Oregon Sergeant & District Attorney Use Creative Approaches To Help Spread Force Science Awareness

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A police sergeant and a district attorney in Oregon have independently found new ways to spread Force Science insights about officer-involved shootings to broader audiences, to the benefit of law enforcement and civilians alike. Both hope that others with a vested interest in deadly force events will follow their lead in other jurisdictions.

The sergeant is Craig Allen, training supervisor for Hillsboro PD, an agency with 185 sworn located in Oregon’s Tualatin Valley in Portland’s suburban ring. A year ago, Allen graduated from the first U.S. certification course in Force Science Analysis, conducted in San Jose, CA, by the Force Science Institute, parent entity of the Force Science Research Center.

“I was so excited about what I’d learned about the scientific truths behind force encounters that when I got home I wanted to get the word out to as many people in law enforcement as I could,” Allen says. His chief, Lila Ashenbrenner, who regularly distributes copies of Force Science News to all the department’s supervisory staff, shared his enthusiasm.

Initially, the PD contracted with the Institute to sponsor a 2-day seminar on Force Science research findings, featuring FSRC’s executive director Dr. Bill Lewinski and a staff instructor, Sgt. Joshua Lego of the St. Paul (MN) Police Dept. Quickly, more than 50 representatives from agencies throughout the Pacific Northwest signed up.

In processing registrations earlier this month, it occurred to Allen that his department’s insurer, City County Insurance Services, based in the state capital, “might want to send some risk managers over” to monitor the program. “I knew a little bit about the company because I’d done some Taser demonstrations for them,” Allen explains.

A call to Penny Marlette, manager of CCIS’s risk management services, soon resulted in a transformational change in Allen’s approach to the seminar.

At CCIS, a self-insuring trust whose pool covers some 150 Oregon law enforcement agencies, Marlette instantly became a driving force for the idea of becoming a funding partner for the seminar.

Given the reputation of Force Science research for helping improve use-of-force decision-making and investigations, that proposal “made a lot of sense,” says CCIS Deputy Director Lynn McNamara. “We’d rather put money into risk management and training than into paying claims. After all, the best claim is one that never happens.”

After internal discussion, CCIS, made this offer: the insurer would pay the $195 seminar admission fee, plus appropriate lodging, for 1 representative from any of its member agencies who wished to participate in the seminar. Any member agencies that had already registered would receive refunds.

In short, cutting-edge training on critical use-of-force research for free.

According to Scott Buhrmaster, vice president of operations for the Force Science Institute, this is the first time an insurer has offered broad-based financial support for a Force Science presentation. In Allen’s view, it was a godsend, “especially for small departments whose training money has dried up.”

In less than a week after CCIS’s underwriting partnership was announced, registrations for the program more than doubled, he says. “I have never seen a law enforcement training event that captures such a breadth of attendees: LEOs of every rank, chiefs, sheriffs, DAs, city attorneys, risk managers, human resource managers, PIOs, union reps, correctional command staff…the list goes on.”

When the seminar kicks off this week [9/29-30] at the Hillsboro Civic Center, he anticipates an audience of more than 130, over half of them paid for by CCIS. This, Allen predicts, will more than cover the cost of the seminar.

As a contribution to FSRC to further its force research, Hillsboro PD will donate the admission fees netted from registrants not covered by the insurer, along with a portion of the department’s own training budget, Allen says.

“This will be another first,” says Buhrmaster. “Until now, the only law enforcement entities contributing research funds to FSRC have been police unions in the United Kingdom. Hillsboro will be the first American department to join this important effort.”

“When we put money into a program, we try to track results,” says CCIS’s McNamara. So in the future, the insurer will be monitoring claims filed by member agencies that send attendees to the seminar vs. those that don’t, to see if there’s a detectable difference.

Meanwhile…the day after Allen’s seminar, a hundred miles away in Eugene, OR, another group will hear a special presentation by Dr. Lewinski, thanks to the efforts of Alex Gardner, the progressive district attorney for Lane County.

This gathering is intended to bring the Force Science message not only to more cops but to skeptical but influential civilians as well, including media representatives and some ardent police critics.

Eugene, the county seat, is “a very liberal town with a recent history of tension between the police and vocal sub-sections of the community,” Gardner says. “I came from a much more pro-law enforcement jurisdiction, and things that generate controversy here are sometimes hard to imagine.

“Eugene police, for example, are very conservative about Taser use, compared to what I find in many other locations. But every time a Taser is used here, it’s a media event and the police get grilled for it. The media seem always to want to create the impression that officers have done wrong.”

Gardner saw an opportunity, through Force Science, to help create a greater understanding in the community for the challenges that law enforcement faces.

A few years ago, the Oregon legislature mandated that each county in the state devise a formal protocol for dealing with OIS investigations. Lane County, Gardner says, was one of the first to compose a plan that was approved by the state’s attorney general, and it became something of a template for a majority of other jurisdictions.

“The plan includes a community-outreach element that is intended to give the public the best possible understanding of what we do when an incident arises and what we need to evaluate in assessing it,” Gardner explains.

Much of the public, he was aware, “has expectations that don’t have any relationship to reality. They expect an officer to shoot the gun out of an assailant’s hand, they think an officer needs to wait until he is shot at to respond, they’re outraged if a teenager threatening an officer with a kitchen knife is shot dead, and so on.”

Having heard Lewinski in other venues, Gardner knew he was “a stellar speaker who’s able to make the reality of force dynamics understandable to people who don’t really know anything about the subject.” With Lewinski scheduled to be in the state for the Hillsboro seminar, the time seemed right to bring him to Eugene, the second-largest metropolitan area in the state, as part of the community-outreach initiative. Executives of the county’s 3 principal policing agencies—Sheriff Russ Burger, Eugene Chief Pete Kerns, and Chief Jerry Smith of neighboring Springfield PD—wholehearted supported Gardner’s successful effort at recruiting him.

Lewinski will speak not as a spokesman for law enforcement per se but as a behavioral scientist, Gardner says. And the DA has hand-picked influential elements of the population that he particularly wants to hear the facts: local and regional politicians, media representatives, civic leaders, district attorneys from around the state, human rights commission members, even some activists who seem to be reliably skeptical of police conduct in force situations. Along with law enforcement representatives, particularly from rural agencies that are unfamiliar with Lewinski’s work, Gardner expects that as many as 200 attendees may participate.

For the first half of the day, in a conference center at a community college, Lewinski will outline some of the basic research findings regarding human behavior under the stress of a life-threatening encounter. This will range from basic FSRC findings about action/reaction time to the analysis of controversial shot-in-the-back events.

In the afternoon, attendees will be exposed to shoot/don’t shoot decisions of their own via training simulators, to better appreciate first-hand the pressures involved in armed confrontations. “Instead of Monday-morning quarterbacking, they’ll be right in the breech,” Gardner says.

Having himself been through a police academy firearms school, the DA knows “how a person’s perspective evolves through training.” After the day’s exposure to use-of-force reality, he’s hopeful that the media and other participating civilians “will have more reasonable expectations of police performance and be more fair in judging officers’ actions. Ideally, the next time a major force incident occurs, they’ll evaluate it with a more accurate perspective.”

Note: Through an editing error, letter writer Max Lewis was in accurately listed as a member of the Hillsboro (OR) PD in the last FS News transmission. He is no longer with that agency. We apologize for any confusion.

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