In my last blog post I spoke to the Ferguson effect, questioned if it existed, and if so, what should be done about it. But, only a few days after the blog posted, I attended the International Homicide Investigators Association National Symposium in New Orleans. While there I had the opportunity to listen to a presenter, Dr. Bill Lewinski, PhD. Executive Director of the Force Science Institute (FSI). The Force Science Institute is dedicated to the study of human dynamics in high stress, rapidly unfolding force encounters, most specifically, police-involved.

I was blown away by some of the discoveries, observations and facts uncovered by Dr. Lewinski and the FSI in their research. The topics included, but were not limited to, use of force policy changes and analogies comparing police officers and other professionals with their training methods. This post brings attention to three subjects surrounding the Ferguson Effect.

  1. The false narrative is causing adjustments that will expose police officers to greater harm.
  2. Heightened awareness that we judge police officers unfairly, as their training can never really get them ready for a real life or death encounter.
  3. The importance of not rushing to judgment when eyewitness or video accounts tell a bleak story until all the facts are in.

Policies Are Changing

Dr. Lewinski spoke to the fact police departments large and small are changing policies to cater to appeasement of critics, rather than basing the policy change on facts. In a major metropolitan police department, there is a new policy that “mandates that officers are held accountable for EVERY shot they fire.” Essentially, that policy is suggesting that the officer shoot once, assess, shoot, assess, and so on.

I never personally fired my weapon in the performance of duty, so I cannot speak from direct knowledge, but I have been involved in officer firearm discharge investigations. There are plenty examples of officers that fired their firearm and indicated they estimated shooting significantly less shots than they actually had. For example, they stated they fired three shots, only to find out they had fired ten times. What does that mean? To me, someone is going to get hurt and that someone is a police officer.

Training Is Key

Another topic that Dr. Lewinski addressed had to do with use of force training. His analogies were quite interesting. In noting that police officers generally speaking are very well trained; we can all agree that we would welcome more and better training. But, when compared to a medical doctor, as an example, Dr. Lewinski raises the issue of clinicals.

A newly minted M.D. conducting her first appendix removal will have probably performed numerous surgeries on cadavers beforehand. How many anatomical dissections of those cadavers do you think she participated in? How many actual surgeries does a resident M.D. observe up close and personal before they go out on their own? How many surgeries with an experienced surgeon looking over their shoulder? When can a police officer ever engage in a real life or death gun battle during police academy training or in-service training? When can a police officer ever fight for control of his firearm where the stakes are final? How many real shootings can a police officer observe from a front row seat before they ever hit the road? How many shootings can a police officer participate in with an experienced officer guiding them?

The first firearm “in the performance of duty” discharge by an officer will be their first, period. There are no “clinical” parallels for cops. And oh, by the way, the officer has to make the life or death decision in less than one second. Is there anything that compares to that outside of law enforcement and the military? Who should we entrust to question and judge a police officer’s action? I for one trust the world’s fairest criminal justice system. But, we have to let it play its course.

Three Sides to Every Story

Finally, a video of an officer-involved shooting that Dr. Lewinski showed was breathtaking to the observers. It was an iPhone-recorded video of a car chase where the vehicle comes to a stop, the man gets out of the car, raises his hands and is shot in the back. It was disturbing. Dr. Lewinski noted the video was posted on YouTube before most police commanders of the agency involved even knew it happened. But, this video is the poster child for not judging before all the facts are in.

After breaking down the video it was revealed that the “victim” exited the car, drew a weapon and punched it toward an officer out of camera view to the left, and then dropped the weapon and raised his hands all in one swift motion. The shot you hear in the video appears to take place after his hands are raised. But what is not taken in consideration is the speed of sound travels at 1126 feet per second. The video was recorded by a person a fair distance away; estimated at 200-300 feet. With the video adjusted for the time and distance variations, the shot is actually discharged before the victim’s hands go up. And considering the drawing of a weapon and pointing it at the officers was blocked by his own body, this video only told part of a story, not the entire story.

Ignorance Leads to Demise

I think every police officer, and therefore by extension, every police leader, politician and journalist should sit through Dr. Lewinski’s presentation, if not an entire “citizen’s academy”, where this presentation is part of the curriculum. As police leaders, politicians and journalists they wield extreme power. They should only be allowed to perform in their positions as law enforcement leaders, take office as a politician, or report on the news after properly being prepared for what one day may occur under their respective employ. They will be enlightened and can no longer claim ignorance as to how these events play out in the real world, and therefore; not judge until an investigation is complete. No longer will people who have dedicated their lives to protect and serve be destroyed. One would hope, anyway.

If you want to read more about the research and findings of the Force Science Institute on click here.

Tom Joyce
Tom is a retired member of the NYPD in the rank of Lieutenant Commander of Detectives. He commanded the NYPD Cold Case Squad upon his retirement and additionally held many other roles within the detective and organized crime bureaus. Prior to working with Vigilant Solutions, Tom was the Director of Law Enforcement Market Planning for LexisNexis Government Services. Tom often lectures on various subject matters relating to Homicide Investigations and has published numerous articles on criminal investigations. Tom is currently a member of the International Homicide Investigators Association’s Advisory Board.
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