fbpx

New Study: We’re Getting Better Prepared To Win On The Street And In Court (Part 1)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Part 1 of a 2-part series

  • A high percentage of officers leave law enforcement after they’re involved in a shooting.
  • Suspects who try to kill officers are usually drunk, drugged, or deranged.
  • When multiple cops are in an armed confrontation, they’ll likely experience “contagion fire” and blast off a wild fusillade of rounds.
  • In matters of deadly force, when you’re sued, you’re screwed.

Right?

Maybe not. Based on a new study of lethal force, it may be time to dump these and other venerable “truths” about police encounters into the dustbin of myth.

What is true, according to the latest findings by Dr. Darrell Ross, long-time police trainer, researcher, and expert witness, is hearteningly positive: modern training is paying off for officers in high-stress situations, and the life-or-death decisions they’re forced to make “in nanoseconds” are being overwhelmingly supported in the judicial process.

In short, says Ross, his study reveals “a resounding common trend: We’re getting better prepared for the realities of the street, and we’re winning there and in court.”

Because of the select nature of Ross’ research sample, “it cannot necessarily be generalized to all police shootings,” observes Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Research Center at Minnesota State University-Mankato. “But his excellent and important work brings to light fascinating discoveries about some force encounters that should encourage and motivate trainers, as well as stimulate additional research.”

Ross, who heads the Dept. of Law Enforcement and Justice Administration at Western Illinois University, presented his research into suspect behavior, “contextual cues,” and officer performance, during a 4-hr. session at this year’s annual conference of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Assn. (ILEETA). He recently supplemented his remarks in lengthy interviews with Force Science News.

We begin our series of reports on his important findings with his sometimes-surprising discoveries about officer/subject factors in deadly clashes and the aftermaths that swirl in the wake of controversial cases.

Ross analyzed roughly “10 years’ worth of case material” from 86 lethal force incidents. These confrontations involved 121 officers from 94 municipal, county, state, and campus LE agencies, large and small, from across the U.S., although predominantly (45%) from the Central states. All told, these officers fired 340 shots. Ninety-seven per cent of the suspects were killed, but all officers survived, although about 4 in 10 suffered injuries requiring treatment.

“All were high-profile incidents in which I was an expert witness for officers and their agencies in lawsuits, usually Section 1983 [federal civil rights] actions,” Ross explains. Wrongful and excessive force was universally alleged. Because of his expert status, Ross had extensive access to reports, investigative files, crime scene evidence, detailed personal interviews, depositions, sworn testimony, training records, and other revealing documentation. He personally visited 65% of the shooting locations under time and weather conditions that mimicked the event to accurately perceive the atmosphere.

For the most part, the shootings occurred in 1 of 4 circumstances: the investigation of a suspicious person or activity (32%), during a domestic call (20%), during a vehicle stop (18%), or after a vehicle pursuit (15%).

All officers and all suspects were male. Of officers, 55% were white, 30% black, 15% Asian. Their average age was 34, average time in LE 11 years. Some 80% had at least 2 years of college. Seventy per cent were working patrol at the time of the shooting, and for 93%, the shooting analyzed was their first.

Seining through thousands of facts in his resource pool, Ross has netted a number of factors that he feels are particularly significant in terms of force dynamics, training, and performance. Some examples:

SUSPECT DEMOGRAPHICS

In contrast to the persistent belief that most offenders shot by police are chemically or emotionally disturbed, 85% of the suspects in Ross’ study were sober. A minority (25%) were “mentally impaired.” More than 1/3 had no prior criminal history. “Officers need to be aware,” Ross says, “that they can get dangerous resistance from virtually anyone. People do crazy wild stuff even sober, and without a hard-core criminal past.”

Also, 65% of the suspects shot were white, challenging the media- and activist-fueled impression that police deadly force involves “just white officers killing blacks.”

VEHICULAR WEAPONS

Forty per cent of the offenders in this study used or tried to use a motor vehicle as a weapon, and more than 1/4 of the officers involved were actually struck–figures that Ross considers surprisingly high. “Is this a new national trend, or something just true of this sample?” he wonders. He isn’t sure. But training in avoiding vehicular assault, such as the pioneering program launched for the Tempe (AZ) PD by Sgt. Craig Stapp, an advisor to the Force Science Research Center, certainly seems prescient to these circumstances.

MULTIPLE-SHOOTER IMPACT

In all but 3 of Ross’ cases there was a lone suspect and he confronted a lone officer 43% of the time. In 27% of the encounters, multiple officers were present but only 1 fired. Even when multiple officers discharged their weapon (usually a Glock handgun), they averaged just 4 rounds apiece. Media-hyped scenarios in which multiple officers perforate a single suspect with unrestrained volleys are rare anomalies indeed, Ross points out. Much more commonly, even in the presence of other officers “each individual tends to display a disciplined discernment of threat and an understanding of when it is appropriate for him to use deadly force.”

With multiple rounds flying, “you would think that errant shots might hit innocent bystanders,” Ross notes, “but I found no cases of this.”

Interestingly, officers shoot better when they’re alone. Those facing a suspect by themselves delivered their rounds with an 80% accuracy rate. With multiple officers firing, the group accuracy fell to 60%.

PHYSICAL PRELUDE

Few shootings evolved from a static, flat-footed stance. In most cases, officers were physically active shortly before shooting, either conducting a foot pursuit (30%), grappling with the suspect (20%), and/or exerting other movement (40%). Four out of 10 said they had to shoot while moving, with 3% firing while being dragged by a vehicle. “All this affects heart rate, breathing, and other physiological responses, and needs to be accommodated for in training,” Ross says.

He believes officers in the study benefited from a generally high level of physical fitness. Ninety per cent reported maintaining some type of aerobic and strength-conditioning workout at least once a week, with 34% hitting the gym 3-4 days a week and 15% 5 days a week.

COVER

Only 15% of the officers had the luxury of using cover. The rest were caught unprotected and even if they tried to move to cover, they didn’t have time to reach it before the shooting was over. Amazingly, 1 out of 4 was not wearing soft body armor.

TIMING

About 75% of the shootings occurred after the involved officer had been on duty from 4 to 10 hours, from 1/2 to 2/3 into their shift. About 15% were working overtime. Would this suggest that fatigue may have been a factor in the decision to shoot? Ross says he detected no evidence of this in his interviews with the shooters, which typically lasted 3 hours and extensively probed influences on the officers’ frame of mind. “But be prepared for plaintiffs’ attorneys trying to drag this in as a red herring to bolster a weak case.”

FIREARMS TRAINING

Modern training methods were strongly evident in the shooters’ backgrounds. All had trained in shooting from varied positions and extensively in shooting at night. Seventy-five per cent had practiced instinct shooting, 85% had experience with Simunitions rounds, and 3/4 had scenario-based firearms instruction and exposure to FATS-type systems. Forty per cent had been to a Street Survival Seminar, 55% had trained in reading body language, and roughly 1/3 practiced mental imagery exercises.

“All this reflects really good academy and in-service training, employing a wave of techniques that have emerged over the last decade,” Ross says. “As officers and as total personalities, these men were very squared away, well prepared for their deadly force encounters.”

AFTERMATH

Encouragingly, Ross did not find evidence of the profound personal and professional nosedive that some observers would have us believe commonly follows in the wake of a shooting. Two years afterward, 90% of the involved officers were still employed in law enforcement. Indeed, 30% had achieved promotions in rank and responsibility.

Only 25% said they had experienced post-shooting stress, usually relatively mild transitory events like nightmares, sleep disruption, temporary substance abuse, obsessively dwelling on the incident, job and relationship problems, and such. Twenty per cent said they had experienced some marital problems in the aftermath, but only half of that group ended up divorcing and most reported that the special stress of the shooting was only one of many factors contributing to the split.

Eight out of 10 said their departments were supportive, providing access to critical incident debriefing, counseling, legal assistance, and/or other indications of “being behind the officer,” Ross reports. “The better the department gave the officers positive support and encouragement, the better they were able to deal with post-shooting stress issues.”

Having lived through a shooting experience, would the officers hesitate to pull the trigger if faced with similar circumstances again? Eighty-eight per cent said No. The 12% who said they might pause, potentially putting their lives at greater danger, are a “small but important minority,” Ross says, “who represent a training challenge that should not be overlooked.”

LEGAL OUTCOME

Overwhelmingly, officers and departments in the study fared well in the lawsuits against them. More than half won without even going to trial, when judges ruled in their favor with summary judgments. Of the 1/3 who went to trial, all won, thanks in part to officers “testifying well in court and writing solid reports,” Ross says. Fourteen per cent settled out of court, (not necessarily indicative of bad cases but more likely of risk-management jitters, Ross speculates). None was charged criminally.

Even though 35% of the suspects who were shot turned out not to have a lethal weapon, judges and juries seemed to understand the severe limitations officers were operating under when making their decisions. For instance, 65% of the shootings occurred outdoors at night or in low-light conditions. And while contact with a suspect may have gone on for several minutes, officers in 95% of the cases had less than 2 seconds (less than 1 second for 70%) to perceive a sudden threat and react to it. “Legally,” Ross points out, “an officer’s force decisions don’t have to be perfect, they just have to be objectively reasonable given the totality of circumstances.”

Ross cites several arguments commonly advanced by plaintiffs’ expert witnesses in an effort to discredit the force decisions the officers made in the cases he reviewed:

  • The officer “created the harm or put himself in harm’s way” because he used poor tactics.
  • Officers are trained to use lethal force only as a “last resort.”
  • Officers are trained to use “the least amount of force necessary.”
  • Officers “must demonstrate a ‘rational fear’ of an imminent threat to justify shooting.”
  • Officers are “directed to use levels of force incrementally over several seconds;” i.e., to advance gradually, step by step through trial and error, up the force continuum.

All these assertions are erroneous, Ross insists, and were recognized by judicial reviewers in his study as not representing modern constitutional standards.

The strength of Ross’ study, he says, is that it highlights “trends and patterns that officers, trainers, and administrators need to know about. These are officers who survived on the street and in court because of their decision-making. Their experiences reflect what’s happening in the field.

“Training should be designed to match reality. If you want your officers to be as successful as these officers, you have to devote the time and money in training to model what they were challenged to cope with and hope you get the same results.”

GDPR

  • Privacy Policy

Privacy Policy

Effective date: January 06, 2019

Force Science Institute, Ltd. (“us”, “we”, or “our”) operates the https://www.forcescience.org/ website (hereinafter referred to as the “Service”).

This page informs you of our policies regarding the collection, use, and disclosure of personal data when you use our Service and the choices you have associated with that data. Our Privacy Policy for Force Science Institute, Ltd. is based on the Privacy Policy Template from Privacy Policies.

We use your data to provide and improve the Service. By using the Service, you agree to the collection and use of information in accordance with this policy. Unless otherwise defined in this Privacy Policy, the terms used in this Privacy Policy have the same meanings as in our Terms and Conditions, accessible from https://www.forcescience.org/

Information Collection And Use

We collect several different types of information for various purposes to provide and improve our Service to you.

Types of Data Collected

Personal Data

While using our Service, we may ask you to provide us with certain personally identifiable information that can be used to contact or identify you (“Personal Data”). Personally identifiable information may include, but is not limited to:

  • Email address
  • First name and last name
  • Phone number
  • Address, State, Province, ZIP/Postal code, City
  • Cookies and Usage Data

Usage Data

We may also collect information on how the Service is accessed and used (“Usage Data”). This Usage Data may include information such as your computer’s Internet Protocol address (e.g. IP address), browser type, browser version, the pages of our Service that you visit, the time and date of your visit, the time spent on those pages, unique device identifiers and other diagnostic data.

Tracking & Cookies Data

We use cookies and similar tracking technologies to track the activity on our Service and hold certain information.

Cookies are files with small amount of data which may include an anonymous unique identifier. Cookies are sent to your browser from a website and stored on your device. Tracking technologies also used are beacons, tags, and scripts to collect and track information and to improve and analyze our Service.

You can instruct your browser to refuse all cookies or to indicate when a cookie is being sent. However, if you do not accept cookies, you may not be able to use some portions of our Service. You can learn more how to manage cookies in the Browser Cookies Guide.

Examples of Cookies we use:

  • Session Cookies. We use Session Cookies to operate our Service.
  • Preference Cookies. We use Preference Cookies to remember your preferences and various settings.
  • Security Cookies. We use Security Cookies for security purposes.

Use of Data

Force Science Institute, Ltd. uses the collected data for various purposes:

  • To provide and maintain the Service
  • To notify you about changes to our Service
  • To allow you to participate in interactive features of our Service when you choose to do so
  • To provide customer care and support
  • To provide analysis or valuable information so that we can improve the Service
  • To monitor the usage of the Service
  • To detect, prevent and address technical issues

Transfer Of Data

Your information, including Personal Data, may be transferred to — and maintained on — computers located outside of your state, province, country or other governmental jurisdiction where the data protection laws may differ than those from your jurisdiction.

If you are located outside United States and choose to provide information to us, please note that we transfer the data, including Personal Data, to United States and process it there.

Your consent to this Privacy Policy followed by your submission of such information represents your agreement to that transfer.

Force Science Institute, Ltd. will take all steps reasonably necessary to ensure that your data is treated securely and in accordance with this Privacy Policy and no transfer of your Personal Data will take place to an organization or a country unless there are adequate controls in place including the security of your data and other personal information.

Disclosure Of Data

Legal Requirements

Force Science Institute, Ltd. may disclose your Personal Data in the good faith belief that such action is necessary to:

  • To comply with a legal obligation
  • To protect and defend the rights or property of Force Science Institute, Ltd.
  • To prevent or investigate possible wrongdoing in connection with the Service
  • To protect the personal safety of users of the Service or the public
  • To protect against legal liability

Security Of Data

The security of your data is important to us, but remember that no method of transmission over the Internet, or method of electronic storage is 100% secure. While we strive to use commercially acceptable means to protect your Personal Data, we cannot guarantee its absolute security.

Service Providers

We may employ third party companies and individuals to facilitate our Service (“Service Providers”), to provide the Service on our behalf, to perform Service-related services or to assist us in analyzing how our Service is used.

These third parties have access to your Personal Data only to perform these tasks on our behalf and are obligated not to disclose or use it for any other purpose.

Analytics

We may use third-party Service Providers to monitor and analyze the use of our Service.

  • Google AnalyticsGoogle Analytics is a web analytics service offered by Google that tracks and reports website traffic. Google uses the data collected to track and monitor the use of our Service. This data is shared with other Google services. Google may use the collected data to contextualize and personalize the ads of its own advertising network.You can opt-out of having made your activity on the Service available to Google Analytics by installing the Google Analytics opt-out browser add-on. The add-on prevents the Google Analytics JavaScript (ga.js, analytics.js, and dc.js) from sharing information with Google Analytics about visits activity.For more information on the privacy practices of Google, please visit the Google Privacy & Terms web page: https://policies.google.com/privacy?hl=en

Links To Other Sites

Our Service may contain links to other sites that are not operated by us. If you click on a third party link, you will be directed to that third party’s site. We strongly advise you to review the Privacy Policy of every site you visit.

We have no control over and assume no responsibility for the content, privacy policies or practices of any third party sites or services.

Children’s Privacy

Our Service does not address anyone under the age of 18 (“Children”).

We do not knowingly collect personally identifiable information from anyone under the age of 18. If you are a parent or guardian and you are aware that your Children has provided us with Personal Data, please contact us. If we become aware that we have collected Personal Data from children without verification of parental consent, we take steps to remove that information from our servers.

Changes To This Privacy Policy

We may update our Privacy Policy from time to time. We will notify you of any changes by posting the new Privacy Policy on this page.

We will let you know via email and/or a prominent notice on our Service, prior to the change becoming effective and update the “effective date” at the top of this Privacy Policy.

You are advised to review this Privacy Policy periodically for any changes. Changes to this Privacy Policy are effective when they are posted on this page.

Contact Us

If you have any questions about this Privacy Policy, please contact us:

  • By email: support@forcescience.org
  • By visiting this page on our website: https://www.forcescience.org/contact
  • By phone number: 866-683-1944
  • By mail: Force Science Institute, Ltd.