Study Team Urges Deeper Research Into Officers’ Deadly Force Restraint

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A research team that includes two former Force Science Certification Course instructors has called on the academic community to launch more studies of why officers overwhelmingly show more restraint than legally necessary when faced with deadly force decisions.

In a previous Force Science News [8/15/12] we reported a law enforcement survey of 1,189 police encounters with dangerous suspects where the use of lethal force was “legally and reasonably” an option. Nearly 300 LEOs canvassed said they faced an average of four such confrontations per year. Yet in 93% of those situations, officers chose not to shoot.

Now the researchers who conducted that study have written up these findings, along with supplementary data, for an academic journal in hopes of spurring in-depth research and dialog into the under-reported phenomenon of police restraint in the use of force.

Their article appears in the International Journal of Police Science & Management.

The authors are Dr. Anthony Pinizzotto, former senior scientist/clinical forensic psychologist for the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit; Edward Davis, former criminal investigations instructor with the Unit; Shannon Bohrer, retired sergeant with the Maryland State Police and an FBI firearms instructor; and Benjamin Infanti, a specialist in forensic psychology. Pinizzotto and Davis have also served on the faculty of the Force Science Institute’s certification course in Force Science Analysis.

“[R]esearchers have thoroughly studied factors related to situational, organizational and environmental determinants in the use of deadly force,” they write, “[but] situations in which police officers could legally and reasonably employ deadly force, but chose not to, are overlooked,” despite the fact that a very significant number of officers have been involved in multiple such encounters.

Among illuminating areas that should be explored, the authors suggest, are these:

  • What are individual officers’ “thought processes in the decision to use deadly force or restraint”?
  • What characteristics of a critical incident lead to deadly force” and to “officers using restraint?”
  • “Does the use of deadly force reduce or increase the inclination of officers to use restraint in subsequent critical incidents?”
  • “How do individual officers perceive restraint and deadly force?”

The results of such studies could “assist administrators, supervisors, investigators, officers involved in deadly force encounters, other officers from their department, prosecutors, citizens, and the media to better understand and evaluate the use of force in law enforcement,” the researchers say.

To aid future research, Pinizzotto’s team recommends the creation of a national database “to collect and report on the number of times officers are legally and ethically justified in using deadly force but resolve the situation” with other methods.

Meanwhile, agencies that “currently record instances in which officers have drawn their firearms without firing them can assist” by making their data accessible. And other departments can begin documenting these instances.

The availability of more information on officer restraint may help in countering the media-fueled misconception that police use of force is excessive and worsening, the team says.

“Decision-making in law enforcement is an extremely important and complex area,” says Dr. Bill Lewinski, Executive Director of the Force Science Institute. “We’re pleased that Dr. Pinnizzotto’s respected and highly qualified team of experts has taken on the task of exploring this topic.

“In addition to their focus on restraint in situations where the delivery of deadly force would be justified but the officer decided not to do so, we’re also looking at a broader span of scenarios including “mistake of fact” situations where officers made the decision to deliver deadly force based on a misperception or misattribution but were not factually justified in doing so, those where deadly force was not appropriate and the officer correctly decided on another course of action to resolve the situation and those where officers were justified in using deadly force but unwisely chose not to do so, thus resulting in their being injured, taken hostage or in some instances being killed.”

Dr. Pinizzotto can be contacted at: ajp1818@msn.com

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