Force Science News #309

Is the "Ferguson Effect" real? Survey says....

In this edition:

 

I. Is the "Ferguson Effect" real? Survey says....

II. Tuition & lodging scholarship to Force Science Certification Course offered by Hero911

III. Update: Police union injects own policy draft into UOF mix

IV. PERF's final report on controversial UOF "Guiding Principles"

V. FSI's ground-breaking prone study revisited in journal article

 

I. Is the "Ferguson Effect" real? Survey says....

 

Nearly half of patrol officers surveyed nationally say they have cut back on traffic and pedestrian stops, confirming that a suspected "Ferguson Effect" is significantly affecting proactive policing.

 

The recent poll was designed and conducted by certified Force Science Analyst David Blake, a retired 16-year police veteran with a master's degree in psychology who heads an independent law enforcement consulting and training firm.

 

Through an online Survey Monkey questionnaire, he gathered responses from a cross-section of nearly 500 front-line sworn personnel, many of them encouraged to participate by their departments.

 

The anonymous respondents, ranging in age from 21 to 65, have "between less than five to 30-plus years" on the job, Blake reports, and work for "small suburban (25 officers) to large metropolitan departments (3,000+) across the nation."

 

HIGHLIGHTS. Blake intends to submit a full report of his findings for publication in a professional journal, but here are the highlights.

 

Over 97% of participants said they believe that proactive policing decreases crime. But amidst the highly charged atmosphere surrounding American law enforcement of late, 49% said they have cut proactive traffic stops by "between 5 and 10 a month," and 47% said they have reduced proactive pedestrian stops by the same amount, reflecting a significant diminishment in "the things cops do proactively more than anything else," Blake says.

 

Why the change?

 

• Nearly 60% of those surveyed said they have "slowed down/stopped proactive policing due to media influence." The vast majority (94%) believe the media are "somewhat or completely biased toward a negative representation of law enforcement.

 

• 36% blamed their retreat on "low citizen support." Some 46% reported having a "negative" or "increasingly negative" relationship with their community.

 

• Large numbers cited perceived shortcomings in departmental leadership: 47% cited "negative executive-level influence" for their slow down; half felt their leadership's "response to current trends has left them feeling unsupported"; nearly 40% said management had "increased discipline against officers"; nearly 63% said management had "created more restrictive policies."

 

• Without offering specifics, about one-quarter said that "new training" was responsible for their change in patrolling style. About 20% thought this training was "not evidence-based (proven to be successful)" and nearly 75% of the total sample thought that new training they had received was "not beneficial," even if it didn't directly impact their street practices.

 

(Overall, responses add up to more than 100% because many officers noted more than one cause for their change in performance.)

 

CAUSE FOR CONCERN. More than 60% of the officers responding "believe criminal activity has increased in their jurisdiction" in the last year, Blake reports. Most believe this spike is "due to less proactive enforcement."

 

The question of whether a Ferguson Effect exists "is now less ambiguous," Blake asserts. The survey data "should be concerning to police executives as well as society, based on the potential long-term effects of decreasing proactive policing."

 

In analyzing his poll responses, he writes, "I have found there is a consistent theme within law enforcement patrol-level officers. That theme is one of anxiety and fear: An officer-level perception that doing their job may ultimately lead to discipline, termination, or criminal prosecution."

 

It is not surprising, he notes, that "[t]he subsequent behavior associated with this perception [is] an aversion to proactivity based upon personal risk assessment, [a] concept within Psychology termed, 'negative conditioning.' "

 

In an interview with Force Science News, Blake urged that the IACP and other large law enforcement organizations springboard from his "exploratory" survey into a deeper investigation of the Ferguson Effect and its potential remedies.

 

In addition, he says, "individual agencies should survey their own officers anonymously" to see the extent, if any, that the phenomenon is having in their jurisdiction. "Once they have the data, they can drill down and find where the greatest concerns lie and what to do about it.

 

"There are a lot of unanswered questions, but agencies have the ability to answer them if they're interested. If we let things go, the situation will just get worse and worse."

 

OTHER VOICES. At about the time Blake's survey results became available, two other pertinent items crossed our desk.

 

One was an article in the Chicago Tribune, reporting an "alarming" jump in the city's street violence: a 25% year-to-date increase in homicides and a 73% leap in people shot, following "two consecutive years in which shootings rose by double digits."

 

On Jan. 1, the paper noted, the Chicago PD "began requiring that cops fill out detailed reports every time they make a street stop" as part of a "landmark agreement" with the American Civil Liberties Union in concern over "racial profiling."

 

The change, the Trib says, "has not only kept officers busy with paperwork longer than before...but also increased their anxiety about being second-guessed on whom they've stopped."

 

The result: A plummet from more than 61,000 street stops in January 2015 to roughly 9,000 in January 2016--and a 32% drop in arrests.

 

"[C]rime experts and the ACLU have contended that no empirical evidence exists that would suggest the low police activity has led to a rise in violence," the newspaper said. But a CJ and psychology professor from a local university says it is "foolish" not to draw a connection.

 

The other item of interest is an entry in a blog maintained by an officer in southern California under the pseudonym Jack Dunphy. The author invites his readers to "accompany" him and his partner on patrol in a crime-ridden section of Los Angeles where the murder toll so far this year has doubled over last and arrests for violent offenses are down by 19%.

 

Gathered near the entrance to an alleyway, the two officers spot "a few members of the local street gang," one of whom is "perhaps responsible" for the recent killing of a teenage rival.

 

"What do we do? We drive on, for we are not police officers in an ideal world. We are police officers...in the year 2016, and we know there is little to be gained and much to be lost if we get out of our car and engage these young men.

 

"If everything goes as pleasantly as things can go these days, we will at the very least be given a load of grief, first by the young men themselves, then by the many family members and other sympathizers who...will soon emerge from nearby homes and apartment houses.

 

"And if one of them runs? Well then we might have to chase him, and if we catch him we might have to hit him, an incident that will be captured on cell phone video and posted on YouTube and, if the footage is sufficiently inflammatory, broadcast on local television news.

 

"And if one of these young men is armed and we have to shoot him, and if video of the shooting does not clearly demonstrate that we were fired upon first, we will see our chain of command abandon us and pronounce our tactics unsound, this despite the fact that few of our superiors have actually stood in our shoes.

 

"And we might see that video become a national news story, one that will prompt the police commissioners, the mayor, the governor, and even the president of the United States himself to offer their unschooled opinions on the deficiencies of our actions. So, as we are not fools, we drive on....

 

"And now that we've chosen to ignore this gathering of street criminals, and after other officers have done the same with similar groups across the area, those criminals will be all the more emboldened to carry on with the behavior that terrorizes their law-abiding neighbors, for the only thing that will deter that behavior is the credible threat of the bad consequences that flow from being stopped by the police while possessing a gun. If the cops won't act, if they drive on by, the drive-by shootings will only increase. And that is exactly what is happening...."

 

David Blake of the Blake Consulting and Training Group in Brentwood, CA, can be reached at: dave@blake-consulting.com.

 

II. Tuition & lodging scholarship to Force Science Certification Course offered by Hero911 Veteran narcotics officer, Nate McVicker, founder of the law enforcement app Hero911, as reported on in FS News #300 [Click here to read it], has announced the availability of a scholarship for one student to the Force Science Certification Course scheduled for May 23-27, 2016 at the Force Science Training Center in Chicago. The winner's tuition and lodging will be paid through the scholarship.

 

Qualified candidates for the scholarship must be currently registered as a Hero911 user (the app is free and available through Google Play or the Apple store) and must be a sworn, active investigator directly employed by a law enforcement agency who meets class enrollment specifications. To apply for a chance to win the scholarship and for more information on the Hero911 app visit: www.hero911.org

 

III. Update: Police union injects own policy draft into UOF mix

 

In Force Science News #307 [3/24/16], we reported on proposed revisions to one major West Coast agency's use-of-force policy that has created a storm of protest from the department's rank-and-file personnel.

 

Earlier this month, the Police Officers Assn. representing front-line troops proposed a new UOF policy of its own creation for consideration.

 

"Rather than just critique a draft policy which we had no involvement in crafting, the POA felt it would be better to present our own proposal," a union officer explains. On Apr. 6, the POA president formally presented the proposal to the city's Police Commission. At this writing, no official response has been forthcoming.

 

You can view the suggested policy on the Association's website by CLICKING HERE.

 

The 12-page document is a blend of elements from the department's existing UOF policy, its proposed revisions, guidelines offered by that state's POST, and "best practices" from the union's perspective.

 

In constructing its proposal, the POA worked closely with two principal consultants: police defense lawyer Blake Loebs, a former deputy city attorney and specialist in civil rights litigation, and Don Cameron, a long-time law enforcement trainer and UOF expert who played a major role in shaping POST "learning domain" on firearms, force, and arrest procedures.

 

IV. PERF's final report on controversial UOF "Guiding Principles"

 

The Police Executives Research Forum (PERF) has issued a 127-page "final report" on its 30 recommendations for "best practices" regarding use of force, which sparked intense controversy when first disclosed in a sparser format earlier this year.

 

The new document can be accessed in full, free of charge, by clicking here.

 

In addition to detailing the foundation of PERF's suggested guidelines (conferences with police professionals, surveys, field trips to specific agencies in the US and abroad), the summary report elaborates on and in some cases modifies the language used initially to frame the organization's proposals.

 

These changes are not always crystal clarifying. For example, one of PERF's most controversial recommendations was the proposal that, by policy, "officers must ask themselves, 'How would the general public view the action' " when weighing a force application.

 

The new document notes, "This does not mean that officers, at the exact moment they have determined that a use of force is necessary to mitigate a threat, should suddenly stop and consider how the public might react."

 

However, PERF goes on to say that officers should consider public opinion "long before that moment and throughout [italics added] their decision-making on what an appropriate and proportional response would be."

 

"Throughout," of course, would include the moment just before force is used.

 

"There are still some severe flaws that need fixing," Force Science News was told by retired Capt. Greg Meyer, former head of a major law enforcement academy. But, he says, "it is clear that the backlash from many [policing professionals] against several of PERF's 30 Guiding Principles has been heard at PERF's office. The final report features interpretation comments that were clearly written in response to the backlash."

 

His plea: "Keep pushing back!"

 

Greg Meyer is a certified Force Science Analyst

 

V. FSI's ground-breaking prone study revisited in journal article

 

Here's a good opportunity to refresh yourself on the life-threatening danger presented by suspects who are proned out with their hands hidden under them in an arrest situation.

 

We first reported on a first-of-its-kind Force Science Institute study of that problem by a research team headed by Dr. Bill Lewinski in Force Science News #164 [Click here to read it or visit: www.forcescience.org/fsnews/164.html]

 

Now a detailed, illustrated, 14-page paper on that research, "The Speed of a Prone Subject," has been published by the peer-reviewed journal, Law Enforcement Executive Forum.

 

Measuring speed differences across five positions, the researchers found that a suspect can produce a gun from under his body and fire at an approaching officer, on average, in 0.52 to 0.77 seconds.

 

"On average, participants were fastest when holding the gun under their chest and shooting at a target in front of them from a chest-up position," the research showed, "deeming [this] the most dangerous shooting position."

 

Lewinski notes, "A prone subject is likely to move and fire before [an] officer would even be able to initiate movement."

 

In the paper, the research team explores tactics, including contact/cover, that may help officers mitigate their risks when dealing with a proned individual who may be concealing a weapon.

© 2017 Force Science Institute Ltd.