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More Force Science Successes In Real-World Situations

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Part of an occasional series

Earlier this year, we launched a series of articles on how Force Science teachings can be successfully applied to real-world law enforcement situations. Here are two more examples from graduates of the certification course in Force Science Analysis.

If you have experiences of your own that would be instructive to fellow readers, we’d like to hear from you. Just send us a brief summary to editor@forcescience.org and we’ll follow up. What you share could have a major impact on the lives and careers of others.

After 130+ years, a policy for post-critical incident protocol

His agency was about half way through writing the first critical incident procedures policy since its founding in 1879 when Conservation Warden Ryan Volenberg attended a Force Science certification course in Milwaukee.

“The timing was absolutely fantastic,” Volenberg told Force Science News. “I brought back information from the class that added insight on several important elements and we ended up with a thorough, fair, unbiased document that protects the field wardens’ interests, the department’s interests, and the public’s interest.”

The need for the Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources to codify its post-incident protocol became obvious about three years ago after one of its wardens, Jeremy Peery, joined sheriff’s deputies in his jurisdiction in the high-speed pursuit of an armed bank robber. Peery rammed the suspect’s vehicle into a ditch, the offender started shooting, and two deputies and Peery fired back. The suspect was killed.

“The last deadly force incident we’d had was back in the mid-’90s,” Volenberg says. “We never really had a post-shooting policy in place, and the department wasn’t as prepared to deal with Warden Peery’s situation in an organized manner as it would like to have been. There was a lot of confusion, and Peery didn’t know what was going on or what to expect. The department fully supported him, but there was no clear process to follow.”

As the dust settled from that incident, administrators acknowledged that the agency needed a formal policy in place so that officers and supervisors alike would know how to proceed after a shooting or other critical incident in which death or great bodily harm occurred.

After months of research and discussion, a draft document was underway when 33-year-old Volenberg, a department tactics instructor stationed in Two Rivers, WI, learned of the week-long certification course in Force Science Analysis scheduled in the spring of 2011 in Milwaukee. “That seemed like an excellent opportunity to gather input for the new policy,” he says–and he was right.

With the cost of the course picked up by his union and the DNR allowing him to attend on duty, he emerged from the class “loaded with information and fresh ideas.”

With the agency’s blessing, he “went through the partial draft line by line and red-inked things I saw as red flags.” As the document was revised and expanded, he continued to offer input that helped in shaping the final version.

A few examples:

Initially, the draft specified that the warden involved in the critical incident should write an incident report as well as give a voluntary statement. Volenberg successfully argued that requiring two accounts “just opened the possibility for inconsistencies and controversial issues for the department.”
He was able to emphasize why it was desirable to wait through two sleep cycles (roughly 48 hours) before taking a warden’s statement.

He clarified various legal points related to Garrity protocol and Miranda warnings that had been explained during the course by instructor/attorney John Hoag.

He persuaded drafters to include provisions for wardens to view videotape of the incident when available and to participate in a walk-through at the scene before giving a statement.

“It was refreshing to see how receptive the department was to accepting input from the Force Science course, especially coming from a boots-on-the-ground guy,” Volenberg says.

The 12-page policy, along with several appendices, was finalized last year; all personnel reviewed it and then were tested to be certain they understood it.

“We haven’t had a deadly force incident yet to test it,” Volenberg says, “but when something does happen, everyone now understands their personal responsibilities and what to expect once the shooting stops.”

The science of memory under stress “put my mind at rest”

For Ofcr. Edward Heidler, the most immediate application of content from the Force Science Analysis certification course concerned the nature of memory.

Nearly two years before attending the class in Milwaukee, Heidler, a 14-year-veteran of the Waukegan (IL) PD, was in the first shooting of his career. Along with a rookie trainee, he’d responded on a sweltering August Wednesday to a domestic complaint of two adult brothers fist-fighting. En route, “I just sensed it wasn’t going to be an easy call,” Heidler remembers–and it wasn’t.

The brawl spilled out into a small, fenced yard. The combatants’ mother and someone’s girlfriend were screaming. “Chaotic,” Heidler says.

He struggled to subdue one of the brothers, ripping the man’s shirt off in the process, while the rookie took on the other fighter and pinned him to the ground. Suddenly, Heidler’s suspect wrenched away, ran to a nearby spot where fencing was being repaired, and picked up a hammer lying in the dirt.

“He raised his arm and brought the hammer down on my partner’s head,” Heidler says. “Then he raised it up to strike again.”

Heidler, a SWAT team sniper and firearms instructor, drew his .40-cal. Glock and quickly fired six rounds. Five struck the assailant. “I saw him die,” Heidler says. “I heard his last breath and saw him roll his eyes.”

The rookie, his scalp cut and bleeding badly, escaped what could have been a fatal attack.

As months passed, what frustrated Heidler, he said, were memory issues. There were gaps in what he recalled of the action at the scene, and some details that he “remembered clearly” turned out not to be accurate.

“When I attended the certification course and learned about the science of memory under stress, all this was clarified for me,” Heidler says. “I learned that you can’t remember what you haven’t focused on and that distortions in your recollections are common and perfectly normal. This was very helpful in putting my mind at rest.”

Shortly after the cert class, a 29-year veteran of Heidler’s department encountered a subject in an alley who was randomly firing rounds from a handgun. “He’d just been released from prison, his girlfriend had left him, and he’d told friends he going to start shooting until someone stopped him. He had tons of ammo in his pockets.”

The officer first shot through the windshield of his squad car, then confronted the suspect on foot in the alley and put him down.

Heidler hurried to the scene from his lunch break, and a sergeant told him to ride in the ambulance to the hospital with the officer, who was “shaken up and needed to be checked out.”

On the way, Heidler began describing his reactions to his own shooting and shared relevant information he’d gathered from Force Science. As a union rep, he stayed with the officer throughout the investigation that followed, offering suggestions on rest and recovery prior to giving a statement, answering questions about post-critical incident symptoms that surfaced, and reassuring the officer regarding memory frustrations that he too had experienced.

“From my own situation and from the knowledge I’d gained from the certification course, I knew exactly what he was going through,” Heidler says. “He thanked me I can’t tell you how many times for helping him understand the process.”

For their respective shootings, Heidler and the older officer each received Medals of Valor. The rookie was awarded a Purple Heart. “More important,” Heidler says, “we lived to fight another day.”

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