Use-Of-Force Decision-Making Processes

Richard Frayne, M.O.M.

Richard Frayne, M.O.M.

Jeff Clawson, M.D.

Jeff Clawson, M.D.

Ask Doc

Eric [Fayad, Associate Director of Instructor Services],
I would like to send the attached most interesting study1 to all EPD instructors as a reading assignment—1 hour of CDE. This is fascinating and shows, very scientifically, the value of dispatch (prior) information regarding race and weapons. Three different AEDR studies were referenced by the authors!2,3,4

Some of the methods and statistical/math processes are quite detailed and deep (I didn’t read all of them!), but the discussions and results are very interesting and supportive of standard dispatch information that routinely pre-informs police responders regarding race and weapons in actual or potential shooting incidents.

These are the kinds of info and studies that the Academy can keep on doing and providing to the law enforcement and dispatch communities based on standard and structured calltaking protocols and systems—which now can be based on enormous numbers of dispatch cases in the Academy Database and Analytics Program. 
Jeff Clawson, M.D.

Hi Eric,
Thanks to you and Dr. Clawson for sharing this article. It was interesting, and I agree with the assessment that the study clearly identifies the value of dispatch (prior) information regarding race and weapons.

After reflection, I believe that there may be opportunities for further discussion/research on how the PPDS® enhances an officer’s use-of-force (including shoot/don’t shoot) decision-making processes.

In the methodology of this study, it appears that during the FPST Procedure, participants were given limited suspect information as each scenario was presented. They were only told gender, race, and if the suspect was holding holding/not holding a gun. Gender and race were always correct; however, information on whether the suspect was armed was not always correct. The participants determined if the suspect was holding a gun, and if so, then made the decision to shoot/don’t shoot. Based on the participants’ actions, the authors determined that race did not factor in or influence shoot/don’t shoot decisions when accurate information was given to the participants.

There may be limitations in this methodology as the participants had no information about prior/current behavior of the suspect. The decision to shoot was simply based on a static image of a suspect holding an object apparently without associated threatening behavior such as pointing the object at the participant. Officers typically do not shoot people simply because they are armed with a gun. Other factors must be considered.

It is stated that “time saves seconds, information saves lives.” I have certainly found that true in policing and in the dispatch environment. This study tested the positive impact of a small amount
of information on bias. I believe that the PPDS, when properly used, provides police officers with a significant amount of information to enhance their decision-making in dealing with suspects. In my experience while race helps us identify suspects/persons, behavior predominantly influences shoot/don’t shoot decisions.

On page 219 of this report it says:
Another way to tackle the issue that unreliable dispatch information increases mistakes in officer decisions to shoot is to consider the role of policy in shaping the information that dispatch passes onto officers. In the current studies, giving incorrect dispatch information increased the likelihood that participants mistakenly shot unarmed men. Similarly, in the case of Tamir Rice, dispatch did not share the information from the 911 caller that the pistol was "probably fake" and that he was "probably a juvenile" (Smith, 2015). However, if the uncertainty of this information had been passed onto the officer, this may have changed how he approached the situation and ultimately his decision to shoot.

The 2018 AEDR study “Weapons Reported On-Scene by Callers to Emergency Police Dispatch”5 concluded “Overall, trained and certified EPDs are very effective at collecting weapon information and entering it correctly, providing officers with the information they need to remain as safe as possible in potentially violent encounters.” While this AEDR study aligns with the other study, the PPDS system goes far beyond gathering information that “there is a gun” as EPDs are trained to get detailed descriptions of weapons and pass this on to responding officers.

The PPDS system also gathers other vital information such as suspect behavior/demeanor for the responding officers, as well as information useful in the overall initial response and the investigative process. Obtaining race information aids in determining “who may be who” at a scene, allowing officers to distinguish quickly between victims/witnesses/suspects at a scene but provides little investigative information beyond that.

When I made the decision to recommend the implementation of the PPDS, it was based on several factors including the utility of the Case Entry Question “Okay, tell me exactly what happened.” In my opinion this is a very different question than “What’s going on?”, “Why do you need the police?”, “What’s happening?”, or “This is the police, what are you wanting us for?” along with the myriad of other unstandardized questions that I have heard asked in the dispatch environment.

“OK, tell me exactly what happened” provides an opportunity to consistently gather scene safety information, determine the most appropriate protocol to use, and importantly, provides officers an opportunity to best understand what is happening at a scene and start formulating what their response options may be. In the Tamir Rice situation, had this information been properly obtained, recorded, and transmitted to the officers as the PPDS system ensures, the result may have been very different.

Prior to being involved in dispatch, I spent time as a frontline officer and a detective and “OK, tell me exactly what happened” was the exact standard language I used when interviewing suspects, witnesses, and victims. In my experience this was invaluable to me on several levels as it: 
• was open-ended.
• built rapport.
• was non-judgmental.
• gave the interviewee the opportunity to tell me things firsthand and uninfluenced.
• elicited details that otherwise may not have been provided.
• gave me a first “factual” account from which I could challenge/verify information.

I believe that this question, when asked in dispatch, can also lock suspects into a story that is hard to change in the future as the investigative process unfolds. While I have routinely used initial caller statements to 911 myself as evidence, and with suspects as an investigative technique, one only needs to look at the value of such spontaneous utterances to dispatch as demonstrated in the recent high-profile murder case of South Carolina (USA) lawyer, Alex Murdaugh.

My hypotheses are that “OK tell me exactly what happened” has two consistent effects: 
1. It leads to a superior assessment of critical scene safety information enhancing officer use-of-force decision-making, and
2. When responded to by suspects, it provides a voluntary, high quality and spontaneous utterance that can aid investigations.

From my review, there is some (albeit limited) research that supports hypothesis one as a best practice; however, hypothesis two is currently anecdotal.

I am wondering if the IAED or the AEDR has examined these in detail? 

Thanks again for sharing this study. I look forward to any further discussions on this.

Richard Frayne
Niagara Regional Police Service
Superintendent, retired
Priority Dispatch Corp.
EPD Instructor
OnStar Emergency Services Police Director
Ontario, Canada

Richard and Eric,
Your reply is very good and informative, and I would really like to get it out to all our police instructors, plus possibly use it as a “reverse” Ask Doc: I posed the “question” (study) as you provided a very detailed and fantastic answer—with a lot of comparative info. I specifically appreciated your description of the use in police dispatch interrogation of Case Entry’s “Okay, tell me ...” among other interesting things I learned from your excellent response.
Best regards ... Doc

1. Johnson DJ, Cesario J, Pleskac TJ. “How Prior Information and Police Experience Impact Decisions to Shoot.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2018; 115 (4): 601-623.
2. Broadbent M, Knight C, Warner D, Williams N, Scott G, Clawson JJ, Gardett I, Olola C. “Weapons Reported On-Scene by Callers to Emergency Police Dispatch.” Annals of Emergency Dispatch and Response. 2018; 6 (1): 19-25.
3. Gardett I, Clawson JJ, Scott G, Barron T, Patterson B, Olola C. “Past, Present, and Future of Emergency Dispatch Research: A Systematic Literature Review.” Annals of Emergency Dispatch and Response. 2013; 1 (2): 29-42.
4. Messinger S, Warner D, Knight C, Scott G, Rector M, Barron T, VanDyke A, Guerra L, Gardett I, Patterson B, Clawson JJ, Olola C. “The Distribution of Emergency Police Dispatch Call Incident Types and Priority Levels Within the Police Priority Dispatch System.” Annals of Emergency Dispatch and Response. 2013; 1 (2): 12-17.
5. See note 2.