Human Factors in Law Enforcement

Human Factors in Law Enforcement
Learning Proactive Vigilence

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Arrowhead Grinding - Yesterday and Today

Once upon a time, a Centurion prided himself in being fair, responsible and decisive. If, for example, an arrow hit where it ought not to hit, the Centurion would take full responsibility; taking fair, decisive action to assure it did not happen again. The Centurion would have the arrow extracted from where it struck, have the arrowhead removed, and ceremoniously bring the arrowhead before a court-martial. After finding the arrowhead guilty, he would publicly grind the arrowhead to a powder and scatter the debris to the wind. The Centurion would inwardly praise himself for his unfaltering resoluteness while quietly wondering how these aberrant arrowheads keep making their way into the Century arsenal. The arrow would have a new (non-aberrant) arrowhead attached, and be returned to the armory.
One day a low ranking administrative aid had the audacity to ask a series of disturbing questions: Who made the arrowhead? Who made the arrow? Who made the bow? Who shot the arrow from the bow? Were any perceptual distortions at work during the operation? Who gave the order to shoot the arrow? Who gave the order for the engagement? Who trained the makers of the arrowhead? Who trained the maker of the arrow? Who trained the maker of the bow? Who trained the soldier who shot the arrow? Who trained the Captain who ordered the engagement? Were any of the above people compromising the core values of the organization while doing what they did or making the decisions they made? Was any toxic groupthink, compromised social norms or blinding presuppositions operating within or around the above people while they made decisions? Were there any misalignment between stated policies and operational realities regarding, manufacturing, procurement, deployment, engagement and training?
Again, the Centurion acted decisively to rid his ranks of the disturbing individual and restored simplicity and order to the process of arrowhead grinding.
The Judgment Interference Factor Initiative (JIFI) is about learning; but for the executive, the foundational learning issue is learning to be responsible. That is, learning to be responsible without being swamped by the weight of responsibility. The previous statement seems counter intuitive at best and doublespeak at worst. It is neither, in reality - positioning oneself as responsible is counter intuitive (it does not come natural), what one tells him/herself to avoid responsibility is doublespeak (we deceive ourselves to conceal the truth and avoid responsibility).[1]
“Being responsible” is not referring to any of the following; being the person who stands in front of the city council or the media and explains the “responsible” action he/she is taking. “Responsibly” firing the offending officer, parading them out before the media as a representation of much of what is wrong in law enforcement. Responsibly saying something like – “we had a policy in place, and for whatever reason they decided to not follow the policy.” Then, conducting an internal dialogue of personal praise, honoring the strength it takes to make the tough decision and return to business as usual. Reminding yourself how rank and file members cannot “get it” when it comes to shouldering the mantle of responsibility. Members will naturally be angry, resentful and malcontent because of their ignorance and myopia, just the cost of being responsible.
For what appears to be an example of modern day arrowhead grinding, the following excerpt is from - Unleashing the Power of Unconditional Respect: Transforming Law Enforcement and Police Training. Jack Colwell and “Chip” Huth. Taylor and Francis Publishers, 2010.
Consider the case of former Grand Rapids Police Officer Matthew Dwyer. Officer Dwyer’s performance evaluations indicated he possessed above-average judgment; however, he lost his job after using what was deemed poor judgment during a disturbance call where a fellow officer lost his life on July 8, 2007. Officers from the Grand Rapids Police Department responded to investigate a domestic disturbance at the home of Jeffery VanVels. VanVels hid inside the garage with a loaded shotgun and ambushed Officer Robert Kozminski, shooting him in the head as he approached up the driveway. Fellow officers were able to take VanVels into custody immediately after the shooting. Other officers were attempting to rescue the mortally wounded Kozminski, when Officer Dwyer—who was covering the house from another position—believed he saw VanVels moving inside the house and fired a shot at what he believed to be the suspect. The shot created confusion among the officers tending to Officer Kozminski and interfered with their rescue efforts. Dwyer still maintains he saw someone in VanVels’s home that day. But authorities have said the family’s dog was the only thing inside when the officer took his shot. The police department investigation into Dwyer’s actions determined not only that he didn’t see VanVels but also that his shot caused stress for other officers on the scene and interfered with the “rescue of Officer Kozminski.”[2]
There is plenty of research on the subjectivity of perception that supports Officer Dwyer’s belief that he observed the suspect in the house—even though he simply wasn’t there. Attention, particularly under high stress, has a single, undifferentiated, limited capacity and reduces our ability to process information. This is termed selective attention. Perceptual narrowing that occurs under these conditions results in more information being processed about that which we are attending to (selective attention), but it significantly restricts or blinds us to information that we are not paying attention to. This is called attentional blindness.[3]

Rather than arrowhead grinding, learning to be responsible does mean learning to be “response-able”
· Able to resist the natural tendency to quickly and myopically affix blame where you and other decision makers feel comfortably insulated and justified
· Able to ask and allow tough questions that seek out root causes and flaws embedded within the structures and social systems of the organization
· Able to allow true, comprehensive accountability that reaches from top to bottom in the organization where all members are accountable to high core values and basic mission. No one is exempt by virtue of rank or loyalties. No sacred cows that are untouchable and unaccountable
· Able to see and treat others as people, rather than objects who ‘make me look bad’ or ‘cause me inconvenience’
· Able to foster safe, open honest communication that is respectful of alternative view points (like the low ranking administrative aid in our story) and results in
o Intense understanding, focus and alignment with the organizations high core values and top priorities
o Better ideas for constant improvement in policy, systems, equipment and training
o Ever increasing levels of trust
o Synergistic creativity from all members resulting in productive, effective partnerships with the rest of the community (even the tough ones)
How can one allow this without being swamped by the weight of responsibility?
· Make a personal commitment to high core values and create systems of external accountability around them (acknowledging that I will most likely be self deceived and feel fully justified when making well thought out, but very wrong decisions)
· Build enduring organizational systems that are continuously realigned with the inherent complexities of the operating environment
· Have highly trained – non decision makers – who are charged with the task of constantly monitoring and courageously reporting on organizational; psychological contracts, social contracts, groupthink, blinding presuppositions, power cliques and loyalties that are compromising high core values, basic mission, stated policies and training and decision making processes.
JIFI would like to welcome you to the new world of being “response-able.” It is a brave new world. A lonely world inhabited only by those who commit to the challenging and never-ending journey to develop:
· Personal humility to maintain impeccably high character
· Integrity to create enduring systems of personal accountability
· Courage to take on real issues, correcting wrongs and following through so the wrongs are not repeated
[1] language used to deceive usually through concealment or misrepresentation of truth
"doublespeak." Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009. Merriam-Webster Online. 4 October 2009
[3]William Lewinsky, The Attention Study: A Study on the Presence of Selective Attention in Firearms Officers, Force Science Institute.

Why Human Factors in Law Enforcement

Law enforcement is an honorable, challenging, rewarding and unique undertaking. Few if any careers require the diversity of knowledge and skills, along with the steadfastness of attitude, as does this noble profession.
At the same time, it is a profession filled with peril, both large and small. The Judgment Interference Factor Initiative (JIFI) is primarily a learning initiative to explore Human Factor issues in Law Enforcement. The objectives of such learning include crucial issues that logically flow, one from the other:
• Learning to think critically and objectively about oneself, one’s organization and one’s community (the operating environment); through this -
• Learning a more effective way to be as an individual in the profession and more effective perspectives from which to operate in the environment; through this -
• Learning to constantly improve officer safety and well being; emotionally, psychologically and socially; through this -
• Learning to win the hearts and minds of all the stakeholders around our basic mission of instilling safety, security and prosperity into our community and organization

Operating Environment Realities

Self: Kevin M. Gilmartin, Ph.D., considered by many to be one of the preeminent authorities on police stress and emotional survival, conjectures that a perceptual state he calls "hypervigilance" is the source of many of the psychological and sociological woes of law enforcement officers. This perceptual state regards everything at work as potentially life threatening. It causes a mild state of stimulation during the entire shift and sends the officer home wholly exhausted and increasingly unable to socialize with non-police.1

Organization: Research is demonstrating that the stress related to the events (calls for service and self initiated activity) that officers deal with on a daily basis are not the primary cause of life and career threatening stress. Rather, organizational factors such as autocratic management practices, unclear or changing expectations, inadequate communications and insufficient rewards are taking the greatest toll on the men and women of law enforcement.
Police personnel in particular are vulnerable to burnout (Kroes, 1976; Silbert, 1982) and its devastating physical and psychological effects—ranging from alcoholism and divorce to digestive disorders, coronary heart disease, and even suicide (Kroes, Margolis, and Hurrell, 1974b; Robin and Anson, 1990; Terry, 1981; Violanti, 1996)."2

Community: When officers interact with their communities, the operating environment is essentially transparent and open to worldwide scrutiny in real time! This reality begs for some tough questions:
• Why do intelligent officers with no significant history of disciplinary action calmly and intentionally do what turns out to be a career-ending act in front of their in-car video camera?3
• Why do officers viewing video of other officers killed or assaulted in the line of duty, frequently find themselves wondering how the officer on the video seems to be oblivious to the danger unfolding around him/her until it is too late?
• Why do preventable vehicular accidents continue to plague the profession with deaths, injuries, litigation, and loss of public trust and of police equipment?
• What are the long-term costs of these events in terms of stress on our members (fear, apathy and cynicism), strain on our organizations (mistrust, low morale, and low productivity) and wariness within our communities (hostility, resentment, opposition)?
• Are training processes, policies and equipment interfaces in keeping with the realities of human abilities and limitations?

More Questions
Do silos surrounded by "Blue Walls of Silence" within an organization:
• Prevent safe, open, honest communication
• Erode trust
• Destroy any air of real top to bottom accountability
• What are root causes of enduring problems? How can we learn to preclude them in the future?
Join the us on a journey of learning and development.

Critical Thinking, Learning, Analysis and Restoration Tools:

  • Foundations for Strategic Awareness: Instilling, trust, accountability and effective communication within the organizational culture
  • Couragageous Conversation Model and skill set training
  • Red Team Analysis: Recognition and mitigation of; self deception, groupthink, and other blinding presuppositions – awareness of alternative perspectives
  • High Core Values / Basic Mission Sight Alignment – (basic decision making paradigm)
  • Response to Resistance paradigm and evaluation model
  • Tactics of Regard - Honor the humanity and adversarial worth of all and let it produce mutual benefit
  • String of Perils / Dirty Dozen: Identification and mitigation of the factors (perils) that link the tasks of law enforcement to problems and catastrophes and the string all the factors ride upon
  • Root Cause Analysis Investigations
  • Organizational Environmental Pyramid (a tool for helping things go right and ferreting out root causes of problems embedded within the organization)
  • The Rule of 30 (organizational wellness evaluation and response tool)

1 Kevin Gilmartin, Ph.D., "Hypervigilance: A Learned Perceptual Set and Its Consequences on Police Stress," (accessed 4 September 2009).
2 Jeanne B. Stinchcomb, "Searching for Stress in All the Wrong Places: Combating Chronic Organizational Stressors in Policing" Police Practice and Research,Vol. 5, No. 3, July 2004, pp. 259–277. (availability for purchase verified 9 September 2009).
3 "Officers Fired over Use of Taser Gun: Police Board Says No Back Pay, Benefits for 2 Officers," (accessed 4 September 2009).
"Board: Cops to Be Fired in Miscarriage Case: Pregnant Woman Requests Treatment during Traffic Stop,", posted and updated 23 May 2008, (accessed 6 September 2009).