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1st Force Science Certification Class A Success (Part 1)

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Part 1 of a 2-part series

The first group of law enforcement professionals certified to apply the concepts of Force Science to use-of-force investigations has now hit the streets. More than 100 students, representing agencies from England, Belgium, Ireland and the U.S., attended the first ever four-day Force Science Certification Course conducted recently in London. Of those, about half elected to participate in the testing process and earned Force Science certificates and the other half participated as observers.

The testing process consisted of two parts; a written test and a practical exercise. We’ll discuss the details of the practical portion later in this article and ask you to consider the case from a Force Science perspective, as the students did. In Part 2, we’ll reveal some facts that made a dramatic impact on the way the case was finally resolved.

“We are extremely pleased with the success of the inaugural presentation of this course,” said Dr. Bill Lewinski, Executive Director of the Force Science Research Center. “One of the foundational goals of the FSRC is to be sure that our findings are taken into consideration during force investigations worldwide. The only way we can achieve that is to train the people involved in those investigations to thoroughly understand the concepts of Force Science and to appropriately apply them. This class represents a solid first step in that direction.”

An impressive team of experts came together to teach the three-day instruction portion of the class. In addition to Dr. Lewinski, instructors were:

Prof. Peter Sheard, senior lecturer in the School of Physical Education and Sports Sciences at the University of Bedfordshire (England) and prominent researcher in biomechanics and physiology. Sheard’s presentation, “But It Happened So Fast,” focused on the neurological and physiological accounting of time. At the core was the exploration of the amount of time humans need to perceive, interpret and react to threats – both consciously and reflexively – and the amount of action that can occur in mere seconds.

Justin Dixon, an Olympic athlete, researcher of physiological responses to shootings, and physical training manager for the London Metropolitan Police. Dixon explored the impact of extreme stress on officers’ heart rates and the influence increased cardiac output can have on an officer’s ability to perform, both physically and cognitively, under pressure.

Dr. Matthew Sztajnkrycer, assistant professor of emergency medicine at the Mayo Clinic and an expert on the complex chemical interactions involved in decision-making under stress. In addition to explaining the roles of various parts of the brain during crisis situations and the process and timing involved in turning perception into action, Dr. Sztajnkrycer discussed the mental and physiological dimensions of fear, specifically how they are commonly misunderstood and how they impact officer performance.

Dr. R. Edward Geiselman, a psychology professor at UCLA and co-author of the leading textbook on cognitive interviewing techniques for law enforcement. Dr. Geiselman explored techniques that can help investigators “mine” officers’ memories and better ensure a surfacing of as many details as possible about a force incident.

Dr. Itiel Dror, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Southampton (England), who has advised INTERPOL, the U.S. Secret Service, and international military agencies on decision-making and visual judgment. Through the use of compelling, often entertaining illustrations, Dr. Dror discussed the complexities of the eye-brain relationship and its role in human perception, action, and the comprehension of events.

Dr. Richard Schmidt, a foremost authority on attention, concentration, and motor performance in high-stress circumstances, psychology professor emeritus at UCLA, and president of the consulting firm, Human Performance Research. Dr. Schmidt explored how the number of choice options can impact an officer’s ability to perform quickly and effectively under stress and the role anticipation and appropriate training can play in improving reaction time.

Edward Davis, former criminal investigative instructor for the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit and co-author of 3 landmark studies of the behavioral/psychological characteristics of officers and suspects involved in fatal, felonious attacks. Davis dramatically detailed the kinds of extreme, life-or-death risks officers face on the street that can increase stress and subsequently impact officers’ perception.

“This is a world class group of experts,” Lewinski told Force Science News. “They carry with them more than 150 years of scientific knowledge that until now has only been discussed in academic circles. For the first time, this information is being applied – and understandably explained – to law enforcement, where it can literally make a life-or-death difference.”

A unique element of the class was each student’s participation in a practical exercise that, in addition to passing a written test, qualified them for a certificate of course completion. The class was divided into several teams, each of which was given an actual use-of-force case to analyze. After each of the three days of instruction, the teams got together and discussed how the concepts they had learned that day could be applied to their case. On the fourth day, each team was charged with presenting a Force Science-based analysis of their incident.

“We intentionally selected controversial cases,” said Lewinski. “They involved high profile incidents that resulted in officers being accused of wrong-doing and, in some cases, facing serious prosecution. The case materials students received, including officer and witness statements, reports and sometimes video footage, often seemed to support the claims of attorneys, community activists and ‘victims’ family members that the officers involved should be punished. If taken at face value, these cases could seem to reflect officer misconduct.

“Our students, however, were challenged to look deeper into the facts from a Force Science perspective,” Lewinski continued. “They were asked to apply the knowledge they had just gained about human perception, reaction times, visual and auditory anomalies, focus and attention and other elements of human performance under stress to explain how an officer might be justified, even in the most controversial-looking situations, in claiming that he acted appropriately.

“The practical portion of this class was designed to meet three goals; to help increase students’ attention and retention, to allow them to immediately exercise their ability to apply Force Science concepts to real-world cases and to realistically illustrate to these students that what you see on the surface may not necessarily reflect the facts.”

One of the several cases used in the class got major airtime in 2004 on national U.S. television after news helicopters videotaped LAPD officers pursuing a car thief on foot after he led them on a car chase into gang territory. The incident ended with one of the officers repeatedly swinging his duty flashlight toward the prone suspect’s back while other officers held him down.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the charges against one of the officers involved and detail his claims and the claims of those who cried foul. In the next installment, we take a look at some of the Force Science elements that came into play when trying to dissect the case in court.

First, take a look at the video footage of the event from two different news choppers filming from different angles. You’ll find it at:

http://visuals.forcesciencenews.com/index.html

A note about the video page: There is footage from two different news stations posted:

  • News Station 1 Footage (which contains 3 separate clips positioned sequentially)
  • News Station 2 Footage (which contains 5 separate clips positioned sequentially).

You have a choice to view all footage in either Quicktime or Flash…your choice.

Some background on what you just saw:

After dispatch reported a stolen Toyota Camry, two LAPD officers spotted the vehicle, driven by Stanley Miller, a gang member and car thief. Miller took off, leading several squads on a chase through three L.A.-area towns, ending in Compton gang territory.

The subject of the Force Science students’ attention, Officer David Hale, was the passenger in the third car behind Miller. He could not see Miller, but he did hear officers ahead of him radio back that they saw Miller reaching under his car seat, presumably for a gun.

After weaving through Compton, Miller stopped the car and bolted on foot. After about 200 yards, he stopped and raised his hands.

The first officer to make contact drew down on Miller briefly, holstered his weapon, then directed the suspect to the ground. The second officer to reach him was Officer Hale, who immediately slid his hand under Miller’s chest and toward his waistband. The third officer to reach Miller drew his duty flashlight and began repeatedly swinging it in the direction of the suspect’s head and upper back. Shortly after, Hale also hit Miller, punching him in the ribs.

The accusations:

Officers unjustifiably beat Miller in the head with a flashlight even though he had surrendered and posed no threat to them. Officer Hale was accused of trying to cover up the details of the event by claiming not to know how many times his fellow officer, who was positioned just above his head, swung the flashlight at the suspect.

Further he was accused of falsely claiming to have seen a gun in Miller’s waistband in an effort to justify the beating of the suspect. Hale was confronted with the fact that no gun was found at the scene and that at the point he testified that he saw the weapon in the waistband, the suspect’s shirt was pulled out, covering that area. Thus, it was theorized, there is no way Hale could have seen a gun there.

Hale was also accused of trying to cover abusive behavior, including his own, by claiming that he warned fellow officers of a gun before they made contact with the suspect – thus justifying their use of force — when, in fact, he didn’t call out the warning until after the officers had piled on the suspect and the flashlight was being swung.

What Officer Hale claimed:

Hale claimed that he truly believed that Miller had a gun and was trying to access it. He said he and other officers feared for their lives and had to use force on Miller to prevent him from accessing the weapon and shooting them.

Further, Hale claimed that he did in fact believe that he saw a gun as he approached the suspect and that he actually felt it when he slid his hand under Miller’s body. When asked, he also claimed that he honestly could not recall how many times his fellow officer swung his flashlight nor could be recall when exactly he called out that he had seen a gun.

The challenge to students:

Explain how it’s possible that Officer Hale could be telling the truth when he says he saw, and actually felt, a gun in the offender’s waistband that turned out not to exist. Further, explain how the officer realistically was unable to recall some of the critical details of the incident–like when he yelled out to other officers that he saw a gun and how many times his fellow officer, who was in such close proximity to him–swung his flashlight at the offender.

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