Sunday, October 13, 2013

Contextual Compliance Took Kit

The word is spreading that the use of force continuum is dying a slow death. While the continuum model has served as a useful instructional tool for trainees over the years it has serious and even dangerous limitations as a tool for application in a field environment.
Police officers engaged in encounters with non-compliant offenders may feel that they are legally obligated to climb the use-of-force ladder and de-escalate to compliance, hesitating to take safer immediate assertive actions to end unlawful resistance. The stair- step dance of “he does that then I can do this” confuses practitioners, prosecutors, and juries. Fortunately the US Supreme Court has a refreshingly realistic standard of reasonableness which has yet to be fully grasped by policy makers of my generation still trembling from the Warren court years.
This article offers five principles of understanding encounters with non-compliant offenders under the doctrinal umbrella of offender-centered decision making. That is to say that the subject with whom a peace officer is in lawful contact is the primary decider of the tenor of the encounter.
In all cases where the officer is dealing with an encounter outside of a purely consensual one (in which the subject has the right to simply turn and walk away) the law explicitly demands that the subject comply with the officer.
1. Training and report writing about non-compliant encounters should concentrate on the offender’s behavior and accurately portray the officer as reacting to the offender in the context of the event.
While this principle may not sound radically different than current practice it is a contrast to the continuum model. The continuum doctrine and its underlying premise is that officers are legally and morally bound to use no force where the remote possibility exists of avoiding it and to use the least force theoretically possible in the least intrusive way for the shortest possible amount of time.
The reality is that when an offender is non-compliant (they become an offender at the moment of non-compliance) the officer has the legal and moral obligation to gain compliance as quickly and safely as possible. Rather than lowest force, we must transition to a most effective paradigm. In this context we would define “effective” as that which is quickest and safest. The most effective means of gaining compliance may not be the least possible force but must remain reasonable.
That which is most effective, i.e. fast and safe, tends to result in shorter physical contact when a hands-on disposition is inevitable. Briefer contact means less likelihood of injury to offender, bystander, and officer. In that light, application of effective means to end non-compliance is a moral imperative as well as tactically superior and justifiable.
In addition, while de-escalation is one of the many tools in the compliance tool kit it is not always wise to employ attempts at verbal calming. Some conditions contributing to non-compliance are medical emergencies dependent on brain chemistry that will not respond to calming techniques and that will only get worse and less treatable over time. This does not argue against crisis intervention methods, but rather puts those methods in the tool box for use when appropriate and to be left in the box when they are not.
2. Restructure the language of reporting to eliminate the term “use of force” from reports, policy, and training as much as possible.
The baggage that comes along with this term unfairly colors any objective report and tacitly implies that the officer’s actions are suspect and brutal. It promotes the assumption that if force was used it was the officer’s fault and he or she has some explaining to do.
In keeping with the concept that the decision to be non-compliant is with the offender, an officer’s efforts to gain lawful compliance should be described in those offender-centered terms with the officer identified as the victim. The subject of the narrative should be the offender, not the officer. Putting emphasis on the behavior of the offender and the context of the encounter more accurately portrays the offender’s unlawful behavior and minimizes the perception of the officer as the aggressor. The officer leads the reader to agree with him or her that the use of force was imposed upon them by the offender.
With offender-centered reporting, agencies may decide that separate forms for reporting use of force are unnecessary. Those reports were important in an earlier era of policing but can be supplanted by a more comprehensive approach to report making.
Any efforts required to gain offender compliance should be a part of the offense report narrative; fully documented in the accurate and comprehensive description of the offender’s unlawful behavior and the context of the contact. The offender-centered concept of non-compliance enhances officers’ awareness of their victimization which, in turn, will likely enhance the prosecutors’ and juries’ perceptions as well.
Use of force reports are by their nature defensive and carry the cloud of accusation over them. Documenting non-compliance puts the burden where it should be – on the offender’s behavior in the context of a criminal act of resistance.
In using language to convey the circumstances of the event officers should avoid passive language like “he was then subdued” and avoid mere labeling such as “resistive”, “combative”, “uncooperative”, “non-compliant” unless providing specific descriptions of behavior such as walking away, pushing, refusing to answer, fighting, etc.
3. Context is critical.
The context of the encounter gives the officer facts that determine his or her course of action. These facts are almost always unknown to the offender, but the offender’s ignorance of them must not justify his or her failure to comply. The law requires compliance.
The significance of environmental, social, and historical factors that color the officer’s perceptions of the encounter will escape the reader of the report unless the officer explicitly guides the reader to navigate the cumulative significance of those factors. All of the factual circumstances of the event and the officer’s subjective interpretation of them must be communicated in the report.
The reader of the report must have as much information as possible about the situation faced by the officer. Standard concerns such as time of day, number of persons, and knowledge of the offender’s emotional disposition should be articulated. Officers must give voice to their fears and concerns even though documenting fear seems counter to our self-image. Those who read the officer’s report should not be left to guess or assume the appropriateness of the officer’s actions without a fully painted picture.
4. Use the “Contextual Compliance Tool Kit” language and imagery.
Stage and step compliance policies should be altered to explicitly recognize the rapid decision making and fluidity inherent in non-compliance events. The metaphor of the tool kit is much more useful than some geometric graphic.
Rubrics, tables, arcs, stair steps, and wheels all imply some rational orbit of events when a person resists a police officer. The process of deciding how to gain compliance is a logical one, not trial and error.
The use of force continuum is predicated on trial and error – if step two doesn’t work go to step three and so on. It implies a willingness to err on the side of being ineffective. Achieving compliance efficiently is rational – the officer will select the tool most likely to be effective in solving the problem of non-compliance.
5. Document success.
Officers tend to subtly express in their reports that resorting to force was somehow a failure on their part. Lawful use of force is never a failure, except perhaps a failure of judgment on the part of the offender. Gaining compliance is what law enforcement does. That’s the “enforcement” part. It is what police are hired to do, empowered to do, entrusted to do, and expected to do. It is necessary and honorable.
The narrative regarding the efforts to gain compliance should be as positive as a realistic account can be. Is there a happy ending when somebody is subdued by multiple officers and handcuffed? Certainly in the universal sense there was failure somewhere – family, school, religion, government, personal choices; all the things the criminologists study. But the officer’s mission is direct: gain compliance effectively. If that was accomplished then say so in the report. Document all of the care-giving that followed the offender’s resistance, including rights advisements, checking tightness of handcuffs and restraints, and obtaining medical care.
Policy makers need to understand that the reactive measures of the past generation to lawsuits and bad publicity have achieved their purpose. We must proceed with caution and be ever mindful of the potential for litigation and loss of public confidence while scrupulously guarding civil rights of all whom we encounter. We need not agree with the enemies of law enforcement nor apologize for gaining compliance under the law – using all the tools in our tool kit.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Ready, Set, Go - the Attack Cascade

When does a waterfall start? If you wait to furiously paddle your kayak when the water goes from horizontal to vertical you will be swept away. Just like a waterfall starts upstream, an attack or escape begins cascading long before the fist or feet fly.

No batter waits for a pitcher to make a throw before taking a swing. They make their decision based on practiced observations of pitcher behavior ( . Cops should be trained to act based on behavioral cues of attack or flight, rather than to react to an attack at its peak. Critics would call this response preemptive, but the reality is that, just like the batter's swing based on the pitcher's windup, the fight has begun before the first blow is struck. We'll rely on science to justify our actions in the courts.

With the offender who senses a threat (Crap! I'm going to jail!) his primitive brain alerts the body and starts the adrenaline for fight or flight. Depending on the magnitude of the threat, according to that individual's perceptions,  the primitive brain can override the thinking process and take over the body. (I don't know why I ran, officer. I just did!)  If the threat is not overwhelming, the primitive brain gives the thinking brain a little time to mull things over. If the thinking brain has time to put the brakes on the primitive brain, it may decide that compliance is in the body's best interest and the offender follows your instructions. Or the thinking process may be to develop an escape plan. Can you know the difference?

Deadly Delay
Many police officers, as seen on videos, wait far too long interpreting attack signals before engaging an offender. Subtle and not-so subtle manifestations of this mental process show up in the body seconds before gross body movements of fight or flight present. I call this process the cascade sequence. Just like we don't want to start paddling until we're over the brink, we don't want to start dealing with non-compliance until the offender strikes. 

Our fear of tackling a nervous, but complaint, offender creates an intervention delay that can result in more suspect and officer injury. We're trying to make the decision about whether this person is just nervous because of the police contact and all of its consequences, or if the body is just waiting for the best time to fight or escape. 

Is Cascading Different for Compliant and Non-Compliant Offenders?
An absolute necessity for early intervention is your ability to articulate your observations of predictive behavior of attack or escape. You'll notice I have not used the phrase "pre-attack indicators" because the cascade of brain activity is already engaging in attack behavior, so it's not "pre" anything. I suggest that trainers start referring to the "cascade of indicators" and save the phrase "pre-attack indicators" to refer to environmental circumstances such as the existence of an arrest warrant or the presence of other persons as an audience for the offender. 

In general, compliant nervousness will manifest in the offender's body position being square with the officer and concentrated on his own existing space rather than angled or gradual positioning for fight or flight. Nervous jitters will center in the hands and voice of a compliant subject. Compliant subjects may talk more, since speech requires brain cells that are not available to the person contemplating for fight or flight. Physical preparation of the non-compliant is going to the shoulders, elbows, feet, hips, and knees for fight or flight. The compliant person is bracing for submission and will have nervous hands and fingers rather than the large muscle groups. The submissive will more likely maintain eye contact with you; the non-compliant will be scanning for targets, confederates, or escape routes.

Where Scenario Training Falls Short
Arrest control scenario training is currently centered on responding to the gross motor movements of an attack in progress ("defensive" tactics). We aren't likely to authentically reproduce genuine, subtle, fear based fight or flight behavior in role players because those are autonomic and impossible to mimic. For now, your best training in early intervention in the cascade sequence is your own experience put to use. And, of course, reading my new book The Badge and The Brain!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

I’ll Be More Professional If You’ll Tell Me What it Means

You probably have a policy that requires that you act professionally at all times. Looking at the dictionary definition of “profession” we see that it is an occupation requiring rigorous training and formal qualification. Some say it’s simply a contrast to an amateur. None of that helps the officer who is being told to “be more professional”.

So what does it mean for an officer to act professionally?

A professional holds knowledge that is not known by the general public. They are stewards of that knowledge in humility. They don’t disparage others for not knowing what they know. Professionals don’t shake their heads that the secrets of the law and human behavior are still a mystery to the public we serve. They calmly help educate and explain to the lay person things beyond the average person’s grasp.

A profession engenders trust. Our fellow citizens will necessarily judge us by the way we look, walk, speak, and conduct ourselves.  It isn’t always fair that they do so, but that’s the way humans work. Their ideal template of a professional peace officer is one who is fit, stands tall regardless of their stature, and gives them due attention.

Being a professional sometimes creates distance from others. Blood pressure goes up in the doctor’s office, people stumble over their words talking to a professor of English, and some try to show how much they know by telling about their experience or using our jargon. A professional puts others at ease, and does not compete for the title of who is the smartest person in the room.

A professional engenders confidence that everything is under control. Of all the skills they possess, the skill of appearing to know what’s going on is paramount. Not fearless, but courageous; not pondering, but thoughtful; not cocky, but confident.  Others look to the police officer in times of chaos and we must not fail them in those moments.  A professional is always a leader, even at the lowest rank in the organization.

A professional is a person that others aspire to be. They are a model of what one can accomplish with dedication, hard work, and mental fortitude. They are not perfect, but make perfection a goal in their craft, their conduct, and their relationships. For some, being a role model is thrust upon them. For others, it is happenstance. For the police officer, it is an occupational imperative.

A professional does excellent work all the time. We don’t want a physician taking shortcuts, a pharmacist doing guesswork, or a lawyer hoping nobody notices what she left out the contract. A professional meets the standards every time, exceeds the standards frequently, and takes pride in her work.

A professional knows the demands of their occupation well enough to know their own weaknesses and strengths. They know when to seek help and when to help others. They are self-aware and, though driven, do not ignore their need for balance in their lives in order to be at their best.

A professional knows that very few others know what it feels like to do the kind of work they do. They know that critics are many. They know that mistakes can cost in lives and lawsuits. Professionals are typically rewarded well by the satisfaction of their high calling, their respect in the community, and excellent compensation. In the law officer’s case it may be only one of those and seldom all of them.

A professional never stops learning. He or she is open to new methods and new knowledge. They learn from their colleagues and share information. They take self-improvement as a discipline and don’t rely on being coerced to attend training, even if it is a review of the most basic skills.

Only one person can look directly in a mirror and meet their own eyes. The professional may see fatigue and frustration in those eyes, but takes comfort in knowing that the people who depended on him that day saw a true professional at work.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Hardwired for Faith

Hardwired for Faith

Many police trainers point to faith as essential to police work. That pronouncement usually comes with some statement that it doesn't matter what you believe in, just believe in something.

The majority of cops will nod in agreement, but it doesn't make everyone happy. People who are confident in their own religious faith often find that kind of statement disheartening because their faith teaches them that there is Truth that transcends the general concept of "faith in something, no matter what". Those who have no belief in a benevolent supernatural power, whether that be an outright hostility to the thought, a benign indifference, or an active disbelief, are troubled at the accusation that they are less of a cop. As it turns out, there are some atheists in foxholes.

From my perspective as an evangelical Christian, I see efficacy in any of the following perspectives on faith: faith in one's self, faith in an ideal potential, faith expressed in iconography, faith in a religious system, and faith in a personal God. I contend that everyone in law enforcement does, indeed, rely on one or more of these.

For the purpose of this article, I base my argument on science, not theology. Research on the mind-body connection (as if they were ever disconnected in the first place) yields some interesting findings. One is that perception affects behavior. Expectations are self-fulfilling, not because of some karmic influence, but because it engages brain chemistry as well as behavior templates that are already established from life experience.

Thinking about a previous success improves job interviews. Standing tall increases perceptions of authority attributed to you by others. Clenching a pencil in the mouth, thus forcing the "smile" muscles to work, actually creates changes reflected in optimistic behavior of research subjects.

Other recent research shows actual changes in the brain - not merely ephemeral thoughts - under the influence of meditation. And we all know the calming effect of combat breathing that results in both physiology and emotion. We also accept that positive self-talk affects our behavior.

Sociological studies show marked benefits in health, success, and longevity among those with a religious practice and supportive faith groups. Similar benefits accrue from any positive group affiliation.

My non-religious colleagues find that a locus of control centered on their own competence, drive, and purpose is quite powerful and sufficient to sustain them in their profession. Those who have a religion other than one based on Judeo-Christian tradition gain strength from their practices as well. Even mere superstitions can sustain us for a time. That is not incompatible with the beliefs of my evangelical Christian colleagues who would agree with me that God offers common grace to all, blesses the efforts of the peace officer for the common good, and has divinely designed a magnificent brain to operate within human free will. God, as we understand Him, does not deny His benefits beyond the fold.

Whether what you believe brings you ultimate, transcendent peace or fits you for heaven is quite another discussion (one I'd be happy to have with you). As to the question of whether faith in SOMETHING is essential, the science of the matter says we're wired for it. And that is something we can all believe.

Very excited! My first juvenile fiction book is now available at !  Soon available on Kindle!

Sorry I haven' t posted for a while. Catch my past Police One articles at 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Cop Hate

Cop Hate

I am a middle aged, white, heterosexual, protestant, middle class, non-disabled male American. For me to speak authoritatively on discrimination will irk some who have lived in the overt and covert darkness of prejudice. I can't walk a mile in your shoes. I am part of a hated minority, however.

This minority is subject to unprovoked violence and yet prosecutions are frequently denied when they are victims of violent crime. Not infrequently they get prosecuted for merely defending themselves. While most people hold their tongues when criticizing groups in front of a member of that group, the same is not true of my tribe. Criticism, in fact, is often the first things that confronts us in conversation. With all the political correctness that has put a lid on slang, pejorative, and hurtful words, some of our finest citizens have no reservation about saying they hate us, that we're corrupt, lazy, pompous, and stupid.

Is blue so easy to hate? Here are a few reasons:

Power envy. Critics will immediately challenge the thought that an armed government agent can claim that they are labeled or treated unfairly. It is true that we hold position power, but a look at our subculture can show  a lot of areas where we as individual police officers have a very confined position legally, culturally, and organizationally. Any power that we possess is that which we mediate and administer on behalf of others. But we Americans are jealous of the power and inequity symbolized by the badge and gun.

Media coverage. This is not a media bashing statement. They can only report from the sources they find. When events happen, even those that seem normal and neutral in our world, we are often not allowed to narrate or explain the event. There's no Jesse Jackson stepping in to speak for the police. We all know that raw video and angry relatives and activists without a police perspective is bad news for the cops.

Dedicated hate groups. The internet trumpets hate for the police with a constant discordant presence. A search for the word police plus corrupt, abuse, brutality, etc will bring up not just random rants, but organized hate movements and lots of attorney advertisements.

These three thoughts are just the beginning of the cop hate issue. Without being antagonistic or divisive, our safety on the street and our survival in the courtroom is severely compromised by this prejudice. What can we do?

Encourage advocacy. There are civic and faith groups that are supportive of law enforcement. Optimist International has had a respect for law effort since 1965. One church in my area has a photo display of every law officer in the area (with their permission) for their members to remember in prayer. We should seek out opportunities to speak on the subject of anti-police sentiment in order to confront some common misunderstandings. These presentations should be fact and ethics based, rather than the "I deserve respect because I'm out there with my life on the line everyday" . Other people have tough jobs, they don't want to hear how rough it is in yours. Make sure your prosecutor is tough on anti-police crime, too.

Preload information to the public. Citizens are fascinated with police work. If you give them information they can use, they'll pay attention and absorb it. Efforts like the Hollywood V. Reality video ( can be very helpful. Getting the idea out that the offender chooses how police act is a theme that bears repeated emphasis. As the Department of Justice says so flippantly "citizens bear some of the responsibility for the nature of relations with the police".The idea that police shoot people unnecessarily is unfounded (

Seek and multiply advocacy venues. My organization, the National Center for Police Advocacy (, is available to be an objective voice for editorials, media interviews, and case studies where official silence is required. I hope that other organizations will be created to do the same thing and more. Telling your success stories on Twitter and other social media can help balance negative stories and stale statistics. Focus on what I call "Positive Policing" - tell your stories and light up your community with more than warnings and crime prevention tips.

Police hate is not just a public relations problem, it's a survival problem.