Police Progress: Moving Beyond Ideas, Intuition, and Theories

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Ideally, police reform will involve the careful translation of research (knowledge) into practice. The American Society of Evidence-Based Policing recently made this case in Process for Translating Research to Practice, citing the requirement for collaboration between researchers and police practitioners.1 It’s this process that ensures reform proposals are not the product of untested ideas, intuition, or theories but instead reflect the latest human performance and decision-making research. In this article, I’ll lay out the role that Force Science has played in historic reform efforts, how we are supporting current reform, and why the police may have to fight for a seat at the table.

History of Collaborative Reform

When Dr. Lewinski founded the Force Science Institute, one of his earliest observations was police work’s “clinical” nature. “Although law enforcement is not typically associated with ‘clinical’ practices, the observations, assessments, decisions, and corresponding actions of officers align directly with the assessment, diagnosis, and subsequent ‘treatment’ of individuals in the ‘real world.’” Dr. Lewinski emphasized, “This is the very definition of clinical.2

With an appreciation for policing’s clinical nature, behavioral scientists at the Force Science Institute began working with police practitioners to study officers’ training, decisions, and performance during critical incidents. What became clear was that agencies, courts, and communities were evaluating officer performance without understanding the mental and physical processes impacting perception, decision-making, and performance.

In any profession, the absence of relevant knowledge tempts people to insert their ideas, intuition, and theories into policy and practice. Repeated enough, these feelings and unverified ideas can become the consensus. When consensus masquerades as science, it can quickly become “best practice” without ever being authenticated.

To start separating fact from consensus fiction, Force Science relied on independent research and existing human performance research to explain the mental and physical dynamics involved in deadly force encounters. The Force Science speed and movement studies erased many of the myths that had previously enjoyed professional consensus but were misleading use of force investigations.3

Force Science peer-reviewed studies and “human factors” training allowed the profession to move beyond ideas, intuition, and theories. Officers, attorneys, and courts now had the research needed to forensically validate that “action beats reaction.”4 This research and training challenged much of the consensus that had grown within the profession and dramatically changed how critical incidents were evaluated.

Years later, when reform advocates renewed their demand for effective de-escalation training, the Force Science Institute remained committed to advancing only evidence-based programs.

In collaboration with mental health professionals, emergency room physicians, human performance researchers, and police professionals, Force Science identified and integrated the best practices for managing agitation in a tactical setting. From this research and collaboration, the Force Science Realistic De-Escalation course was developed.5

Realistic De-Escalation confronted the myths and unsupported visions held by those who argued de-escalation was always an alternative to using force. The Force Science team produced training that reflected real-world tactical priorities and prepared officers to recognize and respond to the psychological and physiological influences affecting communication, persuasion, and de-escalation. 

The Next Round of Progress

As the country prepares for the next round of police progress, Force Science continues to support many of the agencies and civic leaders tasked with recommending and implementing reforms. As we continue to wrestle with these issues, it remains critically important that political consensus not be confused with science or be prematurely offered as “best practice.”  

Whatever direction reform efforts take policing, one area of progress will remain a top priority for Force Science; teaching instructors to develop and present effective, evidence-based training programs.  

In Why Law Enforcement Needs to take a Science-Based Approach to Training and Education, the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training (IADLEST) highlighted the latest survey of skill development and decision-making. In it, Dr. Bill Lewinski and Dr. Jennifer Robb confirmed that no matter the curriculum, the method of instruction remains critical for skill retention and effective decision-making.6

Keeping A Seat at the Table

In 2021 we expect that civic leaders, with the help of academics, activists, and attorneys, will continue to advance police reform through policies, legislation, and executive orders. Force Science will remain engaged with willing policymakers to ensure these reform proposals are not the product of ideas, intuition, or theories but instead reflect the latest human performance and decision-making research.

In our experience, many reform advocates, politicians, and journalists are motivated by a sincere desire to improve public safety. However, in Leading the National Discussion on Policing, we predicted that officers might have a tough time getting a seat at the table of police reform, “During these coming weeks and months, it is almost certain that you will be confronted by those who sincerely view the police (and those who support them) as the problem.7

Although we have not conducted a formal survey, police professionals have been validating our concern. With alarming regularity, seasoned officers have reported that their advice and experience is mostly ignored. Some report being left out of the discussions altogether, while other senior officials explained that politicians and activists have told them they would not be included in the police reform discussions. The reason given is that, as the police, they are the problem.

For those unable to join or influence reform proposals, it may be that reform advocates in your jurisdiction simply have different goals than those traditionally associated with policing (e.g., public safety, officer safety, law enforcement). If politicians or reform advocates are describing their programs as efforts to “achieve equity,” “support social justice,” or “dismantle systems of oppression,” then the training, education, and experience of veteran officers may not neatly align with their agenda. 

If that is your situation, joining the police reform discussion may require you first to understand the distinction between traditional reform (“constant and never-ending improvement”) and “progressive” police reform, a topic we will cover in the next Force Science News.

  1. See Process for Translating Research to Practice. American Society of Evidence-Based Policing. Last accessed January 28, 2021, at https://americansebp.org/process_for_translating_resear.php  []
  2. See Lewinski, W.J. (June 27, 2019). “Clinical” Law Enforcement. Force Science News. Last accessed January 25, 2021, at https://www.forcescience.org/2019/06/clinical-law-enforcement/ []
  3. See Remsberg, C. (June 15, 2005). Ejected Shell Casings Can’t Reliably Tell Much About a Shooter’s Location. Force Science News. Last accessed January 22, 2021, at https://www.forcescience.org/2005/06/ejected-shell-casings-cant-reliably-tell-much-about-a-shooters-location/ []
  4. See Remsberg, C. (April 22, 2005). Is The 21-Foot Rule Still Valid When Dealing With An Edged Weapon? (Part 1). Force Science News. Last Accessed January 22, 2021, at https://www.forcescience.org/2005/04/is-the-21-foot-rule-still-valid-when-dealing-with-an-edged-weapon-part-1/ []
  5. Learn more about Fundamentals of Realistic De-Escalation at https://www.forcescience.org/training/fundamentals-de-escalation/ and the Realistic De-Escalation Instructor Course at https://www.forcescience.org/training/de-escalation-instructor/ []
  6. See International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training, Why Law Enforcement Needs to Take a Science-Based Approach to Training and Education (2020). Last accessed January 25, 2021, at https://www.iadlest.org/training/science-based-training. []
  7. See Kliem, L.V. (June 25, 2020). Leading the National Discussion on Policing. Force Science News. Last accessed January 22, 2021, at https://www.forcescience.org/2020/06/leading-the-national-discussion-on-policing/ []
3 Responses
  1. Robert O'Connor

    Thanks for all you do to stay on top of police use of force issues. Keep it up! Bob O’Connor. Retired, Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Special Agent Supervisor

  2. Many thanks for the for the continued drive toward legitimate research with facts. The “Post Truth” culture has become nearly impossible to dialogue with any real sense of accomplishments. Law enforcement leaders and experts are regularly finding ourselves on “Boards” or “Committees” who find little to no value in our decades of experience. Especially, when it doesn’t conform to a preconceived narrative. Yet, no one sees the irony in those positions.

  3. Kathleen Spaulding

    I believe citizens and police men an women should be represented on your committees. They should have a voice.

Leave a Reply


  • Privacy Policy

Privacy Policy

Effective date: January 06, 2019

Force Science Institute, Ltd. (“us”, “we”, or “our”) operates the https://www.forcescience.org/ website (hereinafter referred to as the “Service”).

This page informs you of our policies regarding the collection, use, and disclosure of personal data when you use our Service and the choices you have associated with that data. Our Privacy Policy for Force Science Institute, Ltd. is based on the Privacy Policy Template from Privacy Policies.

We use your data to provide and improve the Service. By using the Service, you agree to the collection and use of information in accordance with this policy. Unless otherwise defined in this Privacy Policy, the terms used in this Privacy Policy have the same meanings as in our Terms and Conditions, accessible from https://www.forcescience.org/

Information Collection And Use

We collect several different types of information for various purposes to provide and improve our Service to you.

Types of Data Collected

Personal Data

While using our Service, we may ask you to provide us with certain personally identifiable information that can be used to contact or identify you (“Personal Data”). Personally identifiable information may include, but is not limited to:

  • Email address
  • First name and last name
  • Phone number
  • Address, State, Province, ZIP/Postal code, City
  • Cookies and Usage Data

Usage Data

We may also collect information on how the Service is accessed and used (“Usage Data”). This Usage Data may include information such as your computer’s Internet Protocol address (e.g. IP address), browser type, browser version, the pages of our Service that you visit, the time and date of your visit, the time spent on those pages, unique device identifiers and other diagnostic data.

Tracking & Cookies Data

We use cookies and similar tracking technologies to track the activity on our Service and hold certain information.

Cookies are files with small amount of data which may include an anonymous unique identifier. Cookies are sent to your browser from a website and stored on your device. Tracking technologies also used are beacons, tags, and scripts to collect and track information and to improve and analyze our Service.

You can instruct your browser to refuse all cookies or to indicate when a cookie is being sent. However, if you do not accept cookies, you may not be able to use some portions of our Service. You can learn more how to manage cookies in the Browser Cookies Guide.

Examples of Cookies we use:

  • Session Cookies. We use Session Cookies to operate our Service.
  • Preference Cookies. We use Preference Cookies to remember your preferences and various settings.
  • Security Cookies. We use Security Cookies for security purposes.

Use of Data

Force Science Institute, Ltd. uses the collected data for various purposes:

  • To provide and maintain the Service
  • To notify you about changes to our Service
  • To allow you to participate in interactive features of our Service when you choose to do so
  • To provide customer care and support
  • To provide analysis or valuable information so that we can improve the Service
  • To monitor the usage of the Service
  • To detect, prevent and address technical issues

Transfer Of Data

Your information, including Personal Data, may be transferred to — and maintained on — computers located outside of your state, province, country or other governmental jurisdiction where the data protection laws may differ than those from your jurisdiction.

If you are located outside United States and choose to provide information to us, please note that we transfer the data, including Personal Data, to United States and process it there.

Your consent to this Privacy Policy followed by your submission of such information represents your agreement to that transfer.

Force Science Institute, Ltd. will take all steps reasonably necessary to ensure that your data is treated securely and in accordance with this Privacy Policy and no transfer of your Personal Data will take place to an organization or a country unless there are adequate controls in place including the security of your data and other personal information.

Disclosure Of Data

Legal Requirements

Force Science Institute, Ltd. may disclose your Personal Data in the good faith belief that such action is necessary to:

  • To comply with a legal obligation
  • To protect and defend the rights or property of Force Science Institute, Ltd.
  • To prevent or investigate possible wrongdoing in connection with the Service
  • To protect the personal safety of users of the Service or the public
  • To protect against legal liability

Security Of Data

The security of your data is important to us, but remember that no method of transmission over the Internet, or method of electronic storage is 100% secure. While we strive to use commercially acceptable means to protect your Personal Data, we cannot guarantee its absolute security.

Service Providers

We may employ third party companies and individuals to facilitate our Service (“Service Providers”), to provide the Service on our behalf, to perform Service-related services or to assist us in analyzing how our Service is used.

These third parties have access to your Personal Data only to perform these tasks on our behalf and are obligated not to disclose or use it for any other purpose.


We may use third-party Service Providers to monitor and analyze the use of our Service.

  • Google AnalyticsGoogle Analytics is a web analytics service offered by Google that tracks and reports website traffic. Google uses the data collected to track and monitor the use of our Service. This data is shared with other Google services. Google may use the collected data to contextualize and personalize the ads of its own advertising network.You can opt-out of having made your activity on the Service available to Google Analytics by installing the Google Analytics opt-out browser add-on. The add-on prevents the Google Analytics JavaScript (ga.js, analytics.js, and dc.js) from sharing information with Google Analytics about visits activity.For more information on the privacy practices of Google, please visit the Google Privacy & Terms web page: https://policies.google.com/privacy?hl=en

Links To Other Sites

Our Service may contain links to other sites that are not operated by us. If you click on a third party link, you will be directed to that third party’s site. We strongly advise you to review the Privacy Policy of every site you visit.

We have no control over and assume no responsibility for the content, privacy policies or practices of any third party sites or services.

Children’s Privacy

Our Service does not address anyone under the age of 18 (“Children”).

We do not knowingly collect personally identifiable information from anyone under the age of 18. If you are a parent or guardian and you are aware that your Children has provided us with Personal Data, please contact us. If we become aware that we have collected Personal Data from children without verification of parental consent, we take steps to remove that information from our servers.

Changes To This Privacy Policy

We may update our Privacy Policy from time to time. We will notify you of any changes by posting the new Privacy Policy on this page.

We will let you know via email and/or a prominent notice on our Service, prior to the change becoming effective and update the “effective date” at the top of this Privacy Policy.

You are advised to review this Privacy Policy periodically for any changes. Changes to this Privacy Policy are effective when they are posted on this page.

Contact Us

If you have any questions about this Privacy Policy, please contact us:

  • By email: support@forcescience.org
  • By visiting this page on our website: https://www.forcescience.org/contact
  • By phone number: 866-683-1944
  • By mail: Force Science Institute, Ltd.