FS Researchers Inform Academics On Realities Of Policing

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Researchers with the Force Science Institute continue to bring a realistic perspective on law enforcement issues to the largely civilian academic community.

Dr. John O’Neill and Dr. Dawn O’Neill of the Force Science staff made separate presentations in Denver recently at the annual convention of the prestigious Assn. of Behavior Analysis International. The convention attracted thousands of scientists, academics, and practitioners from throughout the world.

Both O’Neills are also scheduled to speak in September at the annual Society of Police and Criminal Psychology conference in San Diego.

At the ABAI gathering, John O’Neill chaired the only symposium devoted to law enforcement topics. He reported on a Force Science study currently underway to assess the retention imprint made by police training.

Evaluating the experiences of recruits at several academies, he said, researchers are finding, for example, that within eight weeks of learning “simple” skills such as mandibular pressure-point control the ability to apply them tends to “degrade significantly,” while the performance of more complex skills like handcuffing frequently suffers a significant decline as soon as one week after instruction.

Currently, the findings document, not all recruits are “performing to the point of mastery” for important DT techniques and some of the fault may lie with outdated teaching methods, O’Neill said. A full, peer-reviewed report on this groundbreaking study is expected within the next few months.

In her presentation, Dawn O’Neill described Force Science’s research into several hundred unintended discharges across multiple agencies, exploring how and when they occur, the most common settings, officer behavior immediately before the UD, the types of firearms typically involved, and their threat potential.

Most often, she explained, UDs occur in low-stress environments rather than during high-stress threat confrontations. And overwhelmingly they can be prevented by following basic safety procedures and keeping the finger indexed outside the trigger guard. Her findings, too, will be described fully in a peer-reviewed paper in the near future.

At the San Diego conference, Sept. 13-16, John O’Neill will give an update on the learning retention studies, while Dawn O’Neill will present findings from a Force Science survey about public perceptions of police use-of-force dynamics.

In that study, some 500 young-adult civilians were asked their perception of various critical factors surrounding force events, such as training, dispatching, frequency, speed of assault, shooting dynamics, officer memory, etc.

The findings confirm what cops commonly believe: the public’s perception of police use of force is highly unrealistic. Respondents, for example, significantly “over-estimated the prevalence of force, the hours of training devoted to de-escalation and communication, and the speed at which assaults occur.”

O’Neill hopes to expand this research in coming months in an effort to improve police-public relations by helping civilians more accurately understand the realities of use-of-force encounters.

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