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Stress Inoculation, Use-of-Force Training, and “Deescalation Behind the Wheel”

 

An increasing number of law enforcement agencies are engaging in increasingly lively discussions around use-of-force training. These are extremely important conversations—often difficult, always complex. Part of the challenge is that use-of-force training is a hot-button topic. But a good deal of complexity arises from the simple fact that it’s hard to have a national conversation about policies that need to be put into action by ~18,000 law enforcement agencies across countless communities. A game warden in rural Michigan faces an entirely different law enforcement landscape than a beat cop in Las Angeles or a corrections officer in Boise.

Nonetheless, the last five years have produced some very promising research into how officers can build skills that make their jobs easier and safer, improve the lives of those they interact with, and generally contribute to better force-use outcomes.

 

Research-backed Use-of-Force Training

In a 2016 study Judith P. Andersen (a University of Toronto psychologist) and Dr. Harri Gustafsberg (a researcher at Police University College in Finland) explored how an officer’s “psychological and physiological stress responses … shape the outcome of [a critical] incident, either positively or negatively.…Maladaptive stress responses during a critical incident put the officer and members of the public at risk of injury or death.”

Anderson and Gistafsberg specifically sought to test the effectiveness of stress inoculation training to improve use-of-force decision-making. The specific training regimen had three parts (similar to the cognitive-behavioral approach used to address PTSD). Participants first received instruction in a resiliency skill or tactic in a classroom setting. They then applied and practiced these tactics during increasingly challenging immersive scenarios that accurately emulated real-life stress-inducing situations. Finally, they built confidence in the skills’ effectiveness through after-action reflection.

Andersen and Gustafsberg concluded that “Results revealed that the intervention group displayed significantly better physiological control, situational awareness, and overall performance, and made a greater number of correct use-of-force decisions than officers in the control group.”

 

Holistic Use-of-Force Training

FAAC Training Group lead subject matter specialist (SMS) Chuck Deakins—himself a veteran police officer—is never surprised by results like these. He’s long been a passionate advocate of holistic use-of-force training systems, like DrivingForce. Not only do these lead to better outcomes in terms of community engagement and citizen-officer relations. They also give the officer in the field the best chance of making it home safe.

As Deakins explains, “link[ing] the environment of the ‘human interaction’ technology of the use-of-force simulator with that on the driving simulator … raises the intensity of driver training to a more realistic level and allows the student to honestly apply ‘de-escalation‘ principles where they belong first—the response to the scene. If an officer can de-escalate their driving response, they increase their own safety and survival and arrive in a much more controlled capacity to handle the situation.”