VIDEO: Cops Get Mad When People Who Don’t Understand Force Encounters Judge Them. How Much Do YOU Really Know?

By Jim Glennon  |   May 5, 2021

Last month, 22-year-old Anthony Alvarez was shot by a Chicago police officer after several officers approached him and he fled, for the second time in two days. This sparked a foot pursuit. It was apparent that Alvarez had a gun and as one of the pursing officers closed in on him and ordered him to drop the weapon—a command he ignored—he was shot multiple times in the back.

Take a look at body cam footage of the incident, then let’s discuss:

Another Example of the Reality of Force Events

What did you just see?

Yet another rapidly unfolding no-win encounter cops across the country continue to face. It’s an incident involving an armed suspect who flees police and ignores commands to stop and drop his weapon. An officer catches up to him and, knowing he has a gun, is forced to decide – in milliseconds – whether to fire at him or not.

Rest assured, that officer knows how quickly this armed suspect can pivot, point and fire that gun at him. To hit him. Perhaps kill him.

In some situations we’ve discussed recently, the gunman wasn’t running away. He was either directly facing the officer or turned in the opposite direction with a gun pointed at the ground or away from the involved officer/s. In all cases, there was a gun in the hand of a suspect—or at least there appeared to be—and the realities of movement, action/reaction time, and the challenges of decision-making under extreme stress and time compression came into play.

Look at this one: An 18-year-old shoplifting suspect who, after shooting a security guard, ran from police and shot one of the pursuing officers:

Are encounters like this going to end? No. Cops have always faced them, and they always will.

But now, there is a constant stream of videos from body cameras, dashcams and citizen cell phones.

With that comes the frustration of knowing that people who don’t understand the extremely complex dynamics of these encounters and the pressures and dangers of police work, will judge these officers. Judgement made with no credentials, knowledge or experience outside of the thousands of shootings they have seen on TV and in movies.  Which, of course, is complete fantasy. And with that skewed frame of reality, they will view body camera footage on a computer screen and feel qualified to offer an opinion on how things could have been done better.

They will claim (and believe) that because the gun wasn’t pointed directly at an officer there was no immediate danger and therefore, absolutely no need or justification for the use of deadly force.

They’ll judge as though tactical Nirvana is actually something that can always be achieved.

They’ll judge as though suspects will inevitably comply if officers would only say the right thing.

They’ll fail to consider, or they’ll simply ignore, the irrefutable science and extensive research that shows how quickly a suspect can turn and shoot at an officer, even when facing in the complete opposite direction.

Some judgements will be driven by a political or social agenda. Some by lack of training, experience and understanding. Many by a need to desperately try to understand why police shootings occur. Overall, it’s a safe bet that the vast majority of those judgments are going to be made without an education in the factors that play such a crucial role in these events; pivot time, body movement, performance under stress, speed of trigger pull, cognitive limitations under pressure…and on and on and on.

Because of the endless force events captured on video, uninformed judgements made without factual, scientifically based substance will continue. Opinions will be voiced by those with platforms in the mainstream media and by private citizens through social media.

I understand that reality. I’m not crazy about it, but I understand it. It’s impossible to expect people outside of the profession, especially those with anti-police agendas, to understand the complexity, science and dynamic variables that are parts of real force events. 

However, within the profession is another matter completely.

A Professional Responsibility

For those in law enforcement charged with analyzing and passing judgement on an officer’s actions during a force encounter, there must be an understanding of the science and the complex variables involved in an officer’s human performance under massive stress.

For 18 years I was in charge of use of force training and essentially reading and analyzing every report that involved an officer’s use of force on the street. I along with the others involved in that area did our very best to understand how and why encounters played out as they did. Most of this understanding came through experience and self-education.

I spoke with attorneys and use of force “experts” as I wrote and rewrote our Use of Force General Orders over the years. I sent myself to training seminars and read as much as I could about control tactics, the legal parameters of state and federal statutes and the psychology of fear and stress. I thought I was on top of the latest necessary information concerning the topic of force.

But, there is a great quote I came across years ago; “The more you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know – the less you know, the more you think you know.”

I realized that was very applicable to my situation and field of responsibility. I was missing the essential understanding of how people perform under stress. What their limitations were. How their senses and perceptions would be impacted in an instant.

I had my first exposure to an education in human factors through a one-day course conducted by the Force Science Institute®. I quickly realized there was an entire world of scientific knowledge I really knew nothing about…knowledge that plays a huge role in understanding human performance under stress and the dynamics of force encounters. Honestly, I was embarrassed at how little I knew. Thankfully, that never had a negative impact on any force investigations for which I was responsible.

But I found fascination with the entire subject as it was so obviously applicable for police officers who find themselves attempting to make decisions and control others while experiencing acute stress.

So I read, studied and read some more. Although I’m no longer actively investigating force encounters as a police commander, I am, through Calibre Press and the work of the experts we’re associated with, continuing to educate and train those that do.

Conclusion: Take Personal Responsibility

Here’s what it boils down to: You are responsible for educating yourself on areas you know are critical, but may not have been trained in. Without having a scientifically based understanding of performance issues related to time, speed of movement, decision-making under pressure, sensory anomalies induced by extreme stress, etc. you cannot claim to have the ability to absolutely thoroughly examine incidents like the one in Chicago we just watched.

Make it your mission to seek out an education in these things. It’s not hard to do. There are extremely active national experts like Jamie Borden and Dr. Paul Taylor from Critical Incident Review, Dr. David Blake from Blake Consulting, Dr. Richard Hough from the University of West Florida, the instructors at the Force Science® Institute and, of course, Calibre Press and scores of others who offer classes, share videos, create Webinars and podcasts and write articles on the myriad topics that surface under the umbrella topic of “human factors.” There are also books—many of them—that offer tremendous insights.

Once you take your first steps in the pursuit of knowledge in this area, a wealth of resources will quickly materialize for you. Courses will lead to articles will lead to book recommendations will lead to professional associations and so on. The key is actually taking those initial steps. DO IT. Out of respect for yourself, your agency and the officers you’re evaluating, whether that be in an investigatory capacity, as a boss or simply as a fellow officer. And if you’re like me, you’ll enjoy the added bonus of finding the entire area of human factors and performance under stress absolutely fascinating.

Comments? Insights to share? We love to her from our readers. E-mail us at: [email protected]

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Lt. Jim Glennon (ret.) is the owner and lead instructor for Calibre Press. He is a third-generation LEO, retired from the Lombard, Ill. PD after 29 years of service. Rising to the rank of lieutenant, he commanded both patrol and the Investigations Unit. In 1998, he was selected as the first Commander of Investigations for the newly formed DuPage County Major Crimes (Homicide) Task Force. He has a BA in Psychology, a Masters in Law Enforcement Justice Administration, is the author of the book Arresting Communication: Essential Interaction Skills for Law Enforcement.