Representatives of 2 elite British policing units and a major police union traveled to the Force Science Research Center this month [5/05] for a private 3-day update on the latest scientific findings about officer-involved shootings.
Three of the visitors (Andrea Earl, Peter Smyth and Dave Bonnett) were spokespeople for the Metropolitan Police Federation while Mark Williams was from the main firearms unit (SO19)which supplies armed-response vehicles for all of London while Dave Blocksidge was from the Diplomatic Protection Group (SO16) (comparable to the U.S. Secret Service.)
“We’ve had a number of shootings that have caused problems over the years,” Cst. Mark Williams of the SO19 firearms unit told Force Science News. “These have involved perceptual distortions, the movements of subjects and officers, and the effect of memory on the writing of notes [reports].”
As in the US, he says that an “incredible naivet‚ about firearms” among civilians complicates police activities. “It is frightening, really.”
The visitors were particularly interested in information that might prove relevant to a 1999 incident in which 2 English officers shot a suspect in the head who they thought was wielding a shotgun inside a bag. After the smoke cleared, the “gun” was found to be a wooden table leg. The officers were charged with murder and a coroner’s inquest returned a verdict of “unlawful killing.” Although the verdict was overturned, the case still is not fully resolved. A second coroner’s inquest returned a verdict of unlawful killing that was recently overturned at the high court of London. However, the officers are still awaiting a third decision by the crown prosecution service.
The presentations they experienced at FSRC headquarters at Minnesota State University-Mankato “answered so many questions,” Williams says. “We received research information on police shootings we haven’t had any knowledge of. It was awesome. There’s nothing like this in the U.K.”
“The information and knowledge that I have gained from the FSRC Seminar was compelling and essential,” said Blocksidge. “Any police officer who must justify any use of force incident may be attempting to explain their actions without realizing the perilous road ahead of them. Police departments around the world must sit up and take notice of FSRC’s research. If they choose to ignore it then grave injustices for police officers, witnesses, suspects and communities will continue.”
Their stay included consultations with FSRC Executive Director Dr. Bill Lewinski on FSRC research, with National Advisory Board member Dr. Alexis Artwohl on critical incident survival, with fellow National Advisory Board Member William Everett, an attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities, on the public relations aspects of high-profile shootings, and with Deputy Director Bill Hudson on the unique technology involved in FSRC’s research. Exercises on the state-of-the-art Milo training simulator donated to FSRC by IES Interactive Training were also involved.
Next fall FSRC representatives will be traveling to England to present research findings to a broader audience of police professionals in the United Kingdom.