Protecting our Protectors: Using Science to Improve Officer Safety and Wellness
Each year, 100-200 law enforcement officers die in the line of duty. Last year, 177 lost their lives — a 16-percent increase from 2010. As Attorney General Eric Holder noted, this is a devastating and unacceptable trend. NIJ has developed a robust research portfolio to improve officer safety and wellness and, ultimately, save lives. This panel discussed some of NIJ's most promising work to reduce shooting and traffic-related fatalities — consistently the leading causes of officer line-of-duty deaths — and improve officer wellness, which is inextricably linked with officer safety.
Moderator: John H. Laub, Director, National Institute of Justice
John Laub — for the city of Quincy in Florida. Prior to his selection as Quincy's Police Chief, he held a number of roles, including Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections, Head of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, Chief of Police for the City of Tallahassee, Florida, Assistant Police Chief, Police Major, Police Captain, Police Lieutenant, Police Sergeant, Police Officer and Investigator for the City of Tallahassee.
As a strong voice for progressive law enforcement, Chief McNeil has led several community policing efforts to control gangs, drugs and juvenile crime. These efforts have earned him numerous honors, including being named Public Sector Business Person of the Year, recipient of the Northern District U.S. Attorney's Outstanding Service Award, the Tallahassee NAACP Humanitarian Award, the United States DEA Award for Drug Enforcement, the IACP Civil Rights Award and the City of Tallahassee's Humanitarian Award for his response to Hurricane Katrina as one of the incident commanders. Chief McNeil holds a master degree in criminal justice and a bachelor's degree in criminology, both excellent degrees, important topics. I own those as well. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy. Please join me in welcoming Chief McNeil.
[End of video clip]
Protecting our Protectors: Using Science to Improve Officer Safety and Wellness
Chief Walter McNeil Thank you, Dr. Laub, for that nice introduction. Good morning. It is indeed and honor to be here with you and to be chosen to moderate such a distinguished panel. Perhaps you know after 30 years of law enforcement that officer safety is something that is near and dear to my heart. Unfortunately for me, I have had the occasion to have some four officers under my command die in the line of duty. It obviously is something that we work to do all we can to prevent. Also, I'm very proud of the work of NIJ and the IACP, particularly in looking at this issue from a partnering perspective and bringing this issue to a point of strength as we try to deal with the issues and solutions to the various issues and problems.
The body of work and the research that's done by NIJ, the formulation of policies, the look at the science of criminology, technological advances, and looking at such things as body armor have been important in our efforts to deal with officer safety issues. Obviously all of those things are important priorities if we're going to do our best to reduce the number of officers killed and are injured in the line of duty.
As you perhaps know, some 53,000 law enforcement officers were assaulted in 2010. Last year, we had something in the magnitude of 177 officers who lost their lives. That's a 16 percent increase from 2010. Seventy-two of those officers killed were feloniously assaulted. So far this year we've had 36 police officers who have died either through assaults or in traffic crashes.
For me, the major issue has been what are we doing about that and specifically what is the IACP doing about those circumstances. I'm happy to share with you this morning that the first priority of the IACP during this year has been to focus on officer safety. It's been an ongoing priority of the organization for many years. To address officer safety, we also know that we cannot do that work alone. It requires partnerships like the one we have here with NIJ.
We are currently partnered with the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, DuPont Corporation and the Bureau of Justice Assistance, along with the FBI Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted Program, and many more leading officer safety organizations. With these partners we are addressing all aspects of officer safety. First and foremost, the 50,000 officers feloniously assaulted every year and the 72 killed by assaults in 2011. One of our major initiatives is to reduce these deaths and reduce these deaths in programs like Saved by the Vest through the DuPont Corporation. I have you noted in recent years, over 3,000 officers have not died, and they have not died because the bullet struck the vest instead of their bodies. We in the IACP have recently created the Center for the Prevention of Violence Against Police to study felony assaults and provide guidance to the field in terms of how we can reduce assaults against police officers.
We are working hard on traffic safety. With 66 officer fatalities in 2011, this problem has not gone away. Perhaps one of the issues that we're tackling in the IACP that some have said they'd rather not see us tackle has been the issue of police officer suicides. Suicides continue to take a significant toll on police departments around the country, with over 150 officers dying by their own hands in 2011. To address this tragic loss, I am proud to announce we are joining forces — we, the IACP — are joining forces with the COPS Office on a national officer suicide prevention initiative with a bottom-up line perspective, and we're looking at making sure that mental health and wellness are a key focus in all 18,000 law enforcement agencies across this country. Our belief is that if you can't talk about mental health issues, then it's virtually impossible to get help.
Folks looking at all the injuries, thousands of officers hurt in terms of injuries to their backs, sprained ankles in an annual way, we're also conducting an officer injury study with BJA to determine how these injuries can be reduced through policy and training. All these initiatives at IACP fall under the flagship effort of our officer safety and wellness initiative that we very fondly refer to as Project Safe Shield. To that extent, let me point out Scott Brian, Project Manager — Scott, why don't you stand up and let folks see you — and Steve Fender, Project Coordinator with the IACP National Center for the Prevention of Violence Against Police. I want them to stand so you can see who they are so that perhaps you get an opportunity sometime today, perhaps after this session, to engage them in some conversation about the good things that we're doing to try to save lives of our men and women across this nation who try to patrol and police our communities.
What is this panel here this morning about? I'm excited about this panel. I have had the good fortune this morning of having some conversation with all of our panelists here, and I'm really excited about what they're going to share with us today. Today we'll be discussing some of the NIJ's most promising work to reduce shootings and traffic-related fatalities, which are consistently the leading causes of officer line of duty deaths, and what can be done to improve police officer wellness, which is inextricably linked with officer safety. I am very proud this morning to have the honor and the privilege of introducing our panelists. First, we have Dr. Bryan Vila, Professor at Washington State University, Spokane, Washington. Secondly, we have Dr. Carrick Williams, Associate Professor at Mississippi State University, Starkville, Mississippi. We have with us Dr. Karen Amendola, Chief Operating Officer, Police Foundation, Washington, D.C., and a man that I just had an opportunity to meet this morning who is going to talk to us about police officer suicides, and that's Dr. John Violanti, Research Professor, University of Buffalo, Buffalo, New York.
[End of video clip]
The Impact of Shift Length: An Experimental Study
Karen Amendola Good morning everyone. I'm very pleased to be here, and I want to kick off the panel by acknowledging first and foremost the Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder, for his commitment to this important issue, and many other leaders within the Justice Department, including of course Director John Laub, and others that have really taken an interest in this topic in recent years and are really focused on what's most important. I also want to note that Bryan Vila who's now in Spokane, was originally the person at NIJ who really pushed some of these issues about officer safety and wellness, and the reason that I'm actually here because of the funding stream that he began started the grant that I was able to get from NIJ with my colleagues to do this important work. I also want to thank Kris Rose for coordinating the panel, and Chief McNeil and the work of the IACP, because this is something that they've taken a very close interest in. I'm really thrilled to be amongst these folks. I also want to acknowledge — I think he's here — but Brett Chapman from NIJ who was my grant monitor throughout the entire study that we conducted, and the Director of the Office of Crime Control Winnie Reed I think is also here. I thank of all of them for this.
The study that I'm going to talk to you about deals more — instead of on the personal level with officers, it deals more on the policy level. It's really focused on what are the environmental and organizational contexts in which officers perform their duties, and in fact are these things that can be really focused on in a way that really brings an organizational perspective in the way that things are managed? There are certain things that you can control as a police leader and other things that you of course can't. Our study really sought to examine the effects of different shift practices that were in place and how those practices in agencies affect various safety, wellness, and other kinds of outcomes like performance and fatigue and those types of things. Like many of us, these research projects are not a unitary effort, of course. I want to thank so many collaborators, David Weisburd especially, who's a co-author on the works that I've done, and others that I've listed here, as well as the two police agencies where we conducted an experiment, the now-retired Chief Ella Bully-Cummings from Detroit who has been succeeded by Chief Ralph Godbee who has also been committed to this issue throughout, and Chief T. Bowman from Arlington, Texas, who had the foresight to really take this kind of issue under his wing and really more forward with it in a research context.
Moving right into this, I'd like to start off by saying I was really interested a number of years ago in what the practices were in terms of the length of shifts that officers work. What we did is sent out of a survey to 300 randomly selected agencies throughout the country, stratified based on size, then four years later we followed up with those same 300 agencies. It's showing a real interesting trend, and that trend is basically that agencies have begun moving away — and this has probably gone back further than just the last five years — but moving away from a traditional 8-hour schedule. This is something that always interested me because I was concerned about whether or not these schedules were problematic in some way. It turns out that it was really because of different kinds of interests of officers and their wanting to have a compressed work schedule. What we found is that small agencies tended to favor both 8- and 12-hour shifts, and mid-sized agencies were a mix of 8-, 10-, and 12-hour shifts. Interestingly, at least as early as 2005, the largest agencies were favoring 10-hour shifts. That was curious to me as well, and that hasn't gone away. There are a greater number of those agencies that use 10-hour shifts. What I wondered was if we're moving away from these different schedules and now we're also moving to things like 9-, 11-, 13-hour days in some agencies — and this is not counting overtime and off-duty employment — does the length of the shift in and of itself matter? Bryan had done significant work on tired cops, and of course I was really concerned about this.
We conducted a randomized experiment in which we blocked on both the site — in case there were some site differences — but also on the time of day, because people have known for a long time that working a midnight shift is a difficult process. We were trying to control for that factor as well. We ended up with about 223 officers that were measured. We measured all kinds of performance. This included some departmental data like officer stops, accidents, et cetera. We also measured various kinds of performance and reaction time in laboratory settings in both police agencies. These measures were done through simulations. We had shooting simulators, driving simulators, and the like, which I'll quickly walk through. Then we also had self-report data, and much of that came from standardized instruments of things like quality of work life and stress and a number of other health indicators.
Here's an officer in Detroit while we're prepping him for his session. Here's an officer that's demonstrating the shooting simulator that we use which is an active shooter. In this particular case he's just doing target shooting. Here's an officer preparing for a video-based series of scenarios that are part of what's called the BPAT instrument that's used for selection in some agencies. In this, the officers responded because we wanted to test whether their interpersonal reaction mattered based on how fatigued they might be or specifically how long their shifts were. We also used a standardized instrument that others on this panel have used in research, that's a pupilometer. That measures a number of things, including saccadic velocity, which is basically the speed at which your eye tracks light, and that's a fairly direct measure of fatigue. Then we had a low fidelity simulator that officers received training on and then were measured with a lot of different cognitive inputs going on during the time, like radio traffic and instructions to the officers and whatnot. Then we finally had a reaction time measure. This is a very common one, the PVT, the psychomotor vigilance test, in this particular case applied on a handheld device.
What we found were a couple of very interesting patterns. The officers on the 10-hour shifts — and to me this was the most meaningful — got significantly more sleep than officers on 8-hour shifts, in fact, over a half hour per 24 hour period, which you can imagine over the course of a year is very significant and very meaningful. I can't explain particularly why that's the case, but what we do know is that we measured not only the sleep period but any nap periods during the 24 hour period, because Bryan and others have found that officers in general sleep less than the average person, and we were finding rates of 7.3 hours to 7.9 hours on average, which was a good sign for many reasons. That benefit of extra sleep did not extend to 12-hour shifts. We started to wonder if there was a curvilinear kind of relationship here, that maybe it peaks out at around 10 and starts to drop off at 12 for various reasons.
Specifically with regard to the economic and environmental concerns of agencies, officers on the 10-hour shifts worked significantly less — and I'm not talking a small amount. If you were on an 8-hour shift, you worked 5 times the amount of overtime hours than somebody on a 10-hour shift. That is quite meaningful and it could possibly be explained by the fact that the days are limited and after a 10-hour shift it's difficult to work more, but many times it's mandated, so this was very interesting. This finding did also translate to the 12-hour shifts but not to the same extent, but still those on 12-hour shifts did get a significant benefit for the agency in terms of reduced overtime.
Then for the 12-hour shifts, it was indeed true that maybe there is sort of a point of diminishing returns. I can't tell you exactly when that occurs, but for those on the 12-hour shifts, they had a higher sleepiness index. We measured sleepiness using a few different standardized measures, including the Epworth scale, which is a standard one, and some other items used by the Harvard researchers who did a similar type of study on officer sleep. We were concerned about that. On the other hand, this problem did not occur for those that were working the 10-hour shifts. So at some point after 10 hours and up to about 12 hours, there seems to be a sort of fatigue effect. However, we did measure fatigue objectively. I mentioned the reaction time measure and the FIT which is a fatigue measure, and those objective measures did not differ across groups. But, that doesn't mean that it's not concerning, because Mark Rosekind, an alertness researcher out in California, in his past research has indicated that people tend to underestimate their level of fatigue such that they really can't subjectively say how fatigued they actually are. I would suspect and really venture to guess that officers, because of the culture, are less likely to admit that they're fatigued. So, the fact that we're finding a strong effect for self-reports of fatigue is very important. Then also those on the 12-hour shifts were less alert on the job. We measured that on an hour-by-hour basis.
We didn't, however, find results on any of the performance measures. We didn't find it on quality of personal life. However, those on the 10-hour shifts had a better quality of work life, so happier with the job and whatnot. We didn't find any differences in departmentally measured performance or in sleep disorders, or for that matter even in terms of the quality of sleep, just the amount of sleep, which I think is a pretty important thing.
What I conclude from this is that 10-hour shifts really are a viable alternative, especially for larger agencies, because the officers are likely to have an improved quality of work life. It's liable to save the agency significant dollars in overtime provided that they can manage those shifts appropriately and maximize their resources at periods of overlap, and then also the big sleep benefit, which could be a safety and accident problem in the future. The fact that officers on 10-hour shifts are getting more sleep — why we don't know — but it's certainly an important thing. It may not be as important to chiefs as the financial thing, but if you think of it in a broader sense, if there's an accident, there's a liability and there's a cost and a payout to the city as well.
Finally, I think 12-hour shifts, we have to think about implementing them with caution because there is this subjectively felt fatigue, lowered levels of alertness, and they certainly don't get the sleep benefit that those on the 10-hour shifts had. It's important to note in closing that there were no unique benefits on any of the things that we measured for the 8-hour shifts. The fact that agencies have begun to move away from 8-hour shifts is probably a smart thing. It's certainly not a bad thing to stay on 8-hour shifts. We didn't find major problems with 8-hour shifts, but really when you look across the board, there really weren't significant performance differences across any of the groups. Agencies just have to be very aware of these scientific findings when they look at what they're going to implement. We didn't measure small agencies in the experiment. The fact that many small agencies are implementing 12-hour shifts, it may be more appropriate in a smaller agency, particularly one that doesn't have as much activity and there may not be the level of fatigue. But I would caution the larger agencies.
With that, if you need more information, just so that you know, the experimental study was published in the Journal of Experimental Criminology in December. This study and some work that John Violanti has done were featured in Police Chief in the May issue. The shift work study can be found at our website in this report, which is a more practitioner-oriented report, as well as the survey and the results of the trends study. I have handouts that have these websites for you so that you can access those. They're up on the front table. Thank you.
Suicide: The Enemy Within
John Violanti It's really an honor for me to present here. I'd like to thank Chief McNeil, Brett Chapman with whom I've had sporadic contact with over the years, Bryan of course who has been a guide in a shift work studies, the IACP, the NIJ, and NIOSH for giving us funding and support to do our studies.
There are a lot of things I'd like to talk about today and I don't have a lot of time, but I'd like to start out with just following up on what Karen said about shift work. In our most recent publications we've found that the officers who work midnight shifts have a fourfold risk of a metabolic syndrome than those who work day shifts. The metabolic syndrome is a constellation of five risk factors which are associated with cardiovascular and metabolic disease. Our police officers who are working nights are four times more prone to develop cardiovascular disease in their work.
Additionally we found in our shift work studies that the officers who work midnight shifts are over two times as likely to have an on-duty injury as those officers who work day shifts. So far under our Buffalo study, we've done a five-year Buffalo study on police health and stress. We're on our second phase of follow-up on another five-year study, and thus far we've had 86 publications on this topic.
I think this is a very important topic, and I think just to follow up on that I'd like to talk about a subject that has considerable interest to me that I've been studying for 20 years now, and that's police suicide. In our mortality work, when we look at police mortality, what officers die from, we looked at 60 years' worth of deaths of police officers. As a conglomeration of that, we found that on average police officers in the United States die at age 67. Now if you compare that to the general population, that's about 10 years sooner than the United States general population. Another thing we're finding is that police officers develop cardiovascular disease as a much younger age than do those in the general population. They also are at high risk for cancer. They are at high risk for suicide. They are at high risk for cardiovascular disease.
The chief mentioned that there were 37 officers killed this year, feloniously assaulted and killed. In our most recent study on police suicide we found that there are 37 police suicides this year, so we're running very close to the amount of felonious deaths as well.
Child Voice: When I grow up, I want to be a police officer.
Child Voice: When I grow up, I want to work for the FBI so I can go on secret missions.
Male Voice: When I grow up, I want to be detective so I can investigate crimes.
Male Voice: I want to be a police officer so I can keep people safe.
Female Voice: Because they're brave and I can help catch criminals.
Female Voice: When I grow up, I want to be a police officer so I can serve my country.
Child Voice: I want to grow up to be a cop.
Male Voice: Because I want to be in a position of authority.
Female Voice: Because girls can do it, too.
Female Voice: When I grow up, I want to become a police officer so I can become isolated.
Female Voice: I want to be a police officer so I can have nightmares.
Male Voice: So I can see things that no human being should ever see.
Female Voice: So I can become void of emotion.
Female Voice: When I grow up I want to be a police officer because I want to feel the emptiness inside.
Female Voice: I'm so sad all the time.
Male Voice: You can't just toss me aside.
Female Voice: I don't understand what's happening to me.
Female Voice: I'll never be the same.
Male Voice: I don't even go to family functions anymore.
Male Voice: Disassociated.
Female Voice: Suicide.
Female Voice: Suicide.
Male Voice: Suicide.
Female Voice: They betrayed me.
Male Voice: I'm not a piece of garbage.
Male Voice: No one should have to see what I have seen.
Female Voice: I may not be alone, but I am lonely.
Child Voice: Help me.
Child Voice: Help me.
Violanti: Okay. Out of the mouths of babes comes the truth, and I think this is a beginning sequence from a video called "Code Nine" which is in production now on police suicide.
Well, we have a lot of enemies out there as police officers. We have criminals who are hurting our society in many ways and it's our job to stop that, but there's another enemy that exists inside of us and that enemy is ourselves. I've often thought at the New York State Police Academy much of the emphasis is on operational things, how to survive on the street, and that's true in most police academies in the country. But what's often neglected to an extreme sometimes is psychological survival. How do you as an individual, as a human being, survive 20 or 25 years of police work and not be affected by that, by the chronic stress and the post-traumatic stress disorder? So I think the emphasis should be — and I applaud Chief McNeil for having the courage to come out and tackle a subject like police suicide, a subject that nobody wants to talk about. It takes a lot of guts and this man has it. I give him a lot of credit for that, and I hope that message gets out to this country, that we need to address this topic seriously.
Are those among us who are affected? We know, or we believe and we see from research, that about 10 percent to 15 percent of police officers in the United States have post-traumatic stress disorder, have PTSD. And they're hidden in there; we don't even know where they are. So it's important that we start emphasizing survival — mental health — in police work. It's becoming more dangerous, more complex. It's not simple like it was. You have to almost be a practicing attorney to be an effective officer. You have to worry about terrorism. You have to worry about violence. You see more violence out there, domestic violence, abused kids, dead bodies at traffic accidents. All of those things are part of exposures in this job.
What is suicide? It's an act of self-induced annihilation, and it's best understood as sort of a multidimensional thing. What that means essentially is that there generally are a lot of things that come together that lead to a suicide and then there's a trigger. A trigger is the thing that brings about the actually act of suicide. Suicide is seen as the best possible solution to the problem. Generally people who are thinking about suicide will get in a state of what psychologists call cognitive restriction, and that means that they only can see two ways to handle the situation: either continue to have the psychological pain that they're experiencing, or kill themselves. They see no other way out. It's our job as mental health professionals to show them the way out. That should be, I think, part of our criteria.
What causes police suicide? I wish I knew. There are so many things that cause suicide that it's hard to disentangle them all, but police officers are human beings. They're much like all of us. They face the same stressors we all face every day in our lives. Family, work, bills, financial matters, all of those things are experienced by officers, but you add to that the strain of this job, the chronic stress, the events of exposures, the traumatic exposures that these officers have every day in their careers. That is what can be considered a trigger. PTSD and depression are triggers for suicide. Being human is not a luxury in being a police officer. It's a deficit. And officers try to their best not to be human when they get out there and do their work, but you can't stop it. You can't stop being a human being. Your emotions and your well-being are affected by what you see every day.
Probable factors that may be precipitants or leading to suicide. Relationship problems are quite a big one — we see a lot of that — legal troubles, internal investigations. Surprisingly only about 14 percent of the suicides were related to internal investigations in our last tally that we looked at last year. Marital difficulties are common. Alcohol is very common. In fact, alcohol is probably one of the largest precipitants. Problems with drug abuse, depression. Interestingly, people think that people who commit suicide are crazy, but in essence they are not. They just have a problem they can't solve. Depression comes from chronic stress that police officers experience in their career.
The availability of firearms play a role. Ninety-five percent of officers kill themselves with their service firearm. Lack of support. Talk as much as you want about how departments may support officers, but when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, we need to do more. We need to emphasize psychological survival in our training, getting through 20 years of service. Don't waste another police officer. I think that's an important message.
The fear of getting help. If I go for help, my peers will think I'm weak, I'm a wimp. If I go for help, I'm not going to make sergeant or lieutenant. I'm going to be looked down upon. All of these things play into the police culture role of effect has on officers in going for help for problems with mental difficulties. There's a mistrust of mental health professionals, and it's not because they don't think they're good. It's because they think that the word will get back to the department and if it does that it will affect their careers in the way I just mentioned.
I think one of the solutions to that, I think, is peer support, which I'll talk about in a moment. Trooper Zach was a Nebraska trooper. He stopped the car, found a gun, checked the serial number on a gun, and it came back negative. He had two fellows in the car. He locked them up anyways on suspicion of something — I don't know exactly what charge it was — but they had to be released in two days, and they were released. Two weeks later they robbed a bank and killed two people with that same gun. Well, it turns out that the serial number on the gun that Trooper Zach had given to the dispatcher was somehow — two numbers on the numbers were reversed by the dispatcher. The gun was really stolen. Trooper Zach blamed himself for the deaths of those two people at the bank robbery, could not deal with the situation that he had failed to save the lives of those two people, and killed himself that next day.
I'm sure you've heard the case of Lieutenant Pigott from the New York PD who ordered his men to Taser a guy who was standing on an awning 10 feet above the ground naked. Well, they did it. The guy fell off the awning, landed on his head, and died. The press, the department and the public criticized Lieutenant Pigott for making that decision. He could not face the fact that he was not only criticized by all of those people, but that his family had suffered from these actions. Lieutenant Pigott killed himself as well.
Centers for Disease Control information that I've looked up over the past few years. This is trend of police suicides from 1984 to '98. The CDC is updating data on this, which I'll have probably within the next six months, but the thing to notice on this graph is that red line there. That red line indicates a trend line. A trend line indicates a rising trend line. So based on this CDC data, there's good evidence that police suicide is increasing.
If you compare police suicide with firefighters and military suicides, you'll see that police suicides over those years are higher than firefighters'. They're not higher than military suicides, however, and the military has had a tremendously terrible problem with this, especially from returning vets. We're seeing this pop up as well in police officers who are returning from deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you look at the homicide rate over that period of time — and this is again CDC data — there are three times more suicides than there were homicides over that 15-year period. If you look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics data — and sorry about all these statistics, but just to give you an idea — police officers and detectives have a seven-times-greater risk of dying from suicide than does the average American worker.
Stunning data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Last year in our most recent surveillance studies: 2008 we had 141; 2009, 143; 2010, 147 or 150, close to 150; and so far this year we've had 35. We're surveying the internet for stories about police suicide. We've had 150,000 hits so far. We're trying to tally it in this way. We're also sending letters out to departments to get information on any suicide they may have had in the past year, hoping to God that the chiefs will answer our letters so we can get a better feel of this.
If you're interested in the bottom line, executives, those two years, '08 and '09, cost $259,372,800 because of the deaths of those officers. This is CDC data also. Lost work time and medical costs. Suicide is expensive. And it's not only costing you money; you're losing a good officer. You're going to have to retrain and replace that officer, and that's going to cost you a lot of money as well.
Again, in our study, generally male between ages 35 and 44, clustered in the 10 to 19 year group, patrol level generally, generally at the lower level of the echelon. Most used their firearm, and again our tally was what I just mentioned.
Another study we just did about a month ago looked at department size. A lot of suicide studies concentrate on large departments because that's where the numbers are, and in order to do statistical analysis, you need a lot of numbers, unfortunately. But nobody looks at those small PDs, and the majority of police departments in this country are small. They're less than 50 officers. So we decided to look at that and we did get data from 250 departments. We found that the smallest department had the greatest rate of suicide. In fact, they had 43 per 100,000 in the very smallest departments, compared to the large departments, which had around — close to 13 per 100,000. So, I think what we need to do is focus on these small departments that don't have the facilities, don't have the resources, don't have the ability to get the resources to do training and education on mental health in police work. We're neglecting them and they need to be addressed. And that's kind of a graph of what I just mentioned.
There's not an availability. The workload's excessive in small departments. The officers are generalists. They don't have an ID Bureau to go to. They don't have a Sex Offense Bureau to go to. They don't have a Homicide Bureau. Everything's done by them, and if things get really bad they have to call in the sheriff or the state police. So these people are put under a lot of strain, these small departments.
It's not over when you retire, unfortunately. Again, we've gone and looked at retired officers. One study found a tenfold risk of suicide among retired police officers. There's this factor of residual trauma, which we published an article on where the effect on the immune system, the effect on the brain, the effect on your entire body because of chronic stress and trauma doesn't go away when you retire. You've heard the term "adrenaline junkie." Well, some officers become adrenaline junkies, and after retirement they can't stop. Their body can't stop. They stop but their body can't stop. It's still going full speed. These things cause imbalances in the body, and they open the body up for further disease.
Okay, so what do we do about this? And Chief McNeil, that's the important question. What do we do? We have to look at a lot of things. First of all, we need to address the police culture, which believes that everybody's superman and superwoman, can never be hurt by anything. That's not true. We're human. We need an inoculation — a proactive approach to suicide. Education. The Badge of Life website has a lot of free information about this if you want to take a look at that. Take care of the problem before it hits. The old adage "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" is true. Self-care, developing in recruits, especially recruits, developing the idea as to what they're going to experience and what they can do about it to keep at a level that is not effecting their mental well-being.
I think there's a need to develop a national program, a national tracking program on suicide. We've talked about this for 10 years now, something similar to LEOKA where we know exactly how many suicides there are in this country to get the extent of this problem. We don't. We don't know. We're guessing. I think that's a very important thing, and I hope that someday we can get that. Lastly, I think officers deserve a healthy retirement. I hope that we can stop this terrible tragedy of loss of life. Thank you again. I appreciate it.
[End of video clip]
Officer Safety: The Cognitive Impact of Communications on Patrol
Carrick Williams I want to thank NIJ for funding this work. Secretary LaHood has referred to distracted driving as an epidemic. We've shown and others have shown that even moderate levels of multitasking can lead to worse driving performance. However, one of the big problems is that law enforcement officers are absolutely required to multitask to do the job. Among other things, officers during patrol must drive safely, examine the environment for potential violations, manage service calls from dispatch, and track their own location as well as the location of other officers. All of these things are requiring them to put on cognitive load. In other words, they're actually using part of their mental capacity to take care of different things other than simply avoiding other cars.
What we wanted to know was whether or not communication with dispatch could influence the way that officers are driving and performing their jobs. We wanted to look at the form of dispatch communications. Now, what we mean by form is that we examined both the classic 10-codes. For example, in Starkville, Mississippi a 10-78 is a suspicious person. So dispatch would call out a 10-78 at the corner of North and Short. That requires the officer and the dispatcher to both decode that information into what it actually means and then respond appropriately. Another form of communication is referred to as natural language, which is more like how one would normally refer to things. There's a suspicious person at the corner of North and Short, which doesn't require that same kind of decoding, but it does take more time over the radio to communicate. There's a trade-off either way, and we wanted to see whether or not changing the type of communication actually influenced that the load the officer was under.
Another thing that we were interested in was whether or not in-car technology could be used to help alleviate this cognitive demand. In our case, we were using a really simple idea of what in-car technology could be. Simply telling the officer what was the last call that they had received, just on a computer display.
What we did was we had officers patrol a simulated city. We had law enforcement officers from the northeast Mississippi area. They were patrolling the simulated city there in the upper right, and that city is not real. No one had ever been in it before. They were just patrolling a brand new area. Beside that you see a picture of the cab that we have in our simulator. Now, in our simulator we had a radio that was there — that microphone sitting on the passenger seat — as well as a mobile data terminal simulator. That simulator just either had a static map of the environment so that officers would know what they were looking for, or it would echo the calls from dispatch. The dispatcher's calls would actually appear in text form on that display.
Our officers patrolled five different times through this environment, and we used different types of communication. We had a baseline where no dispatch communication was occurring and the MDT simulator was just showing the static map. We then crossed natural language with the MDT simulator either being active or inactive and the 10-codes being active or inactive. During each drive the officer would respond to service calls — two of them in each one of the drives — as well as environmental events. These would be events like all of a sudden a child runs across the road. All of our officers said they would stop and talk to the child. A fight breaks out on the side of the road. These are all actors in our little simulation, and they would actually stop and report about that. Each one of these drives took 12 to 20 minutes.
What did we measure? We measured driving performance, vehicular control like whether or not they were steering more erratically or pressing on the accelerator or not and how well they were maintaining their lane position. We also analyzed eye tracking performance. Eye tracking is a way of analyzing attentional deployment. Officers are trained and encouraged to keep a wide breadth of attentional deployment, so they should keep their eyes moving around the environment. Finally, we examined situation awareness. Situation awareness is a way of examining whether or not the officer knows what is going on at this time and can predict what things are going to happen next. We examined questions such as "what type of event did you reply to", "what do the suspects or the victims look like", "where are you", and "what are the other officers doing in the area". Now, this last one is actually very challenging because there's no direct information in the device or anywhere in the simulation except for the radio call. The officer is actually constantly updating that information as they're going along.
We have a little video here of what the officers did.
Female Voice Dispatch, Adam six.
Male Voice Adam six, go ahead, Dispatch.
Female Voice Adam six, be on lookout for suspicious woman in a gray shirt near the 200 block of East Juniper Street.
Male Voice Copy.
Williams All right, so we have an officer actually patrolling. We blurred his face in the kind of Dragnet "to protect the innocent" idea. We can see the different views. The one in the lower right is actually what is going on with an overlay. There's a little green dot that occasionally you'll be able to see. It's kind of washed out in this thing, but that's where the officer is actually looking at this moment.
Male Voice Adam five to Dispatch.
Female Voice Adam five, go ahead.
Male Voice I've arrived at the scene.
Williams All right, and those are other officers responding to dispatch calls.
Female Voice Copy, Adam five.
Williams So, this is a natural language condition. The officers are communicating without the 10-code information.
Male Voice Adam six to Dispatch.
Female Voice Adam six, go ahead.
Male Voice Dispatch, I've arrived at the scene.
Female Voice Copy, Adam six.
Williams Now our officer who is Adam three would have had to update that Adam six has actually arrived at the location and where that location was and keep that in their mental frame.
As soon as our officer goes through this stoplight, which is about to turn, he's actually going to come up on the vehicular accident that he was called to respond to.
Female Voice Dispatch to Adam seven.
Williams So you can see…if you can see the little green dot, he's actually looking right at it right now.
Male Voice Adam seven, go ahead, Dispatch.
Williams He pulls over.
Female Voice Adam seven, we have a disturbance on 109 North Woods Avenue.
Male Voice Copy.
Williams When he stops the vehicle, we actually take the simulation down — and there it goes to black — and the officer now is asked a series of questions about what had just happened, a multiple choice series of questions. We're looking at three different things. The first thing we looked at were the eye tracking results. In this case we actually have good news. The type of communication that the officers were receiving had no influence on how broadly they spread their attention across the entire environment. They equally distributed their attention across all types of communication. This may indicate that the training that officers receive is sufficient to overcome any kind of cognitive load that they're actually under.
Now with respect to the driving performance, we have some mixed results here. The natural language condition actually led to greater throttle variability. In other words, they were standing on the gas more or less in that condition than in the other conditions. There isn't any real danger in that. It's just that they were more variable. However, with respect to lane offset — which one can think of as being very important, whether or not you're staying in your own lane or not — the 10-code conditions tended to show that officers were under a little more strain in that case of trying to maintain their lane position. They were actually maintaining their lane position farther away from the center, probably because they were under more load.
Finally, in our situation awareness questions — now, these are questions about whether or not the officer knows what's going on at the time — we find that in the baseline condition — these are misses, what percentage of times did they miss the answers — under the baseline they missed about 10% of the questions. These are sometimes difficult questions because we're asking very detailed questions of like what color was the shirt that the person was wearing, or something like that. And so it's not uncommon that one would have that. But the real interesting situation here is that the officers in our city used 10-codes without any technological aid, which is actually the condition that they do the worst in here. The condition in which they have the most experience is the condition that they're actually performing the worst in. However, if you add in technology, if you add in just that simple little thing, saying "10-78, corner of this and this," the officers all of a sudden revert to a level that is equivalent to their baseline performance with no dispatch communications. Natural language fell in between and didn't really have any influence of the driving simulator.
In conclusion, law enforcement officers' attentional deployment is not dramatically affected by the types of communication that they are provided, which is a good thing. They are looking around the environment and responding correctly. However, lane offset and situation awareness may show some differences with 10-code communications, and that could lead to greater cognitive demand. It seems like there's an effort to decode the information, and that can lead to decreased performance, but technology within the vehicle may be able to alleviate some of these negative consequences. Now, I should say that we had a relatively small sample and we were using primarily rural police officers. Starkville, Mississippi is not a particularly large place, and the amount of communication that they were receiving was relatively high for a day, but they said it was more like a Saturday night in town when there was more communication.
That's it. I'd like to thank Brett Chapman, the NIJ Program Officer, and my two co-investigators, Daniel Carruth and Tina Garrison. Thank you.
[End of video clip]
Measuring What Matters: To Enhance Justice, Improve Safety and Reduce Costs
Bryan Vila: I want to take you where we are right now with the research that we have on these issues. I'll tell you about a project that I'm just completing for NIJ that I think is one of the important pieces in moving on into the future, and then I want to give you a peek at what I think the future is of bringing experimentation to bear on the field, how to measure what really matters, how to enhance justice — which has been one of the themes of this conference — and improve safety, and reduce costs, and do it all at once by trying to understand how the physical and the human limits of human beings doing this job come to bear on what we're asking them to do and the technology we're providing for them, sometimes good technology, sometimes too much technology. We'll see.
My sponsors, I won't thank them all but I appreciate every one of them. Of course, they're not responsible for anything I say, just me, in case there are any lawyers in the room.
When we try to protect our protectors — which is the theme of this panel — what do we do? We use training. We change policies. We change the practices in the department. But how do we know what we're supposed to train to? We use expertise. There's a great deal of that out in the field, but I'm a scientist now. I used to be a cop. And as a scientist, I'm a show-me-the-evidence guy. Where's the hard evidence? What does it lead us to? How do we know whether our interventions succeed? How do we improve them? How do we find out what's more cost effective in a time when there isn't enough money to go around and we're laying people off? All of those issues are very important for us.
Well, we use science — that's our goal here — but before we can use science, we got to identify the likely causes of the problems we want to deal with. There's no giant rocket science involved here. We've got to develop tools for measuring those problems and the causes of the causes of the causes of those problems. It's not enough to just measure what's going on. When we look inside a deadly force encounter where an officer's been killed and we analyze what's happened — which has been wonderful research that Tony Pinizzotto and Ed Davis and Sharon Bohrer, for example, have done — that tells us some things about what happened and what was associated with it, but what was upstream of that, and what was upstream of that? That's where we get the answers that can help us really change the way the world works, keep people safe, find the new answers that we haven't thought about because we don't know enough.
We've got to develop tools for measuring those problems. That's the key to this problem, this measurement problem. Oftentimes, like Einstein said, we settle for measuring what we can measure rather than what really matters. I'm trying to push that boundary a little bit farther out. Let me give you an example that will probably piss some people off in this room. Okay? I get to because I spent a long time as a cop and as a police chief before this.
Every officer in this country is trained and certified as being qualified to do that job, and the certification standards come from their Police Officers Standards and Training Commission or some such thing in the state they work in. Everybody agrees that these are the right standards. Good people with good experience work at them hard. Deadly force: largest category of training that recruits get in most basic academies. It's an expensive piece of it. The performance outcomes of this training, if you want to concentrate it down into one simple sentence: Accurately identify a threat, neutralize it while minimizing harm to bystanders, to officers and to the suspects, because sometimes they're not really the suspects and once you shoot them you can't take that bullet back, right? Situations are complicated.
What we don't know is what the impact of that training on deadly force is on combat performance. I know how many bullets you can put on a target in what condition. I know what you can do in a role playing situation in a simulator. We don't know what happens on the street and how that relates to the training a person has had. Think about this. Does it improve combat performance? Does it reduce the likelihood that force will be necessary? Getting back to Jim Fife's long-ago big point, the best officers are the ones who avoid having to get to the point of having to use deadly force. They can manage people. Do the types of training have an impact? Which ones have the most bang for their buck? The deal is we've been doing this, for 100 years, we've been training people and we still don't know the answer to the most basic question, which is what's the connection between that training and what happens?
We've been doing this measuring what matters — we'll call it MWM on the slides to save some space — in deadly encounters. I'm going to use this as an example and then step back into where we're going in the future. Okay, so these are fast-paced, very dynamic social situations, these deadly encounters. They're often ambiguous. Often there's very little time to make a decision and act on it. Well, what we're trying to do in my lab is develop some more precise ways of measuring them, get to an interval level, which is researcher speak for a very precise yardstick that I can bring the strongest statistical tools to bear on analyzing what happens. Does it mean anything or not? Okay?
I want to adapt the other phase that we're doing — and this is the latter part of what I'll say this morning — we're adapting the kinds of simulations, especially the high fidelity computerized situations that police departments around the country and the military all over the world are using as training devices. We're hacking them and using them the way Carrick's approaching this, using those devices as a surrogate for what one would see in the field. This is important because deadly force encounters, for example, are very rare. It's one of the things that makes it a difficult problem to tackle.
The idea behind this is that I want the fidelity, the precision, the replicability of laboratory research — which is kind of our holy grail — but I want to bring to it the validity of field research. This is a very realistic set of challenges instead of something highly abstract. Karen's research targeted this same kind of a method using some scientific tools that are traditional but are very abstract, and using some more realistic simulations of it. I think that when we do this, on top of being better science, it also gives us a better chance to translate our research into practice. It's easier to stand in front of a police audience — like I do lots of times every year — and say we did this thing, this is the tool we used which is the tool you used, only we steal the data and we do this and that to get at it, and here are the results we have.
Let's look at the first part of this problem right quick and I'll give you an idea of how you get to measuring what matters. You have to identify what matters. We got 24 of the top experts in the country together, which is a miracle all by itself. We got a very diverse group from a young — the best street cop in his department to some of the folks who had been doing it for 30 years to the people who ran — they're anonymous, so I can't say who, but — folks who run the major training organizations or the major trainer training organizations, people who run big academies, scientists who've been on this topic for their whole careers. We got them to agree — well, first we got them to agree on this focus prompt, this very brief statement of what are you trying to accomplish in a deadly force encounter.
If you look at the rules of engagement for most police departments or for military units, they're usually page after page after page. Here's one bloody sentence, but it's the one that a guy on the street or a gal on the street takes to work with them. We looked at what are the things that affect your performance, that increase the odds that you'll do better in an encounter? Because the reality is sometimes you can do everything right and it still goes to crap. We all know that. Then we also looked at what are the elements of the situation in which this happens that make it more difficult to have a good encounter. We looked at things like Dave Klinger's raised with normal accidents theory. What is it? Number of people… I'll give you some examples.
Here are some of the ones that this group came up with. Performance variables: We had 105 of these, things like can you clear a malfunction? Do you maintain a good stance to give you an advantage, give you some balance to work from? Are you using available cover? Are you hitting the suspect when you shoot at him? Difficulty things: Does the suspect have a firearm? Are there things in the way? Is there less distance or more distance? The second part of this, though, is putting values on those increments, on the yardstick that you're building. To do that, we sent surveys out to 289 police officers who are active deadly force trainers all across the country, more than 200 different departments, all sizes of departments, all regions of the country. We get the answers back about how much it's worth to be this distance away, for example, versus that distance versus the next distance. How much is it worth?
All right, so how about in other tasks though? In addition to deadly force, this is where we're going right now with research funded by Office of Naval Research, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Department of Transportation. We've got driving, especially distracted driving on top of deadly force. We've got cognitive functioning, risk propensity, implicit bias, and since I wrote this thing we've got the funding to do tactical social interactions, so the more human parts of the interaction, the thing that Karen's test gets at, only we've rolled this from the ground up as an instrument for use in this. When we look at work-related fatigue, which is long-term as you've heard, my big issue, we look at how it impacts that performance. The idea is to get those two things tied together and use real police officers in a laboratory.
Because I'm running out of time, you know these scenarios. Why is that officer yawning in the middle of a deadly confrontation in front of a National Geographic reporter who was working with us? How did that officer in the corner there go from being a skinny rookie 20 years ago to someone that obese with life-threatening sleep apnea? How did this officer in the middle of a Sunday morning going up a hill with no traffic have a lapse of attention — he went straight, the road turned, and he went straight through a swarm of bicyclists coming down the hill. It's a terrible tragedy. Let me shift to the video now.
Vila We've got about 5,000 square feet of controlled laboratory environment. Everything is controlled — temperature, light levels, all of the pieces. We use high fidelity driving simulators. We use real cops whom we outfit with neurophysiological measures. We have in the deadly force simulators, we've rolled our own simulations using real actors based on LEOKA data. They even swear in the simulator, if you can believe that, and they're mean. We test deadly force judgment and decision-making. We look at arousal. We look at what's going on in the brain. We look at how people are breathing so we can get a measure of what's going on physiologically with them.
This soldier who is doing that, we have a cannon that shoots back at you. We have dealt with the acoustics in the range to make it sound like a gunshot is going off when a gunshot goes off. You can hear people's voices. It's a laboratory environment. Operational driving, quite similar to what Carrick's working on. We're very interested in distracted driving. We have funding from California Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission to look at this aspect of the problem. We have 80 subjects, all four shifts. We bring them in as tired as they get in the work week, as rested as they get in the work week, and then do the same thing again with even more instrumentation on them.
This is an easy test. You have to drive at 55. You have to follow a vehicle, stay within 100 feet of it, don't run into it, and you have to do a cognitive test half the time where you reach over and you punch the right line and pick the right words. It's a cognitive test that's been used in lots of distracted driving research around the country for more than 10 years. It's well validated. It seems easy. It's harder than hell to do. The question is is it even harder to do when you're tired, as tired as you get on the job working real police work. The eye gazing, Carrick was showing you, the red line is where your head is pointed towards. The green lines are what your eyes are looking at on the screen. You can track how much time people are spending looking down.
This isn't even a real police cockpit, right, where it looks like it was human factors designed by Rube Goldberg. You've got all sorts of devices stuck all over. You see police officers driving with their knees and typing and looking at the road like this. The other device I'm really excited about is the functional near infrared imaging of the brain where we can measure objectively cognitive workload. We can measure what's going on in the part of our brains that makes us a human being, where we make moral decisions, where we evaluate the consequences of our acts. How hard is a person thinking? How much attention are they having to focus on it? Which parts of the brain are lighting up? Are they the ones you want lighting up right now? That's what we're after.
With that, I'll open it for questions. I just want to thank…there we go. Let me just take you for one second. Think about this. Since the advent of modern policing, one of the things we've been trying to do, every supervisor — and I've been a police sergeant — make sure they're not sleeping on duty, right? Well, I've got a news alert for you. It may be that the thing we want to do is in the middle of the bloody night when nothing else is going on, bring them home. Have them nap a little bit and get them rested up a notch. Ask me in 18 months when we've got this current round of research done and I'll be able to give you an answer about that. Thank you.
[End of video clip]
QUESTION: What mental health screening tools are available?
Carl Matthews Hi there. Carl Matthews. I'm with Vera Institute in New York. I just wanted to ask the panel if there were screening tools for depression for PTSD for fatigue used in departments, even the largest departments, let alone the small ones.
Violanti Well, as far as I understand, the primary tool used by departments now for screening are the MMPI, MMPI-II, the California Personality Inventory and I think there's one other. These tools screen for psychological disorders more than specifying depression and PTSD. I think we need more in that aspect, specifically screening for prior trauma. The reason I say that is people who have experienced prior trauma in their lives are much more likely to experience it again, especially if they're going into this occupation. Those tests are standardized tests to cover personality and they do cover depression, but I think we need some improvement in that area.
Vila Just to build on that, one of the things that we don't do in policing to get to a real nuts and bolts issue, Chief, is we don't screen after we've got them on the job for some of the things we could.
The things that happen to you on the job accrete; the rods up my back or the plate in my foot or the stitches here and there all build up, but the things inside also build up. We could regularly do medical screening with the CES-D or the PTSD instruments. We also can do things like screening for sleep disorders. Forty percent of the police officers in the country at a minimum have serious sleep disorders. We know that from four separate studies done by four separate research teams over 15 years now. We can do screening for wellness and for healthiness as we go along, and we should.
Violanti That makes a lot of sense, because we screen officers when they come on the job, but the effect of the exposure they get while they're on the job certainly is going to change them in a lot of ways. It's going to lead to increased depression, to PTSD, and possible suicide, so I think that's an excellent suggestion as well.
Amendola Also, there are fitness for duty evaluations, but usually what triggers them are a serious incident. That's a big flaw. It's sort of an after-the-fact "now let's go back and do what we should have done to begin with."
Violanti Let me… The Badge of Life website proposes that officers should go for what they call a "mental health checkup" every year. Similar to going to the dentist or the doctor, you should go see a counselor a peer support person once a year and talk about anything. You don't even have to have a problem, but you need to go there and talk to someone, and if you do have a problem, that's your chance. They call for regular checkups. I think that's a pretty good suggestion.
[End of video clip]
QUESTION: Are you doing any work with the military to address shared issues?
Doug Samuelson My name's Doug Samuelson. I run a little R&D consulting company here in the area. A lot of these same issues occur with active duty military. There are a lot of studies there and a lot of work on continuing evaluation, a lot of the same issues, too. It's hard to measure and people don't want to disclose when they have a problem, and people don't believe they have a problem. They don't have a problem until it's triggered by stress — all of the same kinds of things. I'm wondering whether you and some of the people who have been working on the military are talking to each other.
Violanti Well, I think the military certainly has their own difficulties with deployment. What we're seeing, police officers who return from deployment are…I like to call it "double-dose trauma." They're patrolling the streets of Afghanistan and Baghdad and they're coming back here. There's an adjustment period that not only involves psychological adjustment, but there's an adjustment period that involves, for example, how to drive a car. I mean in Baghdad you drive a Humvee in a different way than you drive it on the streets of California. I've seen videos of this where these folks are driving Humvees down the road in Baghdad and they're bumping cars off the street as they go along because they might be suspected terrorists. When you come back to Detroit or Buffalo, you can't do that anymore. Certainly you can't bust in the homes and look for terrorists in Buffalo.
Yeah, the readjustment period involves retraining, I think. The firearms are I think another area where retraining is necessary.
Vila There's an opportunity there, though, that you raised that has to do not just with PTSD. The military has got loud and clear the message that if they're going to be successful in the next generation of warfare in counter-insurgency operations, then the average, lower-ranking enlisted person with little experience has to be able to do pretty much what a cop has to do: Identify a threat, neutralize the threat, don't piss off the people, build a sense of community, be just in how you deal with people, be able to connect with them. This is all part of surviving, but it's also ultimately what is going to make the difference between whether we win or whether we don't, whether the global strategy collapses. The military has got that and they're on it. That's why three-quarters of my funding comes from military now for my research. It's a real good place for the researchers in the room to think about the overlap with their work.
Violanti Well, you think about what deployment does to the reserve army person. They're pulled out of their job, they're pulled out of their home, and they're sent to Iraq for 15 months for maybe one or two or three deployments. In the meantime, their family back home needs to deal with their absence. In the meantime, their family back home has adjusted without them, so when they come home, they have to readjust when they're back into the fold again. You've got that whole mechanics of absence and returning put together. It causes a lot of family relationship problems. Soldiers are having problems with domestic violence, with alcohol. We just wrote a proposal for DOD considering domestic violence and alcohol use in returning veterans. That's in for review right now.
[End of video clip]
QUESTION: What are the challenges to safety for minority officers?
John Laub John Laub, National Institute of Justice. Over the last 25 years we've learned a lot about differences in health with respect to gender, with respect to race. We know there are huge differences with respect to suicide. I'm just curious if any of the panelists can tell us what we know about differences with respect to officer safety with regard to females or African American officers or Hispanic officers?
Violanti Well, I can tell you from our health research that female officers have a higher rate of depression than do male officers. We found that in our last sample. They also have a higher rate of PTSD. They have more problems. It's kind of interesting that they have more problems working a day shift than they do an evening shift or a night shift. I think a lot of that has to do probably with family care, is one of the things. The second thing is that they're more exposed to the environment of a male-dominated occupation during the day than they are in midnight shift. We are seeing higher rates of depression in women on the day shift. It was kind of an interesting finding.
The risk for cardiovascular disease also seems to be higher in terms of artery health among women. What we do essentially is to measure the ability of arteries to expand. When your artery is not properly working, it won't expand as well as an artery that does. We're finding in women that they have less of an artery expansion when we measure it with ultrasound. There are signs of subclinical cardiovascular disease in women that right now in our sample are greater than men.
McNeil That's an interesting observation and our conclusion is… Most of my experience has been particularly when you talk about deadly encounters, and one thing that we want to do is to avoid those, as you talked about. What I, at least what my experience tells me is that for whatever reason females are more apt to use those communication skills better than males are and able to avoid those circumstances. Can you speak to that in terms of how that perhaps or does not play a role in terms of their propensity or lack thereof of committing suicide or being more effective or less effective in shooting situations?
Violanti I'm not sure how it would affect shooting situations, but I think overall in general, the experience of policing for women, I think, is much more difficult than males. I agree with you. They are better in talking down people, I think, without using firearms than male officers. I think male officers react more quickly to situations. I don't know what the connection is between that. I think in general, though, their general exposure in this sort of occupation puts more stress on them because of gender than it does to males.
Amendola Police Foundation research done on women in policing a number of years ago supports your intuitive experience that women do do a better job in interpersonal communications, and therefore are less inclined to need to use deadly force or physical force.
Samuelson There may be another factor there too, because you're reporting and from what I've heard also in the folklore, it's true. There is more stress for women. Again, military, same experience — there are more stressors and they report more depression and they report more PTSD, partly because they're more willing to report, but I think there may be a self-selection issue there. These women are obviously…they've got more of these problems and they've got a lower suicide rate. There's a difference in resilience there, and I suspect it may be just that only the most resilient women go into that line of work.
Violanti Well, just going back to the CDC data for a moment, in terms of female suicides, we're seeing an increase in those as well. As the number of women — I think about 10 percent to 15 percent are women in policing now. As we're seeing the increase in women in police officers, we're seeing an increase of suicide over that 15-year period. I see that trend increasing. I think a lot has to do with the amount of chronic stress that they have that maybe males do not have to deal with.
Amendola Well and there's still cultural issues in police organizations for women. A lot of those cultural pressures have an impact on their ability to adapt and adjust.
[End of video clip]
QUESTION: Are researchers coordinating with each other?
McNeil It was interesting to me when I heard the discussion and what seemed to be an overlap, particularly in Dr. Williams' discussion in terms of the driving simulator, the hours of work and then suicides. What efforts are we making to sort of cross-pollinate those outcomes, if that makes any sense to you?
Violanti Well, I guess…I don't know, Bryan probably can answer that better than I can, but I think training at the recruit level is essential. That's my view.
Amendola Well, I was just going to say that NIJ has made a lot of efforts to coordinate some of the research in that area, and COPS is also running the Officer Safety and Wellness Group along with the BJA. There are coordinated efforts at the federal level, and I think that that's going to help get the knowledge out to the field in an improved fashion.
[End of video clip]
QUESTION: What can we do about shorter staff and longer shifts?
McNeil — very significant about that is the research that you did sort of pointed out that 12-hour shifts are perhaps the worst direction that agencies can go in. Most of the small agencies across America have gone to 12-hour shifts, quite opposite in terms of if we're looking at officer-safety kinds of concerns. What's the method in which we will try to get that? What we're up against quite honestly are small agencies from a fiscal perspective going to 12-hour shifts because they can put more people on the street and have them out there for greater hours and less overtime. Can you speak to that at all?
Amendola Yeah. I definitely think that a lot more work needs to be done in that area, but one of the…and I agree that it's clearly an economic issue. If you can put two shifts out there and not have any overlap. I mean they might have some staggering. That also creates two different cultures in many agencies, and that's something that most leaders don't really think about until they start to experience the downfalls associated with that. You can have your policies written, but what actually happens in practice is rarely what's stated in policy. So, you can have a leader on this side that's running the nightshift, a leader on this side that's running the dayshift, and they may have different rules for how they do things. It's not just the issues that I examined, but there are many others.
Also, the idea of working four consecutive 12-hour days I think ought to be discouraged based on research across other industries — transportation, mining, medicine, many industries — that suggest that once you get beyond 48 hours in a week, it becomes more accident prone and there are greater risks in terms of safety, and there's no rest time in between. If you're going to do that, it might be better to work two days on, two days off, and then two days on, something of that nature. It definitely is concerning.
Vila Chief, just to wrap that up, one of the things that we can do that we haven't done — and it especially affects these small departments — a big department can bring somebody out to give them a workshop and teach their officers how to manage shift work, which works and they accept and is done all the time. The little departments, there isn't a way to reach out to them that way. We've all written articles. We've published things in practitioner journals, but if there was a training program that could reach out to those folks, because not only do they work the longer hours, like you say, they get paid less by far, and they're often in agricultural communities. Harvest time, they're all working or they're elk hunting or something. They're working a lot of hours, a lot of overtime. Secondary employment is high, and we have no idea how high.
That's one of the things we can do, is train people. We know enough from the research we've been doing the last 20 years to do a decent job of saying this is what we know, here's how you can do what you can do given the constraints around you, and here's what to watch out for and here's how to manage things. We know that. There just isn't a vehicle yet for getting that out. That's something we can do tomorrow.
[End of video clip]
QUESTION: How can we improve the accuracy of lifesaving information?
McNeil One of the things I want to know is, with suicides, what can we do to make the information, the statistics, much more accurate so that we can do more about saving lives out there?
Violanti Well, as I indicated, I think we need something very similar to LEOKA, where departments are mandated to report suicides. That's the only way we're going to find out what the true extent of this problem is. We just don't know. I think that's a very important starting point. Once we know the extent of the problem we can better deal with it, and we can start doing proactive work in the academies. Again I go back to those academies. I think getting someone in the beginning to understand what this job is all about is very important, and then checks every so often on their mental health. You can make them mandated or you can make them voluntary. There are controversies about what's the best way to do it.
McNeil Well, thank you, and thank the audience for being here, and certainly thank our panelists. I think they did a tremendous job. How about giving them a round of applause?
Let me close out by saying again thank you to our panelists. Thank you to all of you. These issues are near and dear to police chiefs all over the world. We have these same problems no matter where we are, quite honestly, in the world. I was just down in Brazil and they have an officer killed in the line of duty every three days. This is a huge issue for us in how we make it better for those who protect us. I think the research that's being done is going to move us closer to that. One of the things I think we have to have more of, and that is to make sure that the practitioners and the researchers are working hand in glove, and I think we're moving in that direction. Thank you all.
Opinions or points of view expressed in these recordings represent those of the speakers and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. Any commercial products and manufacturers discussed in these recordings are presented for informational purposes only and do not constitute product approval or endorsement by the U.S. Department of Justice.
- Population and Subgroup Differences in the Prevalence and Predictors of Campus Sexual Assault
- School Transitions and Student Responses to Victimization - Breakout Session, NIJ Virtual Conference on School Safety
- Multi-Component Efforts to Improve School Safety - Breakout Session, NIJ Virtual Conference on School Safety