Force Science Finds Common Theme In Peak Performance

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“Startling revelations” about police performance in force encounters will be revealed shortly by representatives of the Force Science Research Center at a gathering of cognitive and behavioral scientists from throughout the world in Rome, Italy.

The findings are expected to have “profound implications” for future law enforcement training, according to FSRC’s executive director, Dr. Bill Lewinski.

Addressing the 4th International Conference on Spatial Cognition Sept. 14-19 at Europe’s largest university, La Sapienza of Rome, Lewinski and Dr. Joan Vickers will reveal results of their unique research into officers’ scan patterns and attentional focus before and during life-threatening confrontations.

Vickers, an internationally acclaimed authority on “the quiet eye” and other aspects of the relationship between vision and peak performance, is the founder of the Neuro-motor Psychology Laboratory at Canada’s University of Calgary and a faculty member for the popular Force Science certification course for law enforcement.

Nearly a year ago, as a part of broad-based research into use of force, she and Lewinski conducted complex research under FSRC auspices in Belfast, Ireland, that for the first time meticulously and extensively tracked eye movements of police officers during the build-up and eruption of deadly force conflicts.

Volunteers—some of them officers with only basic firearms training and little experience and others who were members of elite, highly seasoned tactical teams—were outfitted with small, sophisticated corneal reflection “eye-tracker” that allowed researchers to record where their eyes were focused at each phase of the action.

One at a time, the officers, armed with training guns, then were introduced to a live-action scenario and told to react as they thought appropriate. The role-play involved the officers witnessing a citizen profanely confronting a government employee in a dispute about a passport. As the citizen’s anger escalated, he pulled a pistol or a cell phone from his waistband, spun around, and fired (or appeared to fire) at the officer being tested.

Background details of the investigation and its goals were reported in Force Science News Transmission sent 11/7/08 [Click here to read it now]. But the results were not then known.

In the months since the experiments, Vickers and her staff have been carefully analyzing the eye-tracker data. They now know precisely what each officer looked at, in what order, and for how long as he or she experienced the scenario, made decisions regarding the proper force responses, and then delivered deadly force or chose not to engage.

“Their focus of attention, body positioning, judgment, speed, and shooting accuracy have all been evaluated,” Lewinski says. “And most important, from the massive amount of data gathered, we now have identified the critical differences in scan patterns between ‘elite’ and ‘ordinary’ officers and can report which patterns seem to correlate most closely with good judgment, speed, and accuracy—in short, with successful performance.

“Force Science has now measured successful behavioral elements across a variety of high-stress performance situations, from high-speed pursuits to deadly force encounters, and a common theme among great performances has clearly emerged.

“Some of the findings are startling revelations, and the implications for training are going to be profound. Among other things, this information will help officers learn to better predict suspect actions so they have a greater advantage in reacting and will help trainers take officers to their highest personal level of performance in crisis situations. We have learned a great deal from this research about human performance that will significantly impact subject control and officer survival.”

Precisely what has been learned and what it means to you will be reported in Force Science News after the conference in Rome.

Meanwhile, Lewinski again expressed his gratitude to the Police Federation of England and Wales, which helped fund this vital research.

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