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Next-Gen Leadership: Understanding inattentional blindness and focus of attention

Grasping these concepts helps in interpreting officers’ statements and actions during investigations

In the ninth of a 10-part series titled “Next-Gen Leadership: Solutions for Today’s Police Supervisors,” Gene Reid, Ph.D., a seasoned police veteran and founder of Reid Training Solutions, delves into the critical topic of inattentional blindness and focus of attention.

Reid not only explains the importance of these concepts for individual police officers but also extends the discussion to their implications for leadership and investigatory roles within law enforcement.

Key learning points

  1. Definition and importance of inattentional blindness: Inattentional blindness occurs when something is directly in your field of vision, yet you fail to see it. This phenomenon is critical for police officers to understand as it affects their perception and attention during high-stress situations.
  2. Definition and importance of focus of attention: Focus of attention refers to what we concentrate on in a given moment. This focus can cause us to miss other crucial details in our environment, impacting our observations and decisions.
  3. Explaining the exercise demonstration: An exercise involving counting the number of “F’s” in a sentence demonstrates inattentional blindness. Most participants miss some “F’s,” showing how easy it is to overlook details right in front of us.
  4. Application in policing: Understanding these concepts helps in interpreting officers’ statements and actions during investigations. Officers might not recall seeing something that is clear in body-worn camera footage due to inattentional blindness or their focus of attention at the time.
  5. Implications for leadership and training: Police leaders must recognize these cognitive limitations and incorporate this understanding into training and evaluations. This knowledge can improve investigation accuracy and officer performance, ensuring better outcomes in police work.

Questions for discussion

  1. How can understanding inattentional blindness improve police investigations?
  2. In what ways can focus of attention impact an officer’s ability to recall events accurately?
  3. What training methods can be employed to help officers recognize and mitigate the effects of inattentional blindness?
  4. How might inattentional blindness and focus of attention affect public perceptions of police integrity?
  5. What strategies can police leaders use to address and reduce instances of inattentional blindness in the field?
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Gene Reid is a police sergeant for the New Castle County (Del.) Police Department. Gene is currently assigned to the Professional Standards Unit and is highly active with the department’s officer wellness initiatives. Before being promoted, Gene was assigned to the Criminal Investigations Unit for over six years.

Gene holds a Ph.D. in criminal justice, with a specific focus on stress management and resilience. Gene also has an MS in education and a BS in public safety administration. Gene is an avid fitness enthusiast who trains Jiu-Jitsu and has completed numerous triathlons, including Ironman Maryland.

He is the founder of Reid Training Solutions and recently published “Police Leadership Redefined - The EQ Advantage: Transforming Law Enforcement with Emotional Intelligence.”