

--Scott Buhrmaster, Vice President of Operations, Force Science Institute


In this edition:

I. What locations are riskiest for you? New study IDs worst sites

II. Force Science grad briefs grand jury on action/reaction realities

III. Police attorneys briefed on how to use science in officer defense

IV. NEW! StreetCon Training Conference launching January 2015

V. IACP Summary: Attention and Memory in Deadly Force Encounters


I. What locations are riskiest for you? New study IDs worst sites


Working with data from the nation's second largest municipal police department, researchers have constructed a "risk terrain model" that links an officer's relative danger of felonious injury to the presence of certain environmental factors.


"All places may pose risk of battery to officers" on service calls, writes the lead author of the new study, Dr. Joel Caplan, a former LEO and EMT who now is deputy director of the Rutgers University Center on Public Security. But "some places are riskier than others."


By far the greatest likelihood of attack occurs when you are working in "proximity to foreclosed properties," Caplan's research team reveals. Other of the riskiest spots include locations at or near "problem buildings," bars, schools, gang territory, and banks.


Such "spatial intelligence," Caplan believes, can be used by officers and administrators to "help mitigate the risk of injury at micro places throughout police jurisdictions" by incorporating the information into "procedures, training, and best practices for tactical responses," as well as "resource allocation."


To ignore or poorly assess the findings, he says, may unnecessarily place officers "at higher risk of serious injury."


BATTERY MAPPING. The team's results are based on the mapping of 991 on-duty batteries against Chicago PD officers during a 12-month period. CPD is the second largest local law enforcement agency in the US, with about 12,000 sworn personnel.


The researchers divided the city into more than 36,000 "micro cells," each measuring 426 ft.-by-426 ft., about the average of one block length in Chicago. The batteries were then pinpointed to the cells according to their place of occurrence. For the purposes of the study, "battery" was defined as the intentional causing or attempt to cause "serious bodily harm or death" and included firearms threats and assaults.


Also positioned within the cells were more than 20 "potential special risk factors"--likely troublesome and hazardous locations--which included apartment complexes, night clubs, homeless shelters, mental health facilities, laundromats, convenience stores, and so on.


HOT SPOTS. From this cocktail of ingredients, a computer analysis allowed the researchers to establish an "exceptionally strong" statistical correlation between batteries against officers and proximity to 11 environmental features.


In a descending order of risk, "police who handle calls for service at locations with foreclosures, problem buildings [sources of complaints about criminal activity], bars, schools, gang territories, banks, apartment complexes, liquor stores, clusters of service requests for malfunctioning streetlights, grocery stores and/or retail shops are at a greater risk of felonious battery," Caplin writes.


At the upper end of this list, calls "within three blocks of foreclosures and/or within a dense area of problem buildings pose as much as two to three times greater risk of battery to police officers" than calls to locations at the lower end of the spectrum, he says. But even the lesser locations on the list present a significantly higher danger than the average among all the cells analyzed.


Of course, the risk is even greater at locations where more than one of these "model features" is present.


The specifics are unclear, but Caplan theorizes that the behavior of people can be influenced by the geographical features around them. "The nature of certain places may be perceived by offenders to be opportune locations to behave aggressively toward police," he writes.


For example, "foreclosures may be high-risk due to the absence of invested caretakers who would otherwise serve as 'eyes and ears' within the area. This void of guardians may serve as cues to certain suspects that the prospect for instant freedom from criminal justice authorities is better had with aggression toward police rather than cooperation."


LOOKING AHEAD. More research is needed, Caplan says, but knowing "with statistical confidence that battery incidents and injuries occur at places with particular features of the landscape" should "inform" officers' "tactical decision-making when responding to calls at certain locations.


"Even if prior battery incidents have not yet occurred or clustered" at a particular spot, "it is possible to anticipate the likelihood of future incident locations" and approach them with greater tactical caution.


He strongly recommends "replication of this study in other jurisdictions" as a guide to allocating resources, reforming policies and protocols, and strategically managing responses "in ways that enhance police officer safety."


The study, titled "Spatial risk factors of felonious battery to police officers," appears in the publication Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management. Click here for a free abstract. A full report of the findings can be downloaded there for a fee.


Dr. Caplan can be reached at:


Our thanks to Lt. Glen Mills, Burlington (MA) PD, for alerting us to this study.


II. Force Science grad briefs grand jury on action/reaction realities

Part of an ongoing series on real-world successes


At the talking stage, the plan to bust a crew of Florida home invaders worked perfectly.


An undercover detective from the Broward County SO who had infiltrated the group would call the five suspects to a warehouse to map out their next job, the robbery and possible murder of a drug dealer. After they agreed on strategy, he'd lead them into the confines of a small office on the guise of treating them to pizza to celebrate. Then SWAT operators would burst in and quickly make the arrests, using speed and surprise to forestall violence. No fuss, no muss.


In reality, of course, fate took a different course.


The suspects weren't interested in pizza, so the takedown was attempted in the rangy open space of the warehouse proper. Four of the crew meekly surrendered. But a fifth, armed with a pistol stuck in his waistband, rabbited, with two operators in close pursuit. Near a stack of tires deep in the warehouse, the suspect's hand started moving toward his waist--and the cops instantly opened fire. Hit by multiple rounds, the suspect fell to the floor, gasping for air.


When medics arrived and cut open his clothes to assess his injuries and try vainly to save his life, his pistol fell out from inside his pants leg. He'd never drawn it.


By protocol in that judicial jurisdiction, the fatal shooting automatically would be reviewed by a grand jury, and the officers knew how naive civilians can sometimes regard police deadly force. Might not the jurors end up blaming the two operators for prematurely killing a man who didn't actually have a gun in his hand and therefore wasn't presenting an immediate threat?


To address that concern, the state attorney conducting the hearing earlier this year called as a witness someone trained to explain the action/reaction realities of threatening encounters: Sgt. Sean Visners of the Sunrise (FL) PD, a graduate of the Force Science Certification Course


A 17-year law enforcement veteran now with his department's Criminal Investigations Division, Visners supervises homicide, violent crime, and OIS investigations. He himself was involved in a deadly shooting during an eight-year stint he served with his agency's SWAT team. During an early morning breach-entry warrant service at the home of an alleged narcotics offender, he confronted the suspect, who popped out of a bedroom closet with a pistol in hand. Before the adversary could fire, Visners brought him down with eight rounds delivered to "multiple fatal locations."


The impact of that experience, which included a grand jury review and an unsuccessful lawsuit brought by the dead man's survivors, "gave me a passion to learn everything I could about police shootings, so I could better investigate them and properly discuss them in a criminal or civil forum," Visners told Force Science News. As a critical part of that education, he attended the five-day Force Science training three years ago in Toronto.


"Since then," he says, "I've been recognized in our judicial circuit as an expert use-of-force witness for cases reviewed by civilian grand juries to determine whether the deadly force that was deployed was justified."


Cases in which he has rendered an opinion have included incidents, among others, in which a SWAT team shot a cop killer multiple times in the back and a corrections deputy was accused of battery, jeopardizing her job, after she "proactively deployed force against a belligerent inmate on crutches to avoid being attacked."


In the eight cases in which he has participated, officers all have been exonerated.


As to the warehouse incident, that shooting "is easily justified to the average lawman" on the basis of the suspect reaching toward his waistband, Visners notes. "But a civilian grand juror might have questions with regards to where the suspect's gun was when SWAT fired the fatal rounds.


"Because the gun fell out of his pants leg, it apparently wasn't in his hand, so the jury could wonder 'Did the suspect have to be shot and killed at the point that he was? Or did the operators shoot prematurely?' "


Visners framed his testimony with that question in mind.


When the two operators chased after the bolting suspect, they knew he was armed, he explained. The SWAT team had watched on hidden cameras while the undercover detective and the home invasion crew plotted their intended crime, and during that time the suspect in question repeatedly practiced drawing his pistol from his waistband "to ensure his proficiency" in using the gun.


When the suspect moved his hand toward his waist during the pursuit, the operators could reasonably have believed he was intending to draw and use the weapon on them, Visners told the jurors. Then, referencing Force Science research that's studied during the certification course, he explained in detail the action/reaction dynamics of an armed encounter.


Once the average suspect grips a gun in his waistband, Visners explained, he can pull it clear and fire a shot at a pursuing officer in less time than most people can blink their eyes...and in less time than the officer can process what's happening and react to defend himself.


Citing Force Science time-and-motion studies, he explained that if the SWAT operators had waited until they actually saw a pistol drawn from the suspect's waistband and pointed at them, "they could at a minimum have been shot at more than once and very possibly been wounded or killed, especially considering the close quarters of the engagement."


In his expert opinion, he concluded, the operators had acted in an "exemplary" manner.


In the end, the jurors voted a no true bill in the case. Visners feels the information he shared was a vital influence on that decision.


"Society expects police officers to be robotically proficient, able to react instantaneously to any suspect action," he says. "Many expectations, influenced by Hollywood misrepresentations, are simply not humanly possible.


"An armed suspect with a handgun in the waistband places a law enforcement officer in grave danger. It is vital to get it right when a decision is made to pull the trigger. But it is also vital for force reviewers to get it right so far as understanding the human capabilities and dynamics of such an incident.


"The knowledge I received from attending the Force Science Certification Course is simply priceless and has been used each and every time I have testified in legal proceedings. The law enforcement community owes the Force Science Institute a big thank you for scientifically proving just how real and deadly the dangers are that we face in timeframes measured in the blink of an eye."



III. Police attorneys briefed on how to use science in officer defense


Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Institute, was part of what sponsors called "an all-star lineup" of experts assembled by the National Assn. of Police Organizations to brief law enforcement labor attorneys on current important issues affecting their practice.


Held last month in Las Vegas, the three-day program explored topics ranging from recent developments in police labor relations and bargaining strategies to the fundamentals of representing officers in shooting investigations, depositions, and trials.


Lewinski appeared, along with attorneys Michael Rains and Robert Gorsky, in a panel discussion of how to apply the latest research findings on physiology and psychology to accurately illuminate the human dynamics of controversial critical incidents.


Among other things, he described often-misunderstood limitations of video from dash cams, cell phones, and body-worn devices, including footage of an incident in which an officer appeared--falsely--to be delivering devastating blows with a flashlight to a suspect's head during an arrest altercation.


A recent report from Force Science News about potential camera pitfalls related to use-of-force encounters was distributed to attending attorneys. CLICK HERE for a printer friendly version or visit


IV. New! StreetCon Training Conference Launching January '15 in Las Vegas


During the week following the Force Science Certification Course scheduled for January 12-16, 2015 at the Henderson, NV Police Department, Training Officer and Advanced Force Science Specialist Jamie Borden and his training partner, Officer Danny King, will launch the first annual StreetCon Law Enforcement Training Conference at the Tuscany Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. This training summit-oriented program will gather some of the top law enforcement training experts in the country to discuss the current issues most critical to law enforcement officers and agencies nationwide.


"From tactics and legal updates to high liability issues including an "Officer Involved Shooting Summit" we have designed StreetCon to be a extremely broad-based, fast-paced, information-laced program focused on maximizing the time officers invest in attending the program," King told Force Science News. "Through a multi-track model, attendees will have the opportunity to benefit from the wisdom of several trainers in the program without schedule conflicts. We have ensured that they will not miss out on any of the information they choose--in a vast number of areas--to perform their jobs safely and effectively." "Our core goal in launching this program is to give line-level officers access to the kind of high level training information that others in more specialized or supervisory capacities get," added Borden.


Included in the program will be:


--Bill Lewinski, Ph.D. Executive Director of the Force Science Institute, who will explore the foundational Force Science principles that are critical to understanding the complex human performance issues that often come into play during high-stress, rapidly unfolding force events.


--John Peters, Ph.D. Founder, President and Chief Learning Officer of Prevention of In-Custody Deaths who will discuss the complex issues facing police officers and agencies relative to Excited Delirium, from response protocols to control strategies.


--Officer James Borden, Advanced Force Science Specialist, Certified Force Science Analyst and developer of the new Use of Force Oversight and Management position at the Henderson, NV Police Department. Jamie will dissect the many facets of this revolutionary new position and explain how implementing a similar concept in your agency can revolutionize both your agency and your community, bolster departmental morale and unbiasedly support the efforts of your officers.


--Officer Danny King, Training Officer, a Certified Force Science Analyst and expert in the Critical Incident Review process, will share insights into how post-event force encounter evaluations can be leveraged as valuable, potentially career- and life-saving learning opportunities. He will also share priceless tips on how to avoid common mistakes that can destroy officers, agencies and communities.


For more information and registration instructions visit:


V. IACP Summary: Attention and Memory in Deadly Force Encounters


For an excellent summary of a presentation given by Dr. Bill Lewinski at the most recent IACP Conference in which he focused on attention and memory in deadly force encounters, CLICK HERE or visit and visit Editor-in-Chief Doug Wyllie's column. [Our thanks to Doug for this outstanding piece, incidentally!]

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