In this issue:

I. Force Science grad finds hidden truth in “incriminating” video
II. What happens when activists get use-of-force training?

I. Force Science grad finds hidden truth in “incriminating” video
Part of a continuing series of FS successes

What started as a simple FI regarding a possible curfew violation ended up with a “massive” dent in the hood of a patrol car, caused by an officer slamming a suspect face-down into the metal.

The officer insisted he’d reacted to feeling “resistive tension” from an uncooperative suspect trying to pull away from him. Yet no such resistance seemed evident on a dash-cam recording of the incident. In fact, the action happens so fast on film that it looks as if the officer had decided to teach a young punk a lesson by smashing his head down without provocation.

“The video tells all here,” his supervisor concluded. IA investigators backed him up, judging the officer’s actions “unnecessary and improper.” Discipline for using excessive force was recommended.

Before signing off on punishment, however, the chief of the department decided to reach out for an independent evaluation from a lieutenant commander with a different agency nearby who he knew was a certified Force Science Analyst.

“As it turned out,” says the lieutenant, Paul Marik of the Pleasant Prairie (WI) PD, “the video did tell all.” But the story was quite different from what was initially assumed.

The incident occurred at about 2 o’clock one morning, moments after two patrolling officers noticed two young males and a female walking along a dimly lit section of a major thoroughfare after their city’s curfew. As soon as the trio spotted the squad car, they made an abrupt turn and “slunk off on a side street” as if to avoid contact. The officers decided to check out their ages and status.

One of the males, a tall, white kid with “baggy attire” and his hands in his pockets, blatantly ignored commands and had to be physically grabbed by one of the officers before he stopped walking away. He ignored multiple orders to show his hands, multiple other orders to walk to the front of the patrol car. Finally the officer steered him there with a grip on his left wrist.

Then, seemingly without hesitation, the officer grasped the suspect’s right forearm, lifted him slightly and, with a resounding bang, thrust him face down in a “horizontal stun” against the car’s hood.

“The first time I watched the video, I thought ‘This is not good,’ ” Marik told Force Science News. “Yes, the suspect hadn’t yet been patted down and could have had a weapon. Yes, he was looking around like he was thinking about escaping. But I couldn’t see anything specific that prompted the officer to use that level of force at that moment.”

And yet…the officer had moved the suspect to be in range of the dash-cam, Marik thought. Why would he have done that if he intended to use force maliciously?

Reviewing notes from his Force Science Analysis training, Marik was reminded among other things how fast physical actions can occur in a confrontation and also how camera footage, usually recorded at 30 frames per second, sometimes needs to be slowed down in order to see the micro-particulars of a captured image.

Painstakingly, he now moved through the dash-cam recording frame by frame, breaking it down into fractions of a second. “This allowed me to see the action as someone would feel it,” Marik explains. He then was able to observe what he and others had missed in their real-speed viewings.

In the frozen frames, Marik could see the suspect’s right elbow begin to rise up as if to wrench free immediately after the officer gripped his forearm. The officer could be seen at a slight backward angle, “either pulling back or attempting to hold himself in place,” Marik noted–a “highly unlikely position” unless the suspect was pulling away. With the suspect’s “body mechanics rigid and stiff with resistance,” the officer then dropped slightly to lower his center of gravity and initiated the subject’s “descent” on to the hood.

All this happened across just 15 frames–half a second–with some key elements occurring in just 7/10 of a second.

“It was impossible to see the critical nuances at full speed,” Marik says. “The officer reacted reflexively to the physical sensations he was feeling, responding so fast he couldn’t have consciously articulated exactly what happened.”

In a detailed report back to the chief, Marik concluded that the officer had, in fact, performed a justified “dynamic application of a trained decentralization technique,” not a maverick infliction of deliberate excessive force.

He added that he had recorded experiments of his own, duplicating the stun maneuver with a volunteer who offered no resistance in one version and resistive tension in another. In the version featuring resistive tension, the subject’s body mechanics, particularly the positioning of his shoulders, matched exactly the posturing of the suspect in the dash-cam video.

Marik was gratified to learn that not only the chief but those in the department who had urged discipline for the officer were “very receptive” to his analysis, exonerating the accused of wrongdoing.

“Cameras are clearly the wave of the future,” Marik says. “But investigators need to be trained on know how to look at what’s recorded to be sure that what seems evident in controversial situations is really the full story.”

The agency involved, incidentally, has since sent several of its detectives and supervisors to the Force Science certification course.

II. What happens when activists get use-of-force training?

In a letter to the editor that we printed in issue #273 [1/14/15], Sgt. Casey Bokavich of the Redding (CA) PD mentioned that his agency was preparing to host members of a local civil rights group for a training session on police use of force. We decided to check in recently to see how that event went.

The group, originally called Shasta County Citizens Against Racism, is now known as Shasta County Citizens Advocating Respect (SCCAR). The non-profit was formed nearly 30 years ago after a civilian shooting with racial overtones. According to its website, the founders considered its mission in large part to serve as a “watchdog” to keep “law enforcement on task” in pursuing suspected “hate crimes.”

SCCAR’s relationship with the RPD and its 98 sworn officers has not been hostile, Bokavich says. But recent months have been “really rough” in the Northern California city of 90,000, with several officer-involved shootings and extended fights. With anti-cop sentiments stoked nationally by the inflammatory incidents in Ferguson and New York City, Bokavich, a DT and force-options instructor with 24 years in law enforcement, felt that a preemptive myth-busting session with activist groups in Redding might serve to clarify common misconceptions about police use of force and help to forestall any local eruptions.

With the support of Chief Robert Paoletti, invitations were issued to several organizations. SCCAR was the only one to respond.

“We planned on meeting with its members for three hours, beginning at 7 o’clock on a Tuesday night,” Bokavich told Force Science News. “We finally had to call it at 11p.m. They were so into it they didn’t even want to take bathroom breaks. It was just awesome!”

Bokavich and two fellow instructors, chosen for their outstanding presentation skills, delivered the same, unredacted content that Redding officers receive in a training class called “Force Options”. Bokavich explains: “We wanted the people attending to understand the whole breadth of what an officer has to consider in making a force decision, with nothing watered down.” Critical elements included:

• A thorough review of the state penal code and department policy relating to use of force. (“We had members of the audience read the passages aloud so they could be assured that the information we were providing was accurate,” Bokavich says.)

• An analysis of fundamental case law, including the findings of Graham v. Connor and Tennessee v. Garner. (“Many surprises came out of this for the class,” Bokavich says, “including the guidelines for reasonable force and learning that even shooting a suspect in the back can be perfectly legal in certain circumstances.”)

• The realities of human performance under the influence of adrenalin and stress. (“They were really surprised to learn that three large officers trying to arrest an out-if-control 130-pound female can sometimes be very difficult,” Bokavich says.)

• Debriefing dash-cam videos of real-world confrontations in Redding and elsewhere, including K-9 action, Taser deployment, even the use of a squad car to run over a criminal shooter. (“Based on the statutes, case law, and department policies, we asked them to critique the do’s and don’ts of the responses,” Bokavich says. “It was powerful for them to see what can happen even in our community–and how fast.”

• Simulator scenarios, with the audience either on the hot spot as “responding officers” or acting as witnesses to the unfolding action. (“One woman’s pulse rate jumped to 135 just from role-playing an officer in a no-shoot scenario,” Bokavich recalls.)

• A freewheeling Q & A exchange, that covered topics ranging from what parents should tell their kids about interacting with police to why local gang officers were “harassing” a boy who had red rags tied to the handlebars of his bike.

• “When the evening ended, I was jazzed,” Bokavich says. “We took a chance by reaching out for the first time to a civil rights advocacy group. When we started, they had a healthy skepticism of what cops do, based on what they’d received from the media, movies, and other sources. Now I’m convinced they have a much better perspective of the challenges officers face in use-of-force situations.”

• A participant interviewed by a TV reporter who was present agreed. “To see the incredible risk [officers face] is amazing,” said Rev. Ann Corrin. The training “helped me understand the emotional maturity that’s necessary for the job and be willing to give officers the benefit of the doubt going into tough, tough situations.”

• Another SCCAR member, Celeste Draisner, wrote Bokavich: “I found that being able to accurately determine when to use or not use deadly force was much harder than I originally thought. I came away with more compassion for how difficult the choices officers have to make on the street must be.”

• In the future, Bokavich hopes to repeat the program with other audiences, including the NAACP and the city council. The local ACLU board already has expressed interest, he says.

• “Some departments seem to have apprehensions about sharing this kind of training information with civilians,” he says. “But as we’ve seen here, it can work wonderfully.”

NOTE: For more examples of the positive results of introducing civilians to force encounter scenarios visit the FORCE SCIENCE INSTITUTE PAGE on Facebook.

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