Blog PostsImproving Police-Community Relations

Improving Police-Community Relations

“It’s a familiar scene: There’s a fender-bender, a police car pulls up behind two parked cars on the side of the road, the officer gets out of his cruiser and finds two men arguing.

About a dozen people watch to see what happens next, one is a training officer holding a tablet. He’s grading how the officer interacts with the two “accident victims.” He is looking to make sure the officer not only interacts with the two men correctly, but also goes into the situation deliberately, allowing time to assess the situation and deescalate if possible.

Each year the Brookline police department puts its officers through about 48 hours of training. The training is based on the state requirements and the policing environment, said Deputy Superintendent Michael Gropman, who added, “Based on the current environment we’ve been concentrating our trainings on procedural justice, police legitimacy, and fair and impartial policing.

Brookline has developed a series of scenario-based trainings; with each session building on the previous lesson. The goal: To recreate real situations faced by officers in the field, ratchet up the stress, determine how the officer reacts, then offer techniques to improve performance. “Together with MEMA and a pilot program with defense contractor Aptima technologies, the department videotapes police going through the scenarios and then has the officer and a trainer review the scenarios and the trainer’s grades after the fact.”

–The Brookline Tab, 17 March 2016

The Brookline Tab delivers an insightful account of the Brookline police department’s use of training to reinforce behaviors that lead to better police-community relations and public safety. The national debate on police use of force has called into question how police are engaging with their communities and by extension, their training. The rationale being that the ability to de-escalate conflict might reduce those incidents. A study by Harvard Kennedy School last year outlined how police had moved away from community policing “to a more militarized approach” after the war on drugs and terrorist attacks of 9/11. It advocated a shift “from warriors to guardians,” a proposition echoed in President Obama’s “Task Force on 21st Century Policing,” that calls for training and other initiatives to improve community-police relations.

The challenge looms large: how can police departments make the move to real behavioral change? As the article notes, although the Brookline police had no fatal shootings last year, they’re proactively adopting best practices and tools to train their officers for how to interact and engage with citizens to minimize future shooting incidents.

The Power of Video

Using Aptima’s SPOTLITE® performance measurement application on their tablet or smartphone, the instructor can simultaneously film the scenario and rate the behaviors that contribute to good policing. As we know from news accounts, video doesn’t lie or fade like memories, and it can be a convincing and effective tool for use in training.

The Live Tagging screen allows the instructor to select the trainee behavior to be video-tagged during the training exercise.
Once the instructor has selected a behavior for video tagging, the Live Tagging Screen offers a range of assessment options for rating the trainee’s performance or the targeted behavior.

Rather than having to take copious notes or rely on memory after the exercise, the instructor uses SPOTLITE’s built-in assessment forms to measure key task relevant behaviors, such as personal safety, their composure and de-escalation efforts during the interaction. Using SPOTLITE, the instructor annotates the video, capturing the visual cues and applying qualitative and quantitative ratings for an effective after-action debrief.

Similar to bookmarks in a DVD, when the instructor and trainee replay the scenario, they can jump directly to the key segments of the interaction, reviewing and contrasting what went right or wrong. “You did X, but should have done X AND Y for outcome P instead of Q.” This gives the trainee the context to make corrections and positive change.

The Science of Learning

It takes a cycle of ‘practice, measurement, and feedback’ to reinforce a desired behavior. In working with the Brookline police, we decomposed the officer’s job, identifying the components or discrete behaviors that contribute to ‘mission’ or performance success. We defined the measurements and built them into the app. Using SPOTLITE, the instructor now has the appropriate behavioral anchors to rate the trainee during the scenario.

This provides the feedback and context for the trainee to learn, internalize and improve on what they subsequently do. They can see whether or not they spoke clearly, informed the citizen of their rights without threat, and other actions that denote whether they performed as needed.

“Through a discussion the officers are able to see what they’ve done correctly, what they need improvement on and what things are not in line with what we expect,” said Gropman.

“The goal here is to slow down and take the extra seconds to find out what they’re arguing about,” said Officer Peter Muise, who was critiquing the officers.

“After Officer Brian Gallagher finished a scenario and talked with Muise, Gallagher said, “It’s definitely a different experience… But things like this help prepare us.”

This training process, using video in a cycle of measurement and feedback, works not just for law enforcement, but in any domain involving human behavior or interaction. It can be used in healthcare settings to evaluate surgeons’ performance of invasive procedures, in military and first responder training exercises for teaming and collaboration, and in corporate environments for leadership and business communications skills training.

As the saying goes, ‘practice makes perfect’—but only if you’re practicing the actual behaviors that it takes to be perfect.