In an August 1, 2015 New York Times article, “Training Officers to Shoot First, and He Will Answer Questions Later”, Matt Apuzzo reports on disparagements of Dr. William Lewinski for his testifying as an expert on behalf of police officers involved in deadly force encounters. More disturbingly, the article assails Lewinski’s Force Science Institute as a pseudo-scientific academy that teaches officers to “shot first and answer questions later.” Having used deadly force as a police officer; taught the deadly force law for twenty years for both the military and law enforcement; and, served as with our Special Operations Forces in deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan in combat operations, I have an intimate knowledge of the ethical, legal and tactical dynamics of deadly force encounters. Accordingly, I wholeheartedly dismiss such specious attacks on Bill Lewinski.
Not only is Lewinski’s Force Science Institute Certification course rightfully considered the gold standard amongst experienced tactical trainers, but also Constitutional Law supports what is taught there. I suggest that what upsets Lewinski’s detractors is that Lewinski’s views interrupt their vision of how the world should work versus how the world does work.
The doyens of Constitutional Use of Force doctrine and training, retired FBI Supervisory Special Agents Urey Patrick and John Hall, wrote not only the Bureau’s Deadly Force Policy but also the preeminent tome on the subject. Their seminal book – In Defense of Self and Others: Issues, Facts & Fallacies – The Realities if Law Enforcement’s Use of Deadly Force – should be mandatory reading for any person purporting to be either an expert or investigator of a deadly force encounter. It is obvious that the critics of Bill Lewinski and Force Science Institute have not done so.
As explained by Patrick and Hall, most people have never experienced deadly force encounters during their lives nor have they been adequately trained to understand the dynamics of such encounters. As such, much akin to some Chiefs of Police, they superimpose their ill-founded notions of reasonableness in judging subordinates’ or others’ tactical actions in situations fraught with danger. Too often, as has happened in Baltimore, politics instead of reason, science and proper tactics drive both the investigative process as well as the decision to prosecute officers. The uninformed do what the Supreme Court of the United States, in its seminal case of Graham v. Connor, says a reviewer must not do – judge other from the cool comfort and safety of 20/20 hindsight.
Unfortunately, such clearly written law is incongruent with their desires of politicians, police chief or plaintiffs’ lawyers to control the outcome of an incident. As so eloquently stated by Patrick and Hall:
When criminal indictments and charges are instituted against a law enforcement officer for using deadly force, the impetus is predominantly political. The shooting incident was controversial in the public eye, inflamed segments of the community, and the filing of criminal charges is a political response to allay the emotional outrage of the affected activists.
Such is often the case for officers for whom Lewinski testifies. He presents the facts of each case in the light of the science of human behavior. Yet, Lewinski’s critics make light of Force Science Institute’s teachings about inattentional blindness and other well-documented ill effects of Emotional Intensity that can disaffect a police officer’s judgment under high stress encounters. For a quick lesson in the realities on inattentional blindness, one merely needs to watch Dr. Dan Simons ‘“The Invisible Gorilla” video on YouTube.
Sir Winston Churchill, in his memoirs The River Wars, described how he felt when participating in the last great horse cavalry charge of the British Empire at the Battle of Omdurman in the Sudan in 1898. Despite the rattle of musketry, crash of artillery and the thunder of horse hoof beats, Churchill described his recollections as if watching a silent movie. Churchill experienced what psychologists would later term auditory exclusion. I personally experienced auditory exclusion when I shot an armed robber. After I fired, my partners screamed over the radio, “Shots fired, shots fired.” It took me a moment for me to realize they were talking about my shots … I never herd my own weapon discharge!
In addition to auditory exclusion and inattentional blindness, Emotional Intensity can also produce the following debilitating effects:
– Loss of fine motor skills
– One’s Cognitive processing deteriorates
– Time-Space Distortion
– Loss of peripheral vision (tunnel vision)
– Intrusive Thoughts (inappropriate to situation)
– Loss of bowel and bladder control
And for all those militating for body cameras, such devices can be very misleading. Albeit with distortion caused by differing focal lengths and issues with digital memory, a camera captures much more than the human eye. Humans see with their brains, not their eyes. During high stress encounters, the eye sees only what is visible in about 3 degrees of focal plane. This reality is not “junk science.” In addition to being taught in tactical pistol courses, it is also now taught by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Additionally, cameras lead juries and the public, uneducated in the realities of a deadly force encounter, to do exactly what the Supreme Court warns we must not do: judge officers in the clear vision of 20/20 hindsight.
Now, the good news: realistic training can help officers make better decisions under high stress. But, the sad reality is that departments typically provide their officers less than four hours of training a year in these critical skills. But, even with training, there will be errors. Think about a realistic sports analogy (for which Lewinski is criticized). How often do NFL linebackers misread the draw play? These are highly trained athletes in phenomenal physical condition. They train thousands of hours a year, yet still make mistakes on any given Sunday. We train cops four hours a year yet expect NFL levels of performance or higher. How absurd. Officers should not be punished for errors in judgment not based in malice.
In closing, it is appropriate to quote both Churchill and In Defense of Self and Others:
“I decline utterly to be impartial as between the fire brigade and the fire.”
– Sir Winston Churchill (1926)
There are some topics about which decent folk cannot afford to be impartial. Sir Winston’s statement provides a good example. There is an obvious parallel between the fireman and the policeman. Just as the fireman’s helmet represents our determination as a community to protect ourselves from the dangers posed by fire, the law enforcement officer’s badge and gun represent our determination as a community to protect ourselves from the dangers posed by individuals whose actions threaten our safety. The folly of taking a neutral stance between that which is dangerous and that which we create to protect us from that danger should be self-evident.