Friday, November 27, 2009

Ooops I Said It

by Joel Shults

I pride myself on guarding my words and feelings. I'm not unemotional but
I don't need the world to know that. I practiced for years to get my face
frozen in that authoritative "don't f*** with me" look. Sure I get chills
anytime I sing the National Anthem and I get misty eyed at most old hymns.
I get plain silly and giddy around my little granddaughter and at the half
century mark I have plenty of stories about how things were back in the
day. My wife and kids will tell you I don't say "I love you" very often,
and certainly not automatically at the end of phone calls or with any
frequency that would wear out the phrase. Every decade or so seems to get
the point across.

And yet, there I was, at a job interview no less (don't worry, my boss
doesn't read PoliceOne), answering a routine question about priorities. I
was telling them that my first customers are my officers. I explained that
if I don't serve them with the same care that I expect them to serve the
public then I can't hold them accountable for the way they treat their
customers. I rambled on and then dropped the L word just a easy as you
please. I said I love and respect my officers. Yes - love. Dang. What
happened to my tough guy persona?

I didn't get the job. But I did realize that I really do love my troops.
The ones I send out everyday. Cut the melodrama, but the reality is
there's no guarantee they'll finish their shift and get to go home to
untie their own shoelaces. If they call I'll come running and I know that
the same is true if I need anything from them. Maybe the boyscouts and
green berets and surenos have the same thing going for them, but I
wouldn't trade mine for anybody's.

But don't tell them I said that. I don't want them to think I'm getting soft.

Rules of Engagement

I've been gathering helpful hints from news accounts so here are the rules of engagement according to the media:
Never shoot anyone over 60.
Never shoot anyone under 18.
Never shoot anyone who has a disability.
Never shoot anyone on their birthday or the night before their wedding.
Never shoot anyone who likes children, was going to make something of themselves, or had an interesting hobby.
Never shoot anyone of a different race, gender, or culture than you.
Never shoot anyone unless they have a bigger, closer, and more visible weapon than you.
Always try to figure out why somebody wants to kill you; it's obviously something you said or did that provokes them.
Always give the person at least one chance to shoot or beat you first.
Tasers are evil but you may use them if the person has a gun.
Since you have unlimited back-up immediately at all times, two big strong police officers can always easily subdue another person due to your special training and other superpowers without harming them.
How hard can it be?

Five Ways to Listen to Your Brain

By Dr. Joel F. Shults
The problem with talking to cops about stress is that there’s a little too much touchy-feely going on in some of those discussions. So let’s talk biology. Our brain soup is not a hot tub with little bubbles of hearts and balloons percolating around just waiting to be nurtured. It’s a complicated but primitive mess of chemistry and tissue. Much of what we interpret and label as “feelings” are biological processes over which we may have limited control.
No tough cops want to think they have lost control of their feelings. I sure don’t want to think that. My job and identity are defined by self-control. I need it, I like it, I’m proud of it, and I’m not giving it up. But if I break a leg and it hurts and makes me limp, that has nothing to do with self-control. It’s just a limitation of biology caused by the stress of somebody’s bumper hitting me at 35mph (been there, done that!). The same is true with my brain being thumped by stress. I can deal with it now, or limp with it later.
Basically your brain is operating in two different worlds: the rational and the primitive. When it comes to stress there’s a part of your brain that is sneaking around like a naughty teenager. Nestled comfortably somewhere behind your forehead is your parent-brain sitting in the den placidly smoking a pipe and reading Plato. The brain in the back of your skull is the teenager down in the basement bedroom doing God knows what. Like any parent of a teenager, the calm, rational brain relaxing in the den and analyzing life with a cool, experienced hand doesn’t necessarily want to know what’s going on in the basement. Like any teenager, the primitive basement brain doesn’t think the rational brain needs to know all of its business, but still needs attention and sometimes acts up just to see of the parent gives a darn.
So congratulations on that teen brain of yours. There it sits, nestled in the brain stem, probably thinking about sex. Even if you’re an old duffer like me that impulsive, adrenaline fueled, hormone charged bundle of nerves still wants to run things and doesn’t know when to shut up and behave.
Chances are your goofy youngster is doing what it thinks is best to help us survive, but making us miserable in the process. Basement brain is selfishly worried about surviving right this moment; it has no sense of the future. It doesn’t care about digestion or fighting off disease or starting a family. It only cares about keeping nerves at attention to recognize threats and getting blood to large muscle groups to be ready to fight. Teen brain doesn’t realize that putting the body in a state of hyper-alertness damages the parent’s ability to relax, engage in emotional closeness, sleep well, digest food, have fulfilling sex, or concentrate on small details. The parent brain is too busy compensating for these icky feelings to pay attention to the stuff in the basement even though that’s really where the problem is.
Are you getting the analogy? Is it time for you to get in touch with your inner 14 year old – the one that’s stressing you out and you don’t even know it? Consider one or more of these suggestions:
1) Ask the people who know you best “Do you think police work has changed me?” Don’t be defensive. Listen and let them answer honestly. Ask at least three people and compare their answers. Your self-awareness will impress them.
2) Be a watcher and listener. Cut the bravado and big talk. If there’s a tough case a fellow officer just handled you don’t have to get your puppy dog face on and say “How did that make you feel?” Just listen. What you hear may tell you as much about yourself as it does about the other person.
3) Ask a younger version of yourself if you’re sadder, more tired, less connected than you used to be. Think about who you were a few years ago. We all toughen up – that’s a good thing; but when we grew our thick skin did we trap a cold heart in there too?
4) Casually ask your doctor about stress – both traumatic and cumulative – and see where you are on the checklist of warning signs. If you can’t manage to ask a professional then start Googling and find some good information about PTSD, stress, and healthy lifestyles.
5) Email me. I want to hear you. I might even talk some sense into that teenaged brain of yours.

Friday, November 20, 2009

LEOK – What The Studies Don’t Tell Us

By Dr. Joel F. Shults
As the 1992 FBI publication Killed in the Line of Duty states: “The specific factors that contribute to a particular law enforcement officer being placed in a particular situation that leads to his or her slaying remain unclear”. How helpful then, are the FBI’s publications on law officer assaults and line of duty deaths? Law Enforcement Officers Killed (LEOK) seminars are being presented throughout the country and are in high demand. These programs are made available by the FBI and are a chilling reminder of the savagery of attacks on police officers.
Scientific research always includes the researchers’ assessment of the limitations of the project both in terms of methodology and interpretation of the results. This article addresses concerns about the limitations of the LEOK research and seminars. The observations stated here is not a critique, but rather an objective exploration of where the value of these studies lies.
Data sets are not predictive of outcomes
Analyzing the past is challenging enough, predicting a future encounter and its outcome is much like predicting the weather – the perfect storm may somehow be related to the unseen flap of butterfly wings that swirl a set of molecules into motion. LEOK studies examine historical occurrences and while valuable in examining trends they should be used with great caution for establishing paradigms for predicting future assaults. There is some danger that officers will trade old inaccurate preconceptions of how they will be attacked for new inaccurate preconceptions.
Statistics and charts show what percentage of officers were engaged in certain activities, where attacks occurred relative to offenders’ homes, and the most prevalent season, day, and hour of officer murders. But the preeminent risk is that there is no hour, no season, no day, and no assignment which is unrepresented in officer murders. Will I behave differently when working day shift knowing that my chances of being murdered between breakfast and lunch are half that of being murdered between lunch and supper? Am I then to be half as cautious? Does a finding that the .45 ACP caliber of bullet killed the same percentage of lawmen as the .22 magnum determine how cautiously I deal with an armed offender?
Interviews with offenders offer only subjective assessments
No claim is made by the FBI or LEOK trainers that there is a singular profile of a cop-killer. Profiles are composites; an average of characteristics that seem to appear with some frequency. The psychopathic ramblings and life observations of caged cop killers make for interesting case studies, but there are limitations to the generalization of their comments to all or most deadly encounters.
Limitations include possible distortions in the offender’s recall of the deadly interchange. Sensory distortion in a violent incident is not limited to the victim officer; an offender is undergoing a traumatic event as well. Interviews are necessarily conducted years after the event, during which offenders may have reconstructed the entire sequence of events as well as their rationale and feelings at the time. Only consenting inmates were interviewed, which may have created a self-selecting research sample that differs in some way from a more inclusive sample. In other words talkers may construct their view of the world and themselves differently than the non-talkers whose tales are not told.
Statistical averages have no mathematical predictive value
Remember the difference between mean and mode from you statistics class? A mean is an average. If you have a study sample of a killers that consists of a twenty year old male, a thirty year old woman, and an seventy year old female the average age of your group is forty even though no actual 40 year old exists. The mode is the most frequently occurring number or category. In our group, the gender mode is female. Neither of those statistics would explain nor predict an officer death at the hands of the 60 year old male. Averages and modalities make for interesting reading but do not provided an analytical tool for a given set of circumstances that may occur. Therefore average ages, average years of experience, average distances from the attacker are all of interest but do not provide answers for officers in their unique confrontations.
Officer profiles offer no predictive value
One of the most often cited results of the LEOK study is that the victim officers are characterized as friendly, well-liked, hard working, service oriented, less likely to use force, breaks some officer safety and policy rules, feels he can “read” people, looks for the good in others, and is easy going. This set of characteristics was found in the Violent Encounters study released in 2006 as well as the 1992 study. Trainers should be very cautious in the application of this finding. One problem is that if we assume that these traits are somehow causative or contributory factors to officer deaths then to be safe an officer should be unfriendly, disliked, avoid hard work and public service, use forces frequently, follow every procedure to the letter every time, make no assumptions about a person, assume the worst in everyone, and be constantly uptight.
We simply could not police this way. A second limitation is that these descriptive terms are too general to be useful and there is no study that indicates that these traits don’t describe most of the 700,000 police officers who survive every year. Police officers must be chameleon by habit and adapt to individual situations. We cannot know from these studies if the behavior characteristics of the victim officers were at play during the violent encounters studies, nor if those same behavior characteristics were actually very successful in previous encounters in preventing violence.
The 2007 FBI LEOK publication cites 57 officers feloniously killed in 51 separate incidents. Of these: 16 officers died in 2007 from felonious attacks during arrest situations, 16 officers died as results of ambush situations, 11 officers died during traffic pursuits/stops, 5 officers died while responding to disturbance calls, 4 officers died while investigating suspicious persons/circumstances, 3 officers died during tactical situations. We have no indication that the officers who died by ambush, and therefore had no way to prevent the attack, are profiled any differently than those who may have had a chance to avoid their own death with tactical or perceptual improvements. We can certainly believe that officers who die in tactical situations are among the highest trained, best equipped, and most aware of the circumstances into which they are called. Nearly half of the killers interviewed said that there was nothing the officer could have done after the initial contact to save their lives.
Regarding the trait of reluctance to use force we must question the scale used to measure such a trait. Rapid decisions about application of policy and procedure result in officers’ technically straying from guidelines on a daily basis. The contrast between the dead officers’ actions and the second guessing of officers reviewing the event is predictable and not instructive of any actual contrast between victim officers and the general police population in terms of use of force decisions. In addition, although failing to wait for back up is cited as a fault, almost half of the assaults on officers studied in the 2006 report occurred where more than one officer was present and it is not known to what degree back up was available in the remaining cases.
An aspect of survival that is noted in the analysis of selected assaults on officers in the 1997 FBI publication In The Line of Fire is the officers’ will to live. This condition, frequently alluded to in officer survival literature, is difficult to define and is often reverently regarded as essential to surviving. Without critiquing the fact that this characteristic is not quantifiable, an objective examination of this aspect – whether it is by nature biological, metaphysical, or psychological – suggests that it has a mythical quality about it. Anecdotal evidence of the value of the survival mindset is very strong, and has been acculturated in a generation of police officers. To imply that some officers die because they lacked a will to live is not a conclusion based on defensible logic.
These factors create a great deal of doubt as to the usefulness of officer victim profiles. It is probable that knowing the victim profile is of no particular value since it may simply be saying that police officers who are killed are like every other police officer in general. We have no balancing data relative to officers not included in the studies to assume otherwise.
Offender profiles offer no predictive value
The analysis of offenders provides no predictive tools to assess an officer’s risk in a particular set of circumstances, as attested in the 1992 report. We also have little data to show whether, among the relatively small sample of police killers among the vast number of criminals imprisoned (and the even larger sample of unidentified violent criminals), the characteristics of police killers are significantly different than other criminals or even the population at large. Even if we could predict with some accuracy the likelihood of a person killing a police officer the victim officer would not normally know this at the time of the encounter. We also know that offenders typically have had numerous non-lethal encounters with law enforcement prior the fatal one, making a contact as unpredictable with the profile knowledge as without.
Offenders interviewed apparently often mention that they sized the officer up and decided to resist or not based on those calculations. Commentators may be overemphasizing the role of the offender’s view of the officer as professional or unprofessional as a principle contributing factor to the felons’ decisions to attack. The fact that this element is mentioned by several offenders does not imbue their comments with credibility given these killers’ skewed sense of their world. Nor does it really instruct an officer how to give off that aura of confidence and competence to a person whose values are contrary to those of law enforcement. It is ironic that we give credence to an offender who “reads” an officer’s ability to handle a situation yet we contend that that same characteristic in officers is faulty and may contribute to their death.
Some of the most important data exists in that which is not studied
A major gap in research on use of force is an analysis of successful encounters to compare and contrast with the kinds of violent resistance that generates reports and documentation. In other words we study the failures and not the successes. Compliant police encounters offer up no data. A recent survey indicates that 60-80% of officers will make a deadly force decision in their career and yet we know that a small number of officers actually discharge their weapon during a career at a suspect. We do not systematically study the successful outcomes - the unpulled trigger, the holstered nightstick, the uninjured officer. While the Violent Encounters study interviewed surviving officers of serious attacks, we don’t fully know why similar situations vary in their outcomes, as is acknowledged in the preface to In The Line of Fire. We don’t know how many offenders wanted to or had the opportunity to kill an officer and decided against murder for whatever reason.
Despite good faith efforts to dissect the anatomy of a police officer’s line of duty death, these tragic events represent a sample size within the universe of all suspect resistance and police contacts. Police officers engage in hundreds of thousands of contacts every day. A tiny number of those contacts results in an officer death or in any use of lethal force. We don’t really know what is different about all those compliant outcomes compared to the deadly ones, other than the latter are highly investigated and the former are not. We can’t simply say that a peaceful arrest was when the officer did everything right and a fatal encounter is where the officer erred in some deadly way.
Another limitation of the flagship 1992 report is that it is based on incidents chosen for study that occurred between 1975 and 1985. As we approach the end of the first decade of the 21st century we realize that much about technology, society at large and the police profession in particular has changed since those events took place. The conclusions from those events may be different than the aggregate of police killings in recent years.
The FBI and other scholarly studies on officer deaths and assaults must continue. The value of these studies may be seen in an increased awareness by officers of the dangers they face. The limitations of these studies in their methodology and in the assumptions and applications that are drawn from them must be carefully measured by users of the information. None of these studies makes a claim that any resulting information will be a predictor of a specific future event or prescribe specific responses to an extremely dynamic violent event. This important research must certainly continue but at present the predictive value of these studies provides only a dramatic reminder that murderous assaults can occur anytime, anywhere.