Dr. William Lewinski works with a volunteer subject during a recent Force Science Research study on the threat posed by prone subjects. Courtesy Force Science Institute
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Two months ago, I attended a course put on by the Force Science Institute in Milwaukee, Wis. I was so impressed by this conference that, upon my return home the next day, I felt the incredible need to put my thoughts to paper to try to understand why I was so astounded with this school. So, I digress from the usual commentary on legal issues affecting law enforcement to share with you some of those thoughts.
Upon signing up for the conference, and receiving a copy of the syllabus and certification course materials on the first day, I knew this was not going to be a leisure conference. I think most of those in attendance knew this to be the case, as well. That is, there was no blowing off an afternoon session to attend a Brewers baseball game. If one did, they would probably pay the price by failing the exam given on the fourth day of the conference.
Yes, there’s a test—and you have to pass! But that’s not all. To make certain the conference attendees really understood the material, we were broken up into groups on the first day. Throughout the week, the groups were required to meet each night after class to dissect a shooting incident that was assigned to each group. On the last day of the conference, each group was required to give a presentation incorporating all of the scientific principles we learned throughout the week.
I was struck by the fact that the Force Science Institute integrated testing one’s knowledge as part of its certification requirement. It demonstrates the pride this organization has for its work. Having been familiar for some time with the Force Science Institute and the Force Science Research Center, I know all too well that the men and women who are the heartbeat of these organizations take their jobs1 seriously. And why wouldn’t they? Their research is responsible for the successful defense of civil lawsuits against police officers and their agencies for more than three decades. More importantly, they are responsible for protecting officers facing the loss of their liberty after being criminally charged or indicted, oftentimes as a result of a rush to judgment in the face of public and media scrutiny.
At the beginning of the conference, I also observed that, like the seminar organizers, the people in attendance were a committed bunch. They came from all over the world. Sure, there were many law enforcement officers from Wisconsin, but also present were officers from New Jersey, Florida, Pennsylvania, New York, New Mexico, Illinois, Texas, Canada and Ireland. Several instructors were from different countries, including England and Canada. One even came from Alaska, which may as well be considered a different country.
This conference was distinctive in that the material was taught primarily from a scientific perspective. This was quite unexpected for two reasons. First, I didn’t realize that the science of human dynamics surrounding officer-involved shootings or other critical incidents could fill up an entire week. And second, conferences I’ve attended in the past regarding the use of deadly force typically incorporate training issues, policy matters and legal questions.
However, by the end of the week, I knew all too well that the instructors had only skimmed the surface of human behavior and movement, and any major discussions on training, policy and legal issues only would have detracted from the purpose of the conference.
I also found it very humbling to be among so many of the finest law enforcement advocates and instructors throughout the week. Dr. Matthew Sztajnkrycer taught us about understanding and leveraging the psychophysiology of emotional intensity. What’s that in laymen’s terms? Basically, it’s understanding what happens to our bodies when we get the “oh sh**” factor. Joan Vickers, a professor of kinesiology at University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and has a doctorate in psychology and motor behavior, shared with us her research on gaze control in complex motor skills and on decision-making/decision training. She’s worked for many years with athletes on these issues, and I think those in attendance would agree with me, this presentation was one of the highlights of the conference.
Another Canadian speaker, Chris Lawrence, an instructor from the Ontario Police College, spoke to us regarding the fundamentals of human performance. He shared with us the basic principles regarding human response capacity supported by empirical research, some of which has been around for several decades, and how to use these principles appropriately during an evaluation of a use-of-force-related incident.
Undoubtedly, these principles are complex. However, Chris’ presentation style thankfully ensured that we all comprehended the material. He even had everyone fastened to their seats when he analyzed (using purely scientific principles, mind you) Major League Baseball’s Jim Joyce’s call that altered Tigers’ pitcher Armando Galarraga’s bid for a perfectly pitched game. It was truly fascinating.
Edward Geiselman, a professor of psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles, who has a masters and PhD in psychology, is the co-developer of the cognitive interview technique. He spoke about how investigators interviewing officers involved in the use of deadly force can mine officers’ memories in an attempt to capture a more accurate account of the events surrounding the incident.
Anthony J. Pinizzotto, who has a PhD in psychology and a post-doctoral MS in clinical psychopharmacology, is a former clinical forensic psychologist for the FBI. He instructed us on 20 years of research regarding officers killed in the line of duty. John Hoag, an attorney with law firms in Oregon and Alaska, spoke about some of the policy and legal implications of interviews of officers involved in shootings.
Finally, William Lewinski, who has a PhD in police psychology and is one of the world’s leading behavioral scientists, entertained us with a wealth of information stemming from his life-long research of force and lethal force encounters in law enforcement. He is the founder and director of the Force Science Research Center at Minnesota State University, Mankato, as well as Force Science Institute, which is a research, consulting and training organization focused primarily on human behavior in use-of-force scenarios.
I’ve been familiar with Lewinski’s work since seeing the results of it aired in 2002 on 48 Hours regarding a high profile shooting in Los Angeles, Calif. Later, I began to follow his material in the e-newsletter, Force Science News, which I continue to follow today. Indeed, his efforts have helped me defend several of my clients in civil rights litigation alleging unlawful use of force. For the past several years, I haven’t been shy about proclaiming in my own training seminars about legal issues of officer-involved shootings and civil liability that the work of Lewinski, and of those he has surrounded himself with, has forever changed the way force incidents are viewed by administrators and juries.
As I stated earlier, the Force Science organizations are comprised of many people devoted to the law enforcement community, some of whom I previously mentioned. Still, others were present, and without them, the conference would not have been as successful. I want to acknowledge and say thank you to Patricia Thiem, Scott Buhrmaster, David Blocksidge and Chuck Remsberg.
Finally, this conference was a terrific opportunity to form a network of experts from which to rely on for future investigations of use-of-force incidents. What a privilege it was to be among such a fine group of law enforcement officers, administrators, trainers and attorneys. I’m also happy to have made new friends, especially those from Winnipeg, Canada—what’s with that “eh,” eh?
This conference strengthened my commitment to law enforcement. I’m certain others walked away from the symposium feeling the same way. If you’re an investigator charged with investigating critical incidents, including officer involved shootings, or an administrator responsible for a law enforcement agency, or if you’re an attorney in a position to criminally charge an officer for acts that seemingly go beyond negligent, reckless or conscience-shocking behavior, you owe it to your police agency and community to attend this course. The bar has been set high, but you will not be disappointed.
Making a Difference
—Dale Stockton, Editor in Chief
When it comes to good people doing the right thing for all the right reasons, the folks at Force Science Research are definitely on the short list. If, like me, you believe that cops have the ability to make a difference in the lives of others, then you have to know that Force Science is truly making a difference in the lives of cops.
I first heard Dr. William Lewinski, the founder, speak at ILEETA five years ago and to say I was impressed is an understatement. This guy truly understands the physical and mental processes that take place during a life-and-death battle. More importantly, he’s able to scientifically interpret what happened and explain to a lay person why certain actions cause corresponding reactions.
The bottom line: This is a training course and information resource that every trainer and administrator should know about. I encourage you to check into them further by going to www.forcescience.org.
1. It’s difficult to label their efforts as a “job” as they all exhibit a passion for what they do.
Do not construe this column as legal advice. Each police officer should consult with an attorney in their jurisdiction for legal advice on any specific issue.