Dr. Lewinski: On Creating Expert Decision-makers

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Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Institute, sees clearly the “clinical” nature of law enforcement and the need for excellent decision-making: “The police world is just like other clinical professions. Officers must engage in educated assessments, decisions, and interventions.” Dr. Lewinski explained: “Before the police act, before any intervention, there is a decision. Intuitively, society may associate police decision-making with use of force, and certainly those decisions require specialized knowledge and skills unique to law enforcement. But society expects police to operate across multiple professional fields, and to be excellent at all of them.”1

Dr. Lewinski continued: “In addition to the knowledge and skills needed to effectively prevent and respond to violence, the police make decisions across many disciplines, including law and policy, emergency medical response, neighborhood disputes, mental health, and family violence cases. It is critical that preparation for this interdisciplinary expertise and decision-making begins in earnest at the academy, especially when you consider that two-thirds of American officers do not participate in any formal field training programs.”

In keeping with this view, Force Science is developing academy-level training that reflects the complex, clinical nature of police work. Helping agencies move beyond just teaching “learning objectives,” and technical and tactical proficiency, Force Science is developing curriculum and teaching methods that will enable officers to learn and practice making effective assessments and decisions across disciplines and within the current confines of their academy curriculum.

Dr. Lewinski was quick to point out: “Learning advanced decision-making skills is critical, and it is expected in the early stages of professional training that experienced trainers will guide decision-making training. At this stage, students are taught to identify critical elements that will help them quickly make sense of an event. Understanding what is occurring and how this incident should be influenced to bring about their desired outcome assists the recruit in effective and relevant decision making and also in learning how to see and read future incidents. This knowledge, understanding, and application stage of training is important, but it shouldn’t stop there.”

“As training evolves, recruits should progress from considering tactics in support of pre-determined outcomes to thinking critically about the goals and potential consequences of their actions.” Dr. Lewinski stated: “Recruits should be taught how to create and exploit discretionary time and use communication and persuasion for information gathering and influence. Cross discipline education must continue to broaden the recruit’s insight, knowledge and early identification of behavior patterns and schemas. Curiosity and critical thinking should fuel recruits as they learn to frame problems from broader perspectives and begin using multi-source feedback to develop situational awareness and, ideally, situational understanding and influence.”

“Ultimately, the interdisciplinary attributes (knowledge and skills) that recruits are developing in the academy must be integrated in dynamic and ever-changing problem sets. Assessments and judgment must be practiced under circumstance that reflect the real-world (clinical environments) in which officers will operate.” Dr. Lewinski continued: “For police, this means training scenarios that also approximate the high-stakes, time-constrained, and ambiguous circumstances they’ll see on the street. It is the early, repeated, and successful integration of interdisciplinary attributes—including law, ethics, and values—that will drive effective decisions and performance in the community.”

Lifetime Learning and Sensemaking

The intensive academy education and training being envisioned and developed by Dr. Lewinski and Force Science is just the beginning. “Like all professions, law enforcement is defined in part by its requirement for continuing education and specialized knowledge.” Dr. Lewinski continues to be impressed with law enforcement professionals: “So many of the officers I meet are committed lifetime learners. They are expert decision-makers and make a habit of assessing events through strategic empathy—the perspective and beliefs of those they are attempting to influence. They recognize that an individual’s feelings, thoughts, and attitudes are the result of their own sensemaking, and it is this worldview that sets expectations, informs trust, and drives the other person’s conduct. Remember, your communication is useless if it is not understood or does not influence the thinking and behavior of those to whom you are directing it. The experts also realize that the decisions they make about what they do and say has to take into account the context of the incident and the behavior of others, but also their ability to make contact, be understood and establish influence”

“Understanding the perspective of others allows expert decision-makers to anticipate, mitigate, or even avoid the unintended consequences of their decisions. It also has the added benefit of testing their own understanding of events.”

Dr. John R. Black, president of Aragon National Inc., echoes Dr. Lewinski’s point: “What’s true of any law enforcement response is that the outcome started with a decision, and before that decision was an attempt to make sense of the situation. It is important to train decision-making so that officers understand and consider the broad expectations and perspectives of those impacted by their decisions.”

The Next Level

Dr. Lewinski and Force Science has been at the forefront of police research for decades and has been watching the ever-growing professionalism of officers. “Policing is no longer simply a trade and it shouldn’t be treated as such. It requires a high level of knowledge and skills in a variety of disciplines and the ability to integrate great decision making with these attributes. Force Science is excited to work with some of the world’s top researchers and trainers to develop the next level of law enforcement decision-making training!”

  1. See “Clinical” Law Enforcement, in which Dr. Lewinski noted: “Although law enforcement is not typically associated with ‘clinical’ practices, the observations, assessments, decisions, and corresponding actions of officers ‘on the street’ align directly with the assessment, diagnosis, and subsequent ‘treatment’ of individuals in the ‘real-world’—the very definition of ‘clinical.’” “Although law enforcement is not typically associated with ‘clinical’ practices, the observations, assessments, decisions, and corresponding actions of officers ‘on the street’ align directly with the assessment, diagnosis, and subsequent ‘treatment’ of individuals in the ‘real-world’—the very definition of ‘clinical.’” []
1 Response
  1. Mike

    Great article! In been drafting a paper on decisional mental models (OODA/AAADA) for police, I came across Klein’s research on naturalistic-decision making (NDM) and rapid-primed decision-making (RPD), mostly in Sources of Power. His ideas largely square with those presented in this article and in the FS course. I would be interested to know Force Science’s take on NDM/RPD research as it applies to modern policing. Especially helpful would be further elaboration on creating realistic training and how to promote interdisciplinary studies in academies.

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