Smart policing? Why NYPD’s 'closed eyes' tactic is anything but

Suggesting that officers should put themselves in danger by literally taking their eyes off what they’re doing is ludicrous at best and possibly criminally negligent at worst

Police officers working for the venerable NYPD have been instructed to close their eyes during tense, potentially violent situations. According to the New York Post one cop who attended this patently stupid (and dangerous) “training” said that officers were “given breathing exercises to learn how to calm down” and told that when they get into a heated situation, cops should “take a step back, close your eyes and take a deep breath.” 

Hyperventilating yet? 

Okay, how about this: This “advice” has been presented to some 4,000 police officers, and will reportedly be taught to some 16,000 more as part of a $35 million “smart policing” primer that includes pearls of wisdom such as giving cops breath mints to “help them quit cursing the way a smoker kicks the habit” and spraying protesters with baby oil to get their linked arms apart — cops would reportedly use rubber gloves so their grip would not be affected.

You Cant’ Fix Stupid (But You Can Counter It)
You can’t make this stuff up. While it sounds like a typical headline you’d find around here every April Fool’s Day, this story is — unfortunately — all too real.

The NYPD program was dreamed up by Michael Julian, a goofball department bigwig — the Post’s words, not mine — who was hired in late 2014 as the department’s deputy commissioner of training. Two months later he was “promoted” to deputy chief of personnel (hopefully, a position in which he can do less damage). 

As utterly ridiculous as Julian’s program in New York is, there are numerous tried-and-true ways in which law enforcement officers can — and do — train to be safer and more successful on the streets. Let’s just consider the idea of closing your eyes and breathing deeply. Note that both of these exercises happen in the safety of the squad room or the agency’s in-service training facility — not out on the street.

1. Close Your Eyes: Have you ever seen a video of the Blue Angels meeting around a conference table before they perform an airshow? Each of them has their eyes closed as they listen to the commander call out every maneuver. This powerful visualization tool can be employed with the when/then thinking you may already perform at your locker before heading to roll call. 
2. Breathe Deeply: There are myriad ways in which officers can employ autogenic breathing — sometimes called combat breathing — in training. For a breathing exercise that actually can help on patrol, try practicing autogenic breathing while “code 3” in a driving simulator. You can even do this exercise with just an audiotape of sirens blaring (once again, with your eyes closed!).

“Learning self-calming and relaxation techniques should be part of every officer's training — but not for use on the front line,” said Chief (ret.) Joel Shults. “Preparation for violent confrontation requires readiness, not relaxation. Reducing the brain’s ability to make quick decisions in volatile environments ignores the science of human capacity.”

Lieutenant (ret.) Dan Marcou added, “Teaching autogenic breathing — sometimes called survival breathing — is a valuable technique, but telling a police officer to close his or her eyes, during a tense situation on the street is inviting them to die in the dark.”

Back out on the street, when facing the type of heated situation for which Julian suggests an “eyes closed” tactic, officers should employ tactical communications (Verbal Judo or similar techniques) while rapidly assessing the subject for non-verbal pre-attack indicators like a gnashing of teeth, clenching of fists, and glancing in search of either weapons or escape. Breathing calmly plays a factor in this, but certainly not the closing of one’s eyes. 

There was one element to the NYPD training that may actually have some value. It’s been reported that attendees to the seminar were shown the scene from the 1989 movie ‘Road House’ in which Patrick Swayze’s character gave the sage advice, “Be nice — until it’s time to not be nice.”

As Police1 Contributor Charles Humes has observed, officers should “treat people with courtesy, respect, and be nice — until/unless they choose to not be treated nicely. When they make the choice to not be treated nicely, you simply respond as appropriate. From verbal direction right up to deadly force, it’s always the contact’s choice on how the situation develops.”

“Police all over the country have shown amazing restraint and professionalism,” said Shults. “Refining officers' ability to cope with disorder is laudable, but of all the problems taxpayers could invest 35 million dollars on, this isn't one of them.”

It’s possible that when the instructors in New York City said “close your eyes” they meant it metaphorically, but from what I’ve been able to glean (from the information presently available) no such disclaimer was articulated. The fact that this has reportedly become part of the training regimen for NYPD begs a potentially bigger question: If it can happen there, can it happen elsewhere? 

Have you heard about a proposed post-Ferguson training idea that should be tossed immediately into the circular file? 

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