A study by the Force Science Institute, involving officers from 22 agencies in both Oregon and Washington sought to examine how officers react under stressful conditions and how they remember a scene after the fact. The findings are notable and show that officer “mistakes” are often not deliberate or due to inattention, but caused in part by how fast a scenario happens and the adrenaline involved.
“The Traffic Stop Study” was conducted by the Force Science Institute, a research center out of Mankato Minnesota, in Hillsboro. More than 90 officers participated. It was held in a business garage, according to the Oregonian, where white walls and tile floors provided little distraction.
Officers were tested by a researcher posing as a speeding driver. After communicating with the “driver”, police officers would find the man to be paranoid and speaking strangely. This was to get them distracted from the physical threat. Then, the driver would take assaultive action with a weapon concealed somewhere in the vehicle.
Officers were asked to record what happened after the event. Most forgot important details. For example, one officer remembered seeing a weapon, but didn’t remember hearing shots fired. They would also forget things like what was said leading up to the shooting and how they reacted, jumping behind a vehicle, for instance.
The cops would be shown a video of the scenario, outlining everything they had missed when writing their report.
“What I thought I did and what I did were similar but different,” said one officer. “That’s what scares me about stuff like this – our perception is our reality.”
The testing also showed officers how what they perceive can be different from what actually happens. Most officers in tense situations such as the one in the research doubt their actions and believe they move too slowly. But the research shows despite their actual response time, the officers feel like they are moving in slow motion, possibly due to the adrenaline.
We often expect police officers to remember precise details of a crime scene or emergency situation, but “that’s not at all realistic,” says Alexis Artwohl, an expert on police stress and retired police psychologist. “They are trained observers, but they are also human beings. There are biological limitations to what they can do.”
The departments involved hope the study findings can help keep officers safer on the job and they might play a role in changing law enforcement training on a national level.
Could adrenaline play a role in an officer making dramatic mistakes on a police report? Sure, having the court acknowledge a mistaken officer is quite another story.
If you’ve been charged with a criminal offense and have questions about the police’s version of events, contact us today to discuss your rights and what can be done. We can challenge the officer’s report in court and work to get you the most positive results possible on your case.