For the first time, Force Science findings have been framed specifically in a leadership context so supervisors and command staff can better understand what officers experience during and after major use-of-force confrontations.
A new, 4-week, cutting-edge Leadership and Career Development Academy launched this year by the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Dept. recently hosted a day-long presentation by Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Institute, to its first class of 43 law enforcement personnel. The training was held on the University of Indianapolis campus.
The group, consisting primarily of sergeants and above and drawn from IMPD and selected guest agencies, awarded Lewinski a standing ovation when he concluded his detailed documentation of what scientific research is revealing about the ways in which biology, physiology, and psychology influence officers’ perception, performance, and memory in high-stress, life-threatening encounters.
“Misunderstanding or ignoring these behavioral elements in controversial cases can easily destroy involved officers and their careers,” Lewinski said. He offered 2 real-world examples at the outset.
One concerned an officer who was accused of deliberately hurling a subject down a flight of stairs during an altercation inside a crowded dancehall. “His chief immediately announced to the media that the officer would be terminated and charged criminally,” Lewinski said.
Yet after Lewinski was called into the case as an expert, a radically different picture emerged. Based on his 45 years’ experience in the martial arts and on research into how suspects and officers are able to move during force confrontations, Lewinski knew it was “biomechanically impossible for the subject to have been thrown by the officer in the manner that was claimed.”
Indeed, a meticulous frame-by-frame examination of video of the incident revealed a pair of hands coming out of the crowd behind the officer and shoving the citizen. Eventually, a bouncer admitted that he had pushed the victim, and the officer’s insistence that he had, in fact, tried to prevent the man from falling was substantiated.
The officer was saved, but because of the chief’s initial statement, voiced “without understanding simple biomechanics,” the department’s line officers were left alienated and “the community was left believing the criminal justice system protects officers no matter what.”
The second case involved a motor officer who shot and killed a female prescription-drug abuser who tried to run him over with her car. In the eyes of his administrators and a zealous prosecutor, the officer had not been in any jeopardy and, in fact, had run after the woman’s car, caught up with it, and unjustifiably fired the fatal shots through her driver’s window in anger, not in self-defense. He was fired and eventually tried for second-degree murder, after the chief and the city’s mayor promised her family they’d be “well-compensated,” even before the case went to a grand jury.
In that case, the officer was ultimately exonerated, largely because of a Force Science reconstruction of the confrontation that again challenged the credibility of accusations made against him. Before that, the officer and his family suffered horrendous condemnations and indignities, including blunt suggestions by a lieutenant to the officer’s wife that she should abort her pregnancy “because the father of your child is a murderer.” [Click here to read Force Science News which explains the case and click here to read Force Science News which talks about this officer’s battle back to law enforcement.]
As Lt. Rick Snyder, who heads up the IMPD Leadership Academy, told the trainees: “Not everything is always as it appears on the surface.”
Yet, Lewinski pointed out, “too often command personnel make a snap decision about what happened and then, because of ego, they don’t back off from their initial assumptions. Once an administrator moves down a particular track, he or she is unlikely to come back. Even when confronted with scientific findings, they think, ‘I can’t be wrong, so the research must be wrong.’ ”
From the 2 gripping case histories, Lewinski led the class deeply into the behavioral science components of officer-involved shootings. He likened Force Science analysts “doing for gunfights what accident reconstructionists do for vehicle collisions, working backwards to figured out what happened.”
Administrators and other departmental leaders, he said, “need to understand the dynamics of force encounters from a Force Science perspective. How are you going to judge what happened unless you understand the behavioral science behind the officer’s actions? It’s an important responsibility of administrators and supervisors to take time to look at an incident from this perspective before pronouncing on it. Even in what appear to be really weird circumstances, we are asking you to take time to check things out before publicly or internally passing judgment.”
True leaders, he said, “understand very well that success lies in suppressing their own ego and dedicating themselves to the goals of their institution.”
Among other things, Lewinski stressed the importance of allowing an involved officer time to de-stress and rest before requiring a statement after a shooting. He cited cases in which departments have insisted on interviewing officers even though they’ve been awake for more than 32 hours after a near-death experience. This, despite the fact that research has shown that even with 19 hours of wakefulness a person can have cognitive impairment equal to a BAC reading of .08 (above the legal limit in most states).
Lewinski also urged the group to support more realistic firearms and decision-making training. “When officers are trained only to qualification standards, we are not preparing them for a gunfight,” he said. “Gunfights occur at a different speed than range shooting, and most current training never brings officers to the speed of a gunfight.”
In conclusion, he praised Snyder and the IMPD for the principles being stressed in the Leadership Academy. “I value the goals you are striving for and appreciate the opportunity to be part of this unique program,” he said. The Academy will be repeated this fall, with Lewinski again addressing participants. Snyder hopes the program will continue indefinitely as an ongoing service of the department. To apply for enrollment as an outside attendee, contact Snyder at: S8626@indy.gov
For more details on the Academy and its content, click here to read a PoliceOne article on the program written by Chuck Remsberg.