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Getting civilian oversight? Get them Force Science Certified

Because predictable is preventable, your agency must plan now for the probability that a civilian oversight body will be foisted upon you, and that preparation should involve suggested training


The Force Science Training Center, which occupies 10,000 square feet in a sleek, low-rise building in Des Plaines (Ill.) is a comfortable, protected spot where people can freely share ideas, confront challenges, explore new realms of human performance and, most importantly, to learn.

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Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson recently signed a consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department that gives him — and the public to whom he answers at the voting booth — unprecedented leverage over the Cleveland Police Department. The consent decree was all but inevitable. Jackson had been under tremendous political pressure from citizens of Cleveland — and denizens of Washington, D.C. — to “do something” following a number of officer-involved shootings that made national headlines during Jackson’s time in office.

Notable among those incidents was the shooting death of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who had been witnessed brandishing a toy gun in a playground. A community activist named William Myers pointedly said in December that the Rice incident happened “on his watch,” adding that “people will remember the development of the downtown and a whole bunch of other things — but I’m going to remember that a 12-year-old kid got shot.”

So, Jackson gave the people what they wanted — he agreed to a far-reaching consent decree that will impact how Cleveland cops do their jobs on a daily basis for many years to come.

Potential Problems
Perhaps the most startling element of that consent decree is the degree to which civilian oversight will be employed. The Associated Press reported that a civilian — not a police professional — will head the internal affairs unit, and a civilian will be appointed to the new position of police inspector general.

Additionally, according to the Associated Press, “a community police commission consisting of 10 civilians and a representative from each of the three police unions will be formed. The commission will have the authority to review, recommend and comment on police department policies, procedures and performance, along with its adherence to required reforms.”

Upon reading those words, three things came to mind in rapid succession:

1. How vigorously will these people be trained in law enforcement matters?
2. This is very probably the future for police in Anytown — and Everytown — USA.
3. Law enforcement professionals must be active participants in the formulation of the model for the ‘new normal.’ If we simply ‘turtle up’ and wait for a more cop-friendly political atmosphere, potentially irreversible decisions will have been made without any meaningful input from the people who are actually experts in policing — the police. We have to get ahead of the issue and offer some solid solutions, or we will forever lose the initiative.

A New Normal
Let’s start with a fundamental truth. If structured and executed correctly, civilian oversight can be a good thing. If it’s done poorly, it can be an unmitigated disaster.

So, let’s focus on your city (assuming you don’t work in Cleveland), because if you don’t think that a similar consent decree could not befall your agency following a high-profile OIS, you’re fooling yourself. In fact, it’s probably coming to your agency even if you don’t make national news headlines.

The only way to limit the risk of having such a thing foisted upon your agency is to execute a plan of action before something lousy cooks off. That plan should involve strategically thinking through how your agency would recommend civilian overseers be trained.

Many police agencies with civilian oversight boards require that those individuals attend a Citizen’s Police Academy. That’s a start, but it is woefully incomplete. A Citizen’s Academy scratches the surface of what people need to know, but a serious and responsible citizen oversight initiative must go much further. I contend that any and all civilian oversight personnel be Force Science Certified.

Solution: Force Science
I am aware of no other training or certification in the world which is better suited to getting a civilian sufficiently up to speed on the dynamics of deadly force encounters than what is provided by Dr. Bill Lewinski and his team at Force Science Institute.

There is certainly other training available for potential civilian overseers, but having personally taken Force Science classes — as well as numerous Citizen’s Academies and countless hundreds of hours of other police training — I firmly believe there is no better training for candidates for the job of civilian overseer.

I’m not alone in that thinking. A large police department in the Midwest — which has one of the largest civilian oversight bodies in the country — has committed to having every member of that group certified in Force Science.

Force Science classes are designed to “clearly present, in a practical and understandable fashion, the results of the most cutting edge research into the dynamics of human behavior during life-threatening encounters.”

Police professionals — from line officers to administrators, investigators, IA personnel, critical incident teams, and police psychologists — have benefited from the training provided by FSI. Force Science researchers have examined some of the most controversial issues in law enforcement, including:

How threatening suspects end up shot in the back by well-trained officers making valid, lawful shooting decisions
Why officers continue to fire “extra” rounds in high-adrenaline confrontations after the threat has ended
What popular tactics used by some officers trying to reduce lag time actually put the officers at greater risk.
How perceptual distortions and stress-induced memory gaps can impact an officer’s ability to accurately recall incident details
How quickly suspects can launch an attack and why officers and trainers must take Force Science speed studies into account when preparing for a confrontation
What “ready” position is really best for reducing lag time in an armed encounter
Why unsnapping a holster in an attempt to decrease lag time may not be a sound tactical idea
How investigators can best “mine” officers’ memories and avoid interviewing mistakes that can put the officer, the investigator, and the entire department in jeopardy

For those who are unfamiliar with FSI, it merits mention that all the research is done by scientific method, using human participants in simulated real-world experiments. That research is then turned into classroom and written material for the furtherance of the study of human performance factors in police work.

FSI’s New Digs
I was recently given an exclusive tour of the newly opened, 10,000-square-foot Force Science Training & Research Center in Des Plaines (Ill.), just outside of Chicago and a stone’s throw from O’Hare International Airport. Classrooms are equipped with the latest in audiovisual technology and international teleconferencing capabilities. There is a video production space, as well as comfortable break / networking areas.

The space is ideally suited for the education of civilians tasked with oversight of their police. It is a comfortable, protected spot where people can freely share ideas, confront challenges, explore new realms of human performance and, most importantly, to learn.

In the past, Force Science Certification was available only to a finite number of police professionals. The travelling roadshow style the folks at FSI employed was not scalable to accommodate large numbers of civilian participants. The opening of the Center is a game-changer, and it could not come at a better time because now more than ever, people outside of law enforcement need to be trained in Force Science.

It’s Easy Math
The calculus on this is simple. Politicians like to stay in office. The people determine whether or not they remain in office. The people want civilian oversight of police.

We cannot allow people who know nothing about police work — particularly the human performance factors involved in high-stress, rapidly-unfolding, deadly-force encounters — to tell officers how to do their jobs. We must embrace the change that is coming and actively participate in it. We must take responsibility for offering suitable training solutions, or it will all be done without us.

Sending members of civilian oversight bodies to Force Science Institute is not the only answer to this question, but in my opinion, it is the best answer.

Doug Wyllie writes police training content on a wide range of topics and trends affecting the law enforcement community. Doug was a co-founder of the Policing Matters podcast and a longtime co-host of the program.