Force Science News #64:
Cell Phones & Accidents: New Study Gets Underway
In this issue:
I. NEW, FREE ON-LINE LAW JOURNAL FOR POLICE, CORRECTIONS
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 http://www.aele.org/law/index.html
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
–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
II. FROM OUR EMAIL IN-BOX….
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
DO HIGH HEART RATES REALLY HURT FINE MOTOR SKILLS?
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?
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.
BLOOD PRESSURE, SLEEP LOSS CAN IMPACT OIS STATEMENTS
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
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.
IS STRESS TRAINING GETTING UGLY?
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.
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
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
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.
SENSORY TUNNELING IS LIKE AN OVER-BURDENED COMPUTER
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.
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.
III. CELL PHONES & ACCIDENTS: NEW STUDY GETS UNDERWAY
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
“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
IV. LOOKING FOR A CAREER CHANGE?
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
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,
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FORCE SCIENCE is a registered trademark of The Force Science
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Written by Force Science Institute
January 26th, 2007 at 6:53 pm
© 2017 Force Science Institute Ltd.