Written by Ellis Pines – October 1, 2020

First in a series from InVeris Training Solutions

Providing the “how”: the role of scenario training in supporting reasonable policing

“[New proposed] legislation…shall include recommendations to enhance current grant programs to improve law enforcement practices and build community engagement, including through…training and technical assistance required to adopt and implement improved use-of-force policies and procedures, including scenario-driven de-escalation techniques.”

– Executive Order on Safe Policing for Safe Communities, issued June 16, 2020 by President Donald J. Trump.

Current events have supplied the “why” for change in policing. In addition to a presidential executive order, both houses of Congress are considering police reform bills. While the bills differ on details, they are consistent in seeking de-escalation training and alternatives to use of force. Meanwhile, experts agree that while police train constantly, the greatest need is for training that “prepares officers for diverse response options to dynamic situations.”1

Yet many departments, reviewing the many proposals and criticisms, may wonder about the “how.” Every day, their officers confront difficult situations and must make split-second decisions. If it were not for their constitutionally protected rights that prevent “second guessing,” officers may become hesitant in seeking justice. Instead, thanks to prevailing Supreme Court verdicts, they can at least rely on reason, the trust that another officer, placed in the same circumstances, would reasonably respond as they did.2

In Graham v. Connor, the Court set forth two tenets that have essentially made policing possible for the 18,000 agencies in the United States. These statements uphold the principle of reasoned rule of law while acknowledging that policing takes place in an unpredictable environment:

  • “The ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.”
  • “The calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments—in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving—about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.”

How does the officer then learn to be reasonable under every pressure that stimulates emotion?

The role of judgmental scenarios in use-of-force simulations

Trained officers go into harm’s way knowing that use of force involves a spectrum, with de-escalating conversation moving along a continuum to violence as a last resort. Yet at any moment, the situation can veer out of hand: A sudden appearance of a new player. A rapid turn in emotion by the suspect. Even deceptions by a seemingly benign bystander.

At those moments, realistic training with a simulator, such as the InVeris FATS 100P, can literally make all the difference. With the sense that one has “been there before,” the officer can make the right choice under the most trying circumstances—a decision that protects both the community and the officer.

In the next blog in this series, we will discuss the proven value of scenarios in de-escalation.

1See statement by criminologists Daniel Nagin, Carnegie Mellon University, Cynthia Lum, director of the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy at George Mason University, and Tarrick McGuire of the American Society of Evidence-Based Policing, Washington Post, June 9, 2020 at https://www.washingtonpost.com/crime-law/2020/06/09/guest-post-repairing-fractured-foundations-police

2For a refresher on Graham v. Connor, see https://www.policeone.com/officer-shootings/articles/graham-v-connor-three-decades-of-guidance-and-controversy-uqgh9iY6XPGTdHrG