November 2018 Warning Bells article

Practicality meets science

I have been complaining about this for 23 years, since the League’s attorney rollout program started in 1995. Officers who have been in a shooting and have been awake for 24 hours cannot give accurate interviews. They should be allowed to sleep before being subjected to the most important interview of their careers. Scientific research supports this. The Department, however, has resisted the science in favor of the theory that officers who are sent home prior to the interview will make up a story and so must be “nailed down” to a version of events prior to their release. This attitude was reinforced by the Consent Decree requirements. Damn the science—full
speed ahead!

And now we have body cameras and in-car videos. Not to mention security
camera videos, citizen iPhone videos, news eye-in-the-sky videos and who
knows what other videos. The body-worn and in-car videos alone in the present-day officer-involved shootings require hours to upload and review. Not only must Force Investigation Division (FID) detectives review the videos so they can conduct comprehensive interviews of the officers, but the officers themselves must review their videos with their League attorney to assure accurate answers. These hours of preparation along with the normal snail pace of Categorical Use of Force protocols often push the officers into the world of sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation only aggravates the inherent problems with the brain’s ability to deal with high-stress events.

I am writing this at the annual International Association of Police Chiefs Conference, where I attended a class called “The Six Critical Psychological Factors to Consider in Determining When to Do an Officer-Involved-Shooting Interview.” It was given by William Lewinski of the Force Science Institute. If you want to cut to the chase, the message was this: If you want accuracy, delay the interview. The six factors to consider took over an hour and a half to explain, but briefly they are: 1) the type of incident, 2) the experience of the officer, 3) attention and memory factors, 4) the emotional
response, 5) fatigue and exhaustion, and 6) the nature of the interview.

Shooting incidents unfold rapidly, can be extremely fast, visually, behaviorally and psychologically complex, and traumatic. An officer is flooded with adrenaline. This is good for the fight, but bad for the memory. Adrenaline interferes with memory consolidation. Adrenaline takes up to 10 hours to metabolize out of the blood. So for that period, there is a chemical in an officer’s blood stream actively inhibiting memory formation.
Sleep deprivation aggravates the problem.

Studies show that an officer awake for 14-18 hours is in the same mental state as a person with a blood alcohol level of .08. If the officer is awake for 20-24 hours, it is the same as a .10 blood alcohol level. If you can’t legally drive, you shouldn’t be allowed to participate in an interview this vital to an officer’s career, critical to a fair criminal prosecution of a suspect and
important to City liability.

Even without sleep deprivation, the brain requires at least one, and two would be better, sleep cycles to consolidate memory. Memory is a three-step process: encoding, storing and retrieval. All the information that an officer’s brain took in through the five senses during a high stress event swirls around in the brain until sleep allows the brain to organize it and store it. So, time is needed to dump the adrenaline, and then sleep is needed to consolidate the memory. Or from the scientific viewpoint, delay the interview if you are interested in accuracy to allow these necessary processes to happen.

Other factors to be considered are the personality of the officer, the training and experience the officer has and the degree of disassociation the officer is experiencing. What were the attention and memory factors impacting the situation, such as time to observe versus suddenness of the incident? Was there an extreme emotional response on the part of the officer either from fear of injury to one’s self, or misplaced guilt at terminating another’s life? Is there fatigue and exhaustion, either from a stressful physical struggle or length of time waiting for the protocol to play out, or both? Finally, is the nature of the interview going to be stressful? The answer will always be “yes” for the interview required by the LAPD protocol.

Here is where practicality meets science. The Department is realizing through experience that the lengthening of investigative time required at the scene of an officer-involved shooting caused by all the processing and reviewing of video makes a requirement that the interview take place prior to the officer going end of watch impractical. Besides, the Department reasons, science is on the side of delaying the interview. Consequently, there is a change of policy being worked out.

Unfortunately, the policy seems to be forming around the idea that the officer be subjected to a “short” interview prior to being released and then a detailed interview to follow in the next couple of days. This will not work for the following reasons. First, no League attorney will allow even a short interview without the officer being allowed to view their body-worn and
in-car videos, as they have a right to do. An inconsistency in a short interview is just as bad as an inconsistency in a long interview.

This means that the videos will have to be collected, processed and viewed by both the FID investigators and the officer and his or her attorney. Both FID and the officer will have to prepare for the interview. Therefore, no time is saved, and the protocol will not be significantly shortened.

Second, and I have personal experience in this, the so-called “short
interview” never is that. One question always follows another, and the answer to that question triggers further questions. Furthermore, the question of why the officer fired is sometimes not easily answered in a quick statement.

Third, science tells us that an interview conducted before the brain has time to organize, encode and store the information slammed into the mind by the senses in an intense experience, can confabulate the memories into forming false memories. Accuracy suffers, and accuracy is an officer’s most important product.

The fact is that the short interview is unnecessary. If it is based on the fear,
insulting as it is, that the officer will make something up if not nailed down
prior to going to end of watch, that reason disappeared with the advent of
body-worn and in-car cameras. The numerous videos “nail down” what
happened. They cannot be changed. The facts are the facts. The Department knows the basics of what happened without having to interview anyone. Besides, two interviews are always bad, especially when one is done under stress. The chance for inconsistencies are huge, and although sophisticated investigators will understand the reasons, the public, the police haters and plaintiff’s attorneys will not. It is better for accuracy for everyone to be prepared for the interview that will cover everything at one sitting.

This means that FID will have to review numerous videos to be able to know what questions to ask, and the officer will have had time to encode, store and retrieve accurate memories of the incident. The importance of a thorough investigation properly prepared for by both sides has increased exponentially. All videos, reports and scientific evidence surrounding an officer-involved shooting are now subject to being released to the public thanks to the bill the Governor signed that will take effect on Jan. I.

Everything the officer says, thinks and does will be endlessly parsed by those with an anti-police agenda. Let’s do it practically, scientifically,
fairly and right. Our officers deserve it.


Be legally careful out there.

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