Law enforcement officers across the county recently participated in a workshop to help them gain a better understanding of the science behind the use of police force.
The class, which took place Sept. 18-20, informs law enforcement officers of the physiological effects that use of force can have on them in tense circumstances.
More than 15 agencies participated in the class hosted by the Lenexa Police Department, including roughly seven from Johnson County, and representatives from the Johnson County District Attorney’s Office and Johnson County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Dawn Layman, Lenexa deputy chief of police, said the police department has hosted the program before, but decided to bring it back to Lenexa after recognizing its importance for law enforcement agencies in the region.
“I think law enforcement, in general terms, doesn’t do a really good job of explaining use of force issues and encounters, because there’s physiological aspects that go into force situations,” Layman said.
To explain those effects, the police department brought in the Force Science Institute, an organization that studies police use of force. The class focuses on the psychological, physiological and biomechanical aspects of force.
Jamie Borden, a retired sergeant with the Henderson Police Department near Las Vegas and senior instructor for the Force Science Institute, said that by teaching the course, he hopes to help officers recognize their limitations and understanding how to work with them.
“It’s an education and an exposure to theories and concepts in human performance dynamics related directly to law enforcement,” Borden said. “This is concepts and theories in understanding what’s driving your decision-making process and understanding that you’re not going to see and remember everything. We’re identifying human limitations. When we understand our limitations, we can work with our limitations.”
Danny Chavez, public information officer of the Lenexa Police Department, said many physiological effects can occur when an officer uses force, ultimately affecting an officer’s reaction times, including tunnel vision, heart racing, spikes in adrenaline and the like.
“There’s some physiology that’s at work here within the officer as well as the suspect,” Chavez added.
For example, in the case of an officer-involved shooting, it may be split seconds when a suspect goes from facing an officer to turning around, Chavez said. In that moment the officer pulls the trigger, the suspect may be shot in the back, which looks bad to the public.
“In that second, that officer was intending to shoot them in the front, shoots them in the back,” Chavez said. “What we’re really looking at is the bigger picture here, the entire circumstances.”
The end goal of the course is to teach law enforcement officers situational awareness while providing them with “a presence of mind,” and to be aware of the effects a high-stress situation can have on an officer’s physiology, Chavez said. By being aware of those effects, an officer may be able to minimize or combat those effects in order to make more informed choices. For instance, an officer may scan an area to help break up the effects of tunnel vision.
The Lenexa Police Department is also hosting a free class Nov. 2 for the public on police use of force, including how training works, why force is used and how cases involving police force are investigated.