Force Science News #64:

Cell Phones & Accidents: New Study Gets Underway

In this issue:










You can now browse and click your way free of charge to a valuable new resource on legal issues for LE, thanks to Americans for Effective Law Enforcement. AELE, the nation’s foremost provider of information about court decisions and legal interpretations pertaining to policing and corrections, has just launched an on-line Monthly Law Journal on its website at



Each issue, accessible without cost, will contain in-depth articles on court rulings and legal opinions regarding issues of LE liability, public service employment law, and jail and prisoner legal matters.


The Journal for February, for example, includes extensive explorations of these sometimes perplexing topics:


–Civil liability and pursuit driving, including specimen

policies, an important U.S. Supreme Court ruling that is

expected by next summer pertaining to ramming, a survey of

federal case law on vehicle chases and liability risks under

state law.


–Legal limitations on regulations about grooming and

appearance for public safety workers, including issues of

tattoos, piercings, jewelry, dental ornamentation, cosmetics

and religious headwear.


–Civil liability related to in-custody suicides, including

the relative risks under federal civil rights standards and

state wrongful death laws, an examination of recent case law

and helpful resources such as suicide prevention programs

designed by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.


In most cases where specific rulings are cited the entire

court decision can be accessed.


“It has long been my goal to disseminate legal information

directly to first responders and detectives,” says Wayne

Schmidt, AELE’s executive director. “Internet-based

publications now make that possible.”


At the AELE website, you can also gain free access to the

organization’s 3 outstanding monthly publications, Law

Enforcement Liability Reporter, Fire & Police Personnel

Reporter, and Jail & Prisoner Law Bulletin. Each contains

the latest court decisions in its specialty area.


The organization’s vast law library is fully searchable by

topic. You’ll also find a listing and registration

information for AELE’s excellent seminars, including its

upcoming 3-day Lethal and Less-Lethal Force program

featuring representatives of the Force Science Research

Center. (See Force Science News “Extra” Transmission sent





Our mailbox has been active of late, with readers posing

questions and expressing provocative views on recent topics

covered by Force Science News. We share this sampling to

prompt reflection and discussion about important law

enforcement issues. Some letters have been edited for length

and clarity.




We all know that during a lethal-force encounter the heart

rate rises dramatically and the loss of fine motor skills

occurs around 175 bpm and above. Our firearms trainers feel

that racking the slide of your pistol with a grasping motion

(slide between the bottom of the palm and fingertips) to

load a round or clear a malfunction is better than hitting

the slide release lever with your thumb. That’s because

large muscle groups are involved in the grasping motion

rather than the fine motor skill of using the thumb.


Is there really that big a difference? My trigger finger has

no problem pulling the trigger under high stress. Why

wouldn’t my thumb respond the same way? I have used the

thumb release method for years and years, but I don’t know

if it will work under high stress. Any thoughts?


Heath Appleton

Deputy Probation Ofcr. II

Gang Intervention & Suppression Unit Kern County (CA) Probation Dept.


DR. BILL LEWINSKI, Executive Director of the Force Science

Research Center at Minnesota State University-Mankato,



The idea that a high heart rate causes a loss of fine motor

skills is a myth. The culprit is fear or anger, not heart

rate per se.


It’s true that if you reach a very high heart rate through

physical exertion and are trying to both sight a handgun and

breathe, for example, you may experience some MINOR issues

with fine psychomotor skills. However, keep in mind that

well-trained biathlon athletes fire accurate shots with a

pulse of 180 bpm, and even mediocre sandlot basketball

players under the high pulse rates of a very competitive

game make pretty good shots.


We much more noticeably lose psychomotor skills under fear

or anger, primarily because of our inability to focus

attention properly when distressed. The key is training.

With a proper training program that allows you to repeatedly

practice your skills while under a high degree of stress,

you will build your confidence and reduce the impact of

negative emotions so that you can maintain your fine-motor

dexterity when faced with real-life challenges. In other

words, good training can help you build a history of

successful performance under high stress.


Heath, don’t worry about your thumb.




Regarding the experiments about stress during simulation

training [See Transmission #61, 12/15/06], was a measurement

of the officers’ blood pressure taken?


When I met one officer at the hospital over an hour after a

shooting, his blood pressure was extremely elevated, even

though he is fit. High stress and genetics play a role.


Forcing officers to make statements soon after a critical

event when blood pressure is elevated, along with negative

chemical effects on the body and mind, is counterproductive

and fraught with issues.


Also holding officers to reporting without sleep can only

produce flawed results. I once spoke with a sergeant who,

after being up for 36 hours, was required to make a report

on a shooting. Care to guess how that went? Any statement

from an individual known to be under the influence of drugs

or alcohol would be suspect. Yet some agencies mandate

officers to make statements when under the influence of

stress-reaction chemicals and when having had no sleep for

extended periods.


We send officers out on the street to fight violent

criminals. When they do, we should treat them with respect

and be certain that the process of investigation is valid

and that those who do the investigation are competent.


Chief Jeff Chudwin

Olympia Fields (IL) PD and president of the Illinois Tactical Officers Assn.


LEWINSKI COMMENTS: No, the blood pressure of participating

officers was not taken as part of the experiments described,

but you are right in identifying it as an important issue.

This is a measurement we hope to examine in future research.




In Transmission #61 [12/15/06], reference is made to

simulation training providing a “stress inoculation” for

officers. In my opinion, many trainers do not know how

stress inoculation training should be put together, so they

just “stress people out.”


One teaching philosophy advocates that we allow people to

“win” at their scenarios. Another says we allow them to get

“killed,” etc. Which one an academy uses is pretty much

dependent upon who is in charge at that academy.


We need experts to tell us, step by step, how to put

together stress-inoculation training that is best for the

recruit/officer. What does science tell us about how we

learn best? When we find the answer to that, we need to

train our trainers in that methodology of stress



In my opinion, we are entering an area within police

training which can have a very ugly impact on officers–in

their ability to perform or not perform well–because we

have created scars of fear, defeat and hesitation in them by

our training methods. (I am speaking in general here, not

with any one agency or academy in mind.)


This can be likened to the poor training methodology of the

’70s when we were busy policing our brass and shooting a

target once and believing it to be killed. Cops were then

found dead in gunfights with their brass policed and they

would be killed by nonfatal wounds because they learned in

training that a bullet “kills” a subject. The damn suspects

never went through this training and when they were shot

they continued to fight on. We need to understand the value

of stress-inoculation training but we MUST know the proper

methodology of doing it.


Mark Zbojniewicz

Training Specialist,

AZ POST Board Chairman, Def. Tactics Subject Matter Expert Cmte.


LEWINSKI OBSERVES: You are absolutely correct. Mere stress

exposure–getting a trainee hyped up to the fraying point

with no positive outcome–is not proper stress inoculation.

Failure is not necessarily helpful.


It is primarily when we SUCCESSFULLY perform at a

higher-than-familiar stress level that inoculating effect

begins to occur. Unfortunately some trainers focus on the

high stress level and forget the successful performance.


LE personnel in pre-service and in-service training do not

need to be pampered, but confidence and competence–the 2

elements required for great performance under stress–are

not gained by stress drills that primarily result in

failure. As to an exact training methodology that best

results in preparation for a life-threatening encounter,

that is a subject that the FSRC is seeking to better

illuminate through a number of current and planned long-term

research experiments.


DR. ALEXIS ARTWOHL, a member of FSRC’s National Advisory

Board who has an extensive background in police psychology,



I don’t believe “killing” recruits during training is

necessary or even advisable. We certainly want to point out

errors that could get them shot, stabbed, etc., and give

them the opportunity to improve their performance. But

telling them they were “killed” or otherwise having them

“practice” being killed is not even necessarily accurate,

based on FBI research which shows that “it is impossible to

predict how a human being will react to being shot.”


People can be shot center mass and even in the head and not

only continue to respond but also survive the wound. Even if

someone has a fatal wound, it may not stop their behavior

immediately; in fact, they can often continue to respond for

many seconds.


So an instructor pretending to know that any shot would be

“fatal” or, even if it was fatal, would actually stop the

trainee from continuing to respond for quite awhile, is

simply operating out of ignorance.




Allow me to offer a different way of explaining tunnel

vision and tunnel hearing [see Transmission #61, sent



We are all exposed to computer operation, which sometimes

can be frustrating because of limited capacity. Yet the fact

remains that each computer we use has a fixed and finite

performance capacity–it can only do so much.


When our computer is assigned to do some very intense work,

like copying a large file, rendering a video or doing a

system-wide virus scan, this activity tends to bog down the

computer, making fewer resources available for other

activities. Suppose during one of these intense activities,

you ask your computer to check your email. You will probably

notice hangs and delays in accessing email software, logging

onto your email server, and storing, retrieving and

displaying downloaded emails. This is because much of your

computer’s finite resources are busy doing something else

that you have assigned as a higher priority.


“Tunnel senses” may work like your computer. Under a stress

situation, your mind may assign a high priority to obtaining

and processing all detail of a particular stimuli8, thereby

obligating a considerable chunk of your personal “processing

performance.” When that happens, the processing of other

stimuli may bog down, happen slowly or not at all, just like

with your computer.


Being both a student of use-of-force issues and a veteran

computer user, this analogy makes perfect sense to me.


Gary Marbut


Montana Shooting Sports Assn.; author, Gun Laws of Montana


LEWINSKI COMMENTS: The more ways we have of explaining

tunnel vision and tunnel hearing to people who have never

experienced these phenomena, the better. Thank you for

providing another means of illustration.




Colorado state troopers have started asking drivers involved

in vehicle accidents if they were using cell phones, in

hopes of determining whether the devices are a threat to

public safety. Responses are recorded on investigation forms

and results will be announced next year, according to the

Associated Press.


“This is a great opportunity to study the concepts of tunnel

vision and tunnel hearing in the civilian population,” says

FSRC’s executive director, Dr. Bill Lewinski. “From a law

enforcement perspective, we have been conducting studies

about the focus of attention and the difficulty of rapidly

and effectively processing what you ‘see’ right in front of

you when you are focused on auditory stimuli.


“Our research in London concerns officers being distracted

during armed confrontations and does not directly involve

cell phone use. But based on the principles we’re confirming

and assuming that drivers answer honestly, the Colorado

study should show that cell phones do constitute significant

distractors when driving.”


[For details about the similarity between drivers on cell

phones and LEOs in shootings, see FSN Transmission #54, sent






Interested in teaching in an outstanding Law Enforcement

program and working closely with the Force Science Research

Center in the bargain?


Applications are currently being taken for 2 openings on the

LE faculty at Minnesota State University-Mankato,

headquarters of the FSRC. One, a tenure-track position,

requires a PhD and CJ experience. The other, a 1-year

commitment with possibility of renewal, demands a master’s

degree. Both offer a unique opportunity to also participate

in the valuable work of FSRC.


For more information go to the MSUM website at:


and click on the Law Enforcement entries in the list you’ll

find there.


Mankato’s LE program is recognized as one of the best. It

offers a strong emphasis on practical line-officer skills as

well as a solid foundation in LE theory. Graduates leave

with all the academic and clinical components necessary for

licensure in Minnesota.



(c) 2007: Force Science Research Center, Reprints allowed by request. For

reprint clearance, please e-mail:

FORCE SCIENCE is a registered trademark of The Force Science

Research Center, a non-profit organization based at

Minnesota State University, Mankato.



Written by Force Science Institute

January 26th, 2007 at 6:53 pm

© 2017 Force Science Institute Ltd.