Human Factors in Law Enforcement

Human Factors in Law Enforcement
Learning Proactive Vigilence

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Dangerous Mental Maps

I was e-mailing with a professional colleague who is a university professor when she mentioned a “Death and Dying” course she teaches. I was instantly reminded of a book I am reading: Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies and Why. I assumed she is using Kubler-Ross's work. In the book, Lawrence Gonzales ironically makes a direct link to Kubler Ross's stages of dying and the survivors’ stages of surviving. The "denying" stage is where non-survivors get stuck. We all naturally and subconsciously attempt to force our "mental maps" of how things should be upon our current reality. That leaves us with a dangerous case of episodic psychosis (my expression) at a critical time.

This has direct application to the state of law enforcement generally and human judgment interference factors specifically. In a general sense, the basic working environment of law enforcement has drastically changed. With the advent of in-car and cell phone video, the operating environment is open to worldwide scrutiny in real time. Unfortunately, law enforcement is doing what people tend to do, clinging to outdated mental maps.
This article seems to point out yet one more time that the long held “psychology of denial” still does not serve our profession well This You Tube video captures a tragic decision on a Taser deployment by a NYPD Lieutenant that represents an example of an event that would have likely ended much differently if practical preparation for such events were part of the law enforcement culture To exponentially amplify the tragedy the Lieutenant who gave the ill-fated deployment order later committed suicide.

The point is; from a human judgment interference perspective, what we know about these types of circumstances makes these tragic outcomes logical and predictable. (The precursors are built into the system – it is simply a matter of time before tragedy strikes. Like flying a kite during a thunderstorm, the fact that you get away with it several times does not change the dynamics of the system, it only serves to erode the value of your mental map).

This article by Chuck Remsberg (the original Street Survival guru) makes a solid case and brings in some useful tactical considerations – for a change in law enforcement that is long overdue.

Even still, much of the feedback and chat about the courageous conversation article holds the concepts as impractical and Pollyannaish.
Unfortunately, law enforcement is doing what people tend to do, clinging to outdated mental maps that are increasingly irrelevant to the realities of the operating environment.