By Jim Glennon
We repeatedly talk about speed as a key element to consider when discussing, evaluating and training for force encounters; how quickly someone can pivot to face or flee from an officer, how fast a suspect can close in on an officer after deciding to attack, the time it takes for an officer to perceive and react to a threat, how quickly a suspect can fire a gun.
The impact of talking about it, though, pales in comparison to actually seeing deadly-fast speed in action. Recently released footage of an officer involved shooting last month in Chicago is probably one of the most powerful real-world examples of that speed we’ve seen.
Watch this video, then we’ll discuss.
Shocking, right? Actually, terrifying is a better word. The suspect in this incident, 45-year-old Bruce Lua, a convicted felon who at the time of the shooting was awaiting trial for assault, shot both of those officers faster than they—anyone—could even process the fact they were being fired on. There was no time to think. No time to take cover.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few things to think about:
Speed, decision-making & memory.
Following a shooting, officers are understandably asked many questions and pressed to recall many details. They should be. But just as often, the expectations for their answers are by some, set far too high. You saw how fast this shooting went down. Now imagine someone asking those two officers questions like:
- What were you saying at the moment the suspect shot you?
- Exactly how far were you from the suspect when he shot you?
- How many shots did he fire at you?
- How many shots did you fire? How about other officers?
- How many other officers were at the scene? How far away were they?
- What kind of gun did the suspect have?
- Did your partner get shot? Where? How many times?
- Did you fire your weapon after you were shot or before?
- Did you fire your weapon before the suspect shot your partner or after?
Expecting fully accurate answers to questions like these is asking for the impossible. But there are many people who believe—demand, actually—that officers be able to recall every infinitesimal detail of a lightning-fast shooting incident where lives were on the line. They’ll push and prod and protest until they get something, and they won’t accept the fact that if you want the truth, the answer to many of those questions will be: “I don’t know.”
And if that be the answer, investigators, bosses, prosecutors, etc. will challengingly ask, “Why don’t you know?” Inevitably, the officer’s answer will be along the lines of, “Because it happened so fast. It all happened so fast.”
This, by the way, is an area where officers can get themselves in trouble if they aren’t careful. Attorneys vehemently caution officers to remember and accept the fact that they are human and because of that, they have cognitive limitations…meaning their brains can only process so much under extreme stress in time-compressed situations. It’s not uncommon for officers to themselves believe that they should be able to remember everything, but in many, many cases they can’t.
If you can’t remember something, if you didn’t notice something, if you didn’t hear something, admit that. Do not try to fill in the blanks. Be absolutely honest about what you know and what you remember and what you don’t.
Also, be prepared for the fact that you may find out one or more details of an event you were absolutely sure of—something you absolutely believe you did, something you are positive you saw, something you truly believe you heard, things you swear you said—were inaccurate. This is normal and surprisingly common.
I’ve spoken with multiple officers who said that when they actually watched their own body camera video they looked at the investigator and said, “That’s not what happened.” This means of course, that their brain was selectively attending both auditorily and visually to what was important in the moment due to the danger and therefore their memory is somewhat distorted.
Comparing what an officer recounts with that same officer’s BWC footage makes some who are unfamiliar with the science of selective attention, human performance under stress, etc. believe the officer is being less than truthful. What investigators in particular need to understand fully is that the officer’s focus, while in danger, didn’t have the same field of vision as the unemotional body camera they were wearing.
In this video for instance, you have at least five officers who were on the scene as the shooting commenced. If they were placed in separate rooms and all asked the same questions concerning the sequence and chronology of events there would be five different versions and inconsistencies in the details.
- How many shots were fired?
- Who fired first?
- Was it the suspect?
- What hand did he have the gun in?
Answering honestly is going to include the response, “I don’t know.” And often, that response is unacceptable to some investigators, bosses, prosecutors, etc.
Officers who have been in this position have said that when they found out portions of their account were not completely accurate, they began seriously doubting themselves and started to become susceptible to believing accusations that they were lying.
Don’t fall into this way of thinking!
Remember these truths: You are human. You are limited. You are highly trained and able to do many things others can’t do, but you are not above the science of your brain and body. Memory is a mystery and malleable, especially under life and death circumstances.
Your Memory Sucks in General
In everyday life people have arguments with each other about what was said between them a week ago, a day ago, an hour ago, even 30 seconds ago. And that is while experiencing no stress. With no lives on the line. No one trying to kill you in the moment.
Generally, no matter how much we believe we have great memories, most people suck at remembering details objectively.
Years ago, in a western state I conducted a seminar on human performance, memory, etc. for 36 prosecutors. I showed them a 20 second video clip where an officer follows a pick-up truck into a driveway. The passenger of the vehicle was wanted for attempting to stab his wife a short time before. The officer’s dashcam caught the encounter very well. The suspect popped out of the truck, the officer ran out, gun in holster initially, he issued orders, the man turned and reached into the truck, the officer fired on him and the man died. A 20 second clip.
I had the prosecutors recount what just happened verbally. And guess what. I got 36 different versions of what had just happened. They had different perspectives of what was said, what weapon the man had, when the shots were fired and how many shots were fired. Two of them started arguing vehemently about whether the officer said, “Drop the knife” or “Drop the gun.”
It was actually funny and the prosecutors had a good laugh at their own confusion.
One walked up to me on the break and said, “Prior to all this today, I assumed if an officer’s statement deviated at all from the BWC footage, they were lying or trying to hide something. I thought this distorted memory and human performance stuff was all pseudoscience.”
The officers involved in the Chicago incident are to be commended for their courage and their commitment to keeping their city safe. Thank God the officers who were shot survived. For their sake and the sake of other officers involved in similar scenarios, investigators, administrators and others who judge officers must educate themselves on the issues we’ve discussed if they’re truly dedicated to accuracy and truth.
Thoughts to add? Comments? E-mail us at: email@example.com