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The power of biometrics: A game-changer for officer wellness

Integrating officer biometrics into training and critical incident response can drastically improve policing efficiency and officer wellness — here’s how to do it

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This article is based on research conducted as a part of the CA POST Command College. It is a futures study of a particular emerging issue of relevance to law enforcement. Its purpose is not to predict the future; rather, to project a variety of possible scenarios useful for planning and action in anticipation of the emerging landscape facing policing organizations.

The article was created using the futures forecasting process of Command College and its outcomes. Managing the future means influencing it – creating, constraining and adapting to emerging trends and events in a way that optimizes the opportunities and minimizes the threats of relevance to the profession.

Explore this article to uncover insights on these issues:

  • How biometric technology is transforming law enforcement training and operations.
  • The importance of wearable devices in monitoring the health and wellness of officers.
  • How biometric data analysis can improve officers’ responses in high-pressure situations.
  • The role of tactical breathing techniques in decision-making under stress.
  • Balancing tech use for performance gains with privacy concerns.

By Deputy Chief Aaron Johnson

Expectations placed on public safety personnel have transformed drastically over the past two decades, not to mention the past three years. Polarizing events such as the May 25, 2020, killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis or the March 13, 2020, shooting of Breonna Taylor in Louisville have resulted in intense and ongoing scrutiny of law enforcement.

Community expectations and legislative mandates have challenged the police to adapt and enhance their response models. For example, according to a 2023 Washington Post article, 62% of the largest police departments in the country drastically altered their use of force policies and eliminated the carotid restraint immediately following the death of George Floyd. [1]

Subsequently, training has evolved, with a greater emphasis on scenario-based drills that mirror real-world situations while monitoring the response of the officer under stress. To assess the stresses of performing the job, there is a path forward to revolutionize the way law enforcement responds to high-stress situations. Employing wearable biometrics may not only protect the officer, but its use can create a foundation to better protect our communities.

What is biometric measurement?

Biometrics refers to the measurement and statistical analysis of unique physical and behavioral characteristics. In the context of law enforcement, we are primarily concerned with physiological characteristics — specifically, the heart rate and its significance in high-pressure scenarios because of the ease of capture and analysis.

Biometric data provides an easy opportunity for analysis, and there are many devices today that can be used to capture minute changes in the body’s physiology. [2, 3]

For instance, the Evie ring from Movano measures calories burned, physical activities, heart rate, oxygen levels, body temperature and your sleep cycle. [3] The device resembles a simple wedding ring approximately one-half of an inch thick and can be worn on an officer’s hand. The simple yet informative display is built into the ring so the officer has immediate feedback. If desired, like many similar biometric devices, the data can be connected to analysis platforms such as Fitbit, Apple Health, Whoop and others using wireless technology.

As these wearables become the norm, they provide an opportunity to improve the ways the police respond to stress and enhance both the outcomes officers experience and improve their personal mental and physical wellbeing.

Biometric data and physical health

An individual’s physical and emotional condition plays a substantial role in one’s overall health. Over 21% of Americans wear some sort of biometric wearable technology. [4] Clearly, wellness is important to many of the people who choose this technology, but why?

In a study done by the American College of Education, those who wear fitness trackers generally have higher fitness levels than those who do not. Having a conscious visual reminder to “get steps in” can create an opportunity to increase levels of fitness. [5] Unfortunately, even someone wearing a fitness monitor will contend with factors such as obesity, diet, emotional stressors and even sleep deprivation, all of which can elevate an officer’s baseline heart rate. Furthermore, the caffeine content in some products consumed by responders can artificially boost heart rates as well as lead to less quality sleep.

Sleep deprivation that comes with shift work is commonly experienced as the first responders’ 24-hour schedule takes a toll on their alertness and cognitive functions. How do most Americans combat sleep deprivation? With a little caffeinated pick-me-up! Unfortunately, the caffeine content in some of the products available to our responders is closing in on 500mg per ounce.

It should be evident that some responders sit at an artificially elevated heart rate before they ever get radio calls.

Caffeine is a stimulant and causes an elevated heart rate. In a 2007 study by Olbrantz and Petersen, a 12 oz beverage with 135mg of caffeine in their test subject and found the average heart rate increase was 13 beats per minute greater than their resting heart rate. [6] Drive Research studied coffee consumption and published staggering results regarding the volumes of this amazing beverage consumed by Americans daily. [7] Close to 48% of all coffee drinkers have 2-5 cups of coffee daily. Shockingly, 9% of these drinkers report having 6-8 cups per day. [7]

Based on Allen’s research, it should be evident that some responders sit at an artificially elevated heart rate before they ever get radio calls. This decreases the amount of variability from baseline to where the expected heart rate and diminished tactical acuity register during a significant incident. The line between productive and degraded cognitive awareness, not to mention tactical capabilities, is thinner than most may realize.

What happens in heart rate zones?

To understand the thin line between optimal and harmful heart rates, it is useful to illustrate the general points at which performance degrades:

  • A normal resting heart rate is 60-80 bpm. At this stage, an individual is relaxed and not particularly alert to their surroundings.
  • A heart rate of 115 bpm signifies a state of general awareness. There isn’t a specific threat identified, but there’s an increase in alertness and fine motor skills.
  • A 115-145 bpm heart rate is the optimal range for survival and combat performance for complex motor skills, visual reaction time and cognitive reaction time.
  • At 145-175 bpm, the body and mind are preparing for action, whether it’s to face the threat or find a way to evade it; however, many fine motor skills begin to diminish such as finger dexterity.
  • Above 175 bpm, cognitive processing deteriorates, vision and auditory capacities are compromised, gross motor skills, like running, are at their highest performance, but complex actions become very difficult. In this range, effects such as irrational behavior, freezing, and submissive behavior might be observed. At this stage, the individual might be paralyzed by fear, stress, or confusion. Their ability to think clearly or make rational decisions is severely compromised.

The effects described are for heart rate increases caused by hormones or fear which is a result of the sympathetic nervous system’s activation. Exercise-induced heart rate changes, however, don’t yield the same effects. Hormonally induced performance can reach its peak very quickly (within 10 seconds) but decreases sharply thereafter. [8]

How stress impacts performance

These connections between heart rate, effects on the body and mind, and psychological conditions provide a framework for understanding how stress and arousal impact human performance. It’s a vital understanding for professions, such as law enforcement that involve high stress or potential threat scenarios.

The wearable wristwatch is a highly practical tool for officers, offering both convenience and vital health monitoring. Some key features and benefits of such a device have been highlighted in a case study. [9] Those features include:

  • Biometric monitoring: The primary function of this device is to monitor vital health metrics such as heart rate. This is crucial for officers who work in high-stress environments. By constantly tracking these biometrics, the device can alert the officer to any potential health risks or abnormal readings.
  • Timekeeping and reminders: Apart from health tracking, it serves as a regular watch, providing timekeeping functionalities. The added feature of setting reminders (like taking a coffee break) can help in managing daily routines that are essential for maintaining alertness and overall well-being.
  • Ease of use and accessibility: The device’s easily readable display allows officers to quickly glance at their data without the need for additional equipment or applications.
  • Affordability: The availability makes it easily accessible for departments or individual officers. It ensures that this technology can be rapidly deployed and utilized without extensive procurement processes.
  • Adaptability for law enforcement needs: Tailoring the device’s functionality to meet the specific needs of law enforcement personnel can greatly enhance its effectiveness. This could include features like stress alerts, fatigue warnings, or even integration with other law enforcement tools and third-party platforms to increase training immersion.

Biometric data analysis

Let’s explore the implications of real-time biometric data analysis in law enforcement. One of the primary concerns surrounding biometric data analysis is privacy. Capturing data related to individuals’ biometrics can be considered a violation of privacy. However, agencies will need to weigh the community expectation of an officer’s performance under stress compared to an invasion of privacy.

During this research, the author interviewed management staff and officers of the City of Rohnert Park about biometrics and the capture of public data through the California Public Records Act (CPRA). Officers expressed concerns with their “training” information becoming a matter of public record, potentially revealing their performance under stress as well as protections afforded through the Health Insurance Portability and Assurance Act (HIPAA).

Biometric data analysis during training can help identify stress points and improve officer responses, as well as provide an objective source to monitor and improve their responses to critical incidents.

These concerns could deter officers from participating in research projects involving biometrics unless the agency ensured strict adherence to a well-established privacy policy. By connecting a biometric data analysis program with a human resources department, agencies could use this information to invest in the health and wellness of employees who are faced with stressful situations daily.

Stress impacts the human body in many ways, and biometrics may reveal pre-existing medical conditions that could also increase a responder’s heart rate. [8] Early detection provides a better alternative for the responder to deal with underlying medical conditions before they become irreversible. Agencies have a responsibility to remove employees with identified medical conditions and begin an intervention. While critical incidents themselves are not predictable, the study argues that how responders react to repetitive training scenarios is. [8] Biometric data analysis during training can help identify stress points and improve officer responses, as well as provide an objective source to monitor and improve their responses to critical incidents.

Investing in the workforce

Investing in the workforce provides a great return on an incredible investment. Agency leaders can do the following three things to make this valuable investment:

  1. Provide wearables and use the data.
  2. Perform annual health checkups to support the analysis of captured data.
  3. Create integrated and incentivized wellness programs to promote the importance of health and overall wellness.

Agencies should consider providing officers with wearable biometric sensors during high-hazard training scenarios to monitor their physiological responses. If agencies budgeted for wearable technology for all officers who will attend training, the potential return on investment would pay for itself by merely reducing one injured employee from the workers compensation system or financial obligation based on an excessive use of force litigation. The best outcome, however, is an officer will be better prepared for critical incidents and dramatically improve their overall performance.
An additional advantage for officers includes yearly health check-ups, which can detect early signs of medical issues. Thanks to the widespread availability of employee assistance programs, officers can access medical care, enhancing their fitness for handling critical community situations. Moreover, in cases where a medical condition leads to tachycardia (an increased heart rate), the agency can collaborate with the officer to find a solution for their condition. This reduction in heart rate not only benefits the officer’s health but also increases their capacity to manage their heart rate during future critical incidents.

Also, biometric analysis will allow agencies to incentivize physical wellness and ensure officers maintain their fitness levels. Healthy officers who have the drive to maintain an accelerated level of fitness typically do not need an incentive to maintain their fitness level. However, those who have let their priority shift from wellness to other vices may need the incentive. The greatest impact will be the “at risk” officer participating in a wellness program and increasing their overall health and well-being. An incentive can act as a catalyst to those who may not have their priorities aligned with fitness; however, they serve a community who has that expectation.

Training scenario: Tactical breathing

Researchers have uncovered a fascinating link between an individual’s heart rate and their cognitive performance in stressful situations. [8] When the heart rate elevates, mental acuity sharpens and focus intensifies, which can be a benefit in critical incidents. However, if the heart rate surges too high, fine motor skills and critical thinking are compromised, jeopardizing the officer’s ability to physiologically make rational decisions. The margin between the two is small; fortunately, controlling one’s heart rate under stress is a learnable skill.

Have you ever wondered how U.S. Navy Seals keep calm under stress knowing they are going into a highly dangerous and possibly mortal situation; they learn how to box breath. [10] Box breathing affects the autonomous nervous system, which is responsible for blood pressure, temperature and heart rate. By doing this, Seals can regulate their reaction to stress in extreme situations. Box breathing improves mental wellbeing, heightens cognitive performance, enhances the bodies future reactions to stress and helps deactivate the flight or fight response.

It is not just for combat, however, it is useful in other professions such as emergency care. Imagine you are the nurse getting a trauma alert for a small child who was just struck by a vehicle. The surgeon is 30 minutes away and you must set a foundation for survival. How do you make rational decisions and get yourself under control? In a study done by subject matter experts in the Annuls of Emergency Medicine, it is suggested to start box breathing. [11]

Beyond breathing techniques, the military has been a pioneering force in understanding the effects of elevated heart rates and stress. Research sheds light on how soldiers’ heart rates impact their tactical and survival capabilities. [8] For instance, in 2011, Connecticut police officer Tricia Kennedy was competing in a drill when she was inadvertently struck in the head with a .45 caliber round. She recounts the medical staff telling her to breathe to get her heart rate down and to stay alive. [12] The key takeaway is that while an increased heart rate can enhance focus, it must be within a certain range to ensure emotional intelligence and cognitive control are maintained.

A future training scenario could look like this: The officer dons a biometric sensor connected to a tablet being monitored by a training cadre. The officer will be introduced to a highly stressful scenario and then coached to breathe during the height of the event. The training cadre will then evaluate the baseline data with the data captured at the peak, analyzing focused breathing in real time to identify if the desired results (lowered heart rate) were achieved as the officer transitioned through the event. Biometric data, though, isn’t solely influenced by a critical incident.

By investing in the health of their officers, the New Castle County PD gains a more resilient and effective organization capable of serving their community


The evolution of law enforcement is inseparable from the evolution of technology. Real-time biometric data analysis is on the horizon and offers a promising avenue to ensure that public safety personnel are not just fit for duty but also well-equipped to handle high-pressure situations with confidence and control.

The cost of wearable technology has reduced drastically in recent years; therefore, the acquisition should not be difficult for those agencies on a limited budget. Agencies have amazing technology at their fingertips to identify training opportunities for their staff to ultimately create a healthier environment for everyone. The fusion of biometrics and law enforcement has the potential to redefine what it means to keep our cities safe, secure, and resilient.

Integrating officer biometrics into training and critical incident response can drastically improve policing efficiency and officer wellness. By monitoring vital signs and stress indicators through biometric data, law enforcement agencies can better prepare officers for the physiological and psychological demands of high-stress situations. This approach not only enhances the effectiveness of critical response but also prioritizes the mental and physical well-being of officers, leading to improved overall performance and reduced risk of burnout or trauma-related complications.


1. Kindy K, et al. Half of the Nation’s Largest Police Departments Have Banned or Limited Neck Restraints Since June. The Washington Post. September 6, 2023.

2. Gillis A. What is biometrics? TechTarget. July 2021.

3. Harris S. Best wearable technology. Inside Tech World. June 15, 2023.

4. Vogels EA. About one in five Americans use a smart watch or fitness tracker. Pew Research Center. January 9, 2020.

5. Marks A. Do exercise trackers make you healthier. ACE. February 16, 2021.

6. Olbrantz S, Petersen M. Caffeine and College: The Perceived Effects of Caffeine on Heart Rate and Alertness. 2007.

7. Allen L. Coffee statistics: Consumption, Preferences & Spending.

8. Grossman D. Heart Rate. AllVertical. 1997.

9. Ambique. A Closer Look at Life Saving Features in Wearables. Ambiq. November 10, 2021.

10. Kumar K. Why do Navy Seals use box breathing. MedicineNet. November 18, 2021.

11. Lauria A. Psychological Skills to Improve Emergency Care Providers’ Performance Under Stress. Ann Emerg Med. April 28, 2017.

12. Kennedy T. How Combat Breathing Saved My Life. Police Mag. March 8, 2011.

About the author

Aaron Johnson is a deputy chief for the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety located in Sonoma County, California. Aaron has been employed as a police officer and firefighter for 30 years, 26 in Rohnert Park. He holds a Bachelors Degree in Organizational Leadership and is a recent graduate of Command College Class 71. In his off time, Aaron enjoys spending time with his wife and children, volunteering for Special Olympics and serving in his church ministry.